A long time ago, in the dark and cold winter of 2012, a youthful, inexperienced Ben Cohn completed a game that he had been looking forward to for a very long time. The game was The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, and while Ben thoroughly enjoyed the game, he couldn’t help but be a little disappointed by its soundtrack. One rainy day, he asked himself “How hard is it to write Zelda music? I wonder if I could give it a shot”. And give it a shot he did. What started off as a simple question soon evolved into an enormous project: a Zelda-inspired concept album, meant to tell a complete story using only Zelda-style music. Land of the Gods was released on March 1st, 2013.
Click a track number to learn more:
Notes from Ben: This track was the second one completed for the project, but was written concurrently with The Great Fields. It uses one of the smallest ensembles of the Land of the Gods tracks, consisting only of piano, string section, and harp. The piece was meant to emulate the feel of the Title Screen theme from Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, but also takes queues from some of the early tracks in Twilight Princess. The theme established in this piece became the main theme of Land of the Gods, and is present in most of the album’s tracks.
Notes from Ben: This was one of the last tracks I wrote for the album. Inspired by the opening track of Wind Waker (titled The Legendary Hero), I set out to give some opening context to the album’s story. To achieve the “film-scored” kind of feeling in The Legendary Hero, I actually wrote accompanying text to the piece, giving it a sense of pace and drama. I ended up really loving the text I had written, so much so that I included a bonus version of the Prologue with a voice-over of the prose. Play track 18 to check it out!
Notes from Ben: When I started this track, I knew it was going to be a huge part of the album. I wanted the village theme to represent a feeling of home for both the main character of the journey and the listener, and placed it throughout the album accordingly. For inspiration, I drew heavily from the feeling and orchestration of Outset Island from Wind Waker, and also the general feel of Kakariko Village (with Ruined Village being more faithful to the Kakariko sound). The village theme is one of my favorite themes in the series!
Notes from Ben: The Great Fields was the first track completed for the album, but was written concurrently with Title Screen. At the time, this was the largest orchestral score I had written, and frankly, I had no idea what I was doing. Rather than use a Sibelius orchestral template to get started, I created my own ragtag ensemble, about 20 instruments (as opposed to the 35+ used in my full orchestral tracks). Consequently, the music sounds a bit more close in the mix. Since I hadn’t yet realized that Sibelius has some lovely snare drum samples, the percussion that you hear in the piece is actually a variety of sounds from the full Sibelius drum kit, including kick drum and toms. Later in the project, I came back to re-orchestrate the piece, but ended up really enjoy the slight difference in sound.
Notes from Ben: The concept for this track was a bit more unique. Rather than create a looping background track, I decided to make a linear piece that takes the listener through an entire day in a castle marketplace. The woodwinds at the introduction imitate birdsong as the day begins, and as the piece progresses, bells toll to signal midday. As the theme begins to wind down, the bells toll again and the music gives way to the soft chirp of crickets (sampled in my very own front yard!). The main influence for this track was the Clocktown Theme from Majora’s Mask, particularly the variations on the piece that come from each in-game day. Ocarina of Time’s Market theme was also a major influence.
Notes from Ben: This track was written very early on (it was the 4th track completed for the album), before the whole project had really taken shape. It was a bit more difficult to write than the previous three, mostly because, throughout the history of Zelda, there have been very few “benevolent” castle themes. Consequently, research within the music of the Zelda universe was of little use. The one Zelda piece I really drew from for this track was the Castle Courtyard theme from Ocarina of Time, but it’s influence was minimal. Looking elsewhere for inspiration, I turned to the Pokemon soundtracks, looking into the themes of the various towns for a pleasant sort of feel. Stylistically, this was the first real break from the traditional Zelda style that I had established with the early pieces.
Notes from Ben: Princess draws from more obvious Zelda tracks, I suppose. I felt it was completely necessary to have a theme for the princess, but I wanted a slightly different feel from Zelda’s Lullaby. My concept for the track was for a theme that was slightly romantic, but for the most part open and completely honest. At the time, this was the most dynamic track I had ever written. Writing the quick harp introduction was actually the hardest part of the piece, since I wanted it to be reminiscent of Zelda’s Lullaby without having the exact same feel. Ultimately I was quite satisfied with the results!
Notes from Ben: Ocarina of Time’s Gerudo Valley theme has always been one of my favorite tracks in the series, so I jumped at the opportunity to tackle the style. My concept for this track was inspired by the stealth segments of the Zelda series, so I also studied tracks like Pirate’s Fortress from Majora’s Mask and Forsaken Fortress from Wind Waker. To get that classic “desert” sound, I also did some heavy research into the Laurence of Arabia soundtrack (and the Uncharted 3 soundtrack, which has some major Laurence vibes). The piece originally was written in 6/8, and while it sounded great on piano, the transition to orchestra sounded pretty terrible. I gave it a major overhaul in 4/4 and was much more satisfied with the results. This is quite possibly my favorite track on the album!
Notes from Ben: While I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want my lead villain to be like Ganon, I felt I needed a homage to his classic theme. I created a supporting villain role in order to meet this need, so I could keep the feel of the lead villain’s theme a bit more unique. In most modern Zelda games, the first three dungeons and their related quests are much more lighthearted than the rest of the game. I wanted this piece to represent the turning point of the album’s story, where the world you understood as light becomes a dark and serious place. After this track occurs in the album, there are very few light-hearted tracks.
Notes from Ben: Palace of Ice started off quite differently than most of the other tracks. It was initially intended to be the final boss theme, but I felt that it didn’t have enough motion to be a battle theme. I slowed down the tempo and added a piano intro, and the bone-chilling piece was born. After deciding it was to be a dungeon theme, I drew a lot of inspiration from Majora’s Mask’s Stone Tower Temple theme and also Ocarina of Time’s Ice Cave. The sweeping string section at the end of the loop is actually from the first composition I ever wrote! When I first played Wind Waker (I was 9 at the time) I was completely blown away by it’s gorgeous soundtrack. Inspired to create my own Zelda story, I ran to the piano and plunked out a song I dubbed Mountaintop Spire. Since Palace of Ice shared a similar aesthetic (and was also inspired by Zelda) I found it very fitting to include in the piece.
Notes from Ben: As far as behind-the-scenes stories go, the one for Ruined Village is fairly straight-forward. It was written concurrently with Bustling Village, and was meant to adjust the thematic content for a darker atmosphere. Taking something familiar and comfortable to the listener and darkening the mood has an astounding effect on story; while Bustling Village feels upbeat and full of opportunity, Ruined Village sounds almost like a shattered childhood dream, or a harsh reality forced onto the listener. The track was entirely inspired by Kakariko Village (particularly the version from Ocarina of Time).
Notes from Ben: This was the third track created for the album, since I felt it appropriate that the villain’s theme be present throughout the entirety of the story. I’ve always felt that the villains of the Legend of Zelda series (with the notable exceptions of Skull Kid and Wind Waker’s Ganon) were a little bit cardboard in personality. Consequently, I strove to create a multi-layered theme for Land of the Gods’ villain, one full of malice and cunning, but also sadness and pain. The immense contrast between sections is meant to accentuate his unpredictable personality, and also his suave exterior juxtaposed with his internalized motives. Since this piece was specifically non-Zelda in concept, I turned towards other villain’s themes for inspiration, especially Dante’s Theme from Fullmetal Alchemist and the Main Theme from Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. It is also of note that this is the second iteration of the piece; the first was much more simple in orchestration (it used about 10 instruments as opposed to the 40+ in the final product). The tempo of the final version is also significantly faster than the original. To listen to the original version, click here.
Notes from Ben: This track started off as a homage to Legend of Hyrule, a particularly stunning track from Ocarina of Time. While I loved what I had written (just the piano melody that is pervasive throughout the final piece), I felt that it reflected a different mood and decided that it ought to be a dungeon track. The villain’s theme was then woven through the piece, and I worked to create a unique ambiance using percussion and odd sounding instruments. I drew a lot of inspiration from the Forest Temple theme from Ocarina of Time, and also Lugia’s Theme from the score of Pokémon 2000.
Notes from Ben: Sorrow of the Fairies was a tough one to write. I knew that the Fairy Theme was completely integral to the Legend of Zelda series, but felt that the overall lightness of the theme didn’t suit the rest of the album’s material. At the time, the album was expected to be 12 tracks long, and this was to be the final one I wrote. Consequently, I wanted a heavy and emotional piece to cap off the story; Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata was an enormous influence on the piece, as well as Midna’s Lament from Twilight Princess.
Notes from Ben: Once I had decided that the album would consist of 18 tracks (instead of 12, as was originally intended), I set out on a desperate search to find more Zelda-esque material. After multiple starts on tracks that just didn’t feel right, a good friend of mine mentioned that she had been listening to the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, and suggested that I look to it for inspiration. After listening, I was reminded of the ticking of a tightly wound clock, and I decided to write a track inspired by the Temple of Time. My concept for the piece slowly evolved, until at last the concept for the track became something like “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy From Hell”.
Notes from Ben: Final Battle went through four separate iterations before I arrived at the piece you hear today. While the first three attempt were all fairly high quality, they simply didn’t have the finality and chaos that I wanted from a the confrontation. The final track eschews most thematic material apart from the villain’s theme. The track is all about him, after all! Previous versions of the piece didn’t have nearly as much motion; in fact, is was the ultra-fast moving xylophone rhythm that inspired the final sound. The third version of the piece actually contained about half of the track that eventually became Palace of Ice; I literally slowed down the piece and threw it straight in!
Notes from Ben: This track was incredibly difficult for me to write. Though it wasn’t the last track I wrote for the album (Final Battle was still early in development), I knew from the beginning that I intended it to bookend the album’s journey. This piece was meant to encompass all of the core elements of the album, revisiting most of the thematic material while bring a bitter-sweet kind of melancholy to the piece as a whole. Getting that kind of emotion into the track was exhausting; by writing this track, I was essentially saying goodbye to the project I had spent a year of my life developing.
Notes from Ben: This track was a blast to put together. Having already laid out the music (check out Track 2 for more details) for the Prologue, I set out to record a voice-over of the text that I had written for the piece. Having always wanted to take a stab at voice-acting, I decided to provide the voice myself! My performance drew a lot from the voices of Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee, particularly their performances in Lord of the Rings. Believe it or not, the finalized audio for my voice went through very little filtering. The audio was dropped by half a semi-tone (to better bring out the bass in my voice), some basic EQ’ing was applied, and reverb was added to have the voice better blend with the music. The text for the piece had been written simultaneously with the music, except for one line: “The mountain town would remain unseen, and unspoiled”. This line was written in for timing purposes; while most of the monologue lined up quite nicely with the music, one gap felt just a little too long.