Theme from Call of Duty: Black Ops II, by Trent Reznor


Actual album “Call of Duty: Black Ops II (Original Soundtrack)”

Tracks 1 and 49 only

Released November 13, 2012

11 min, 25 sec

Tracks 1 and 49, how’s that for being selective?

Trent Reznor composing the theme song for Call of Duty: Black Ops II is a weird one. The Call of Duty franchise is frequently lambasted for being the absolute worst of triple-A level titles: an annualized franchise that has lost all drive to do anything more than maintain the status quo and rake in the cash. Fans of the franchise are frequently typecast as overly profane, “edgy” pre-teens, frat boy dudebros that are incapable of playing anything more sophisticated, or the absolute extreme of the overarching “gamer” stereotype, the fat neckbeard basement-dweller.

Are these stereotypes accurate? Sure, in some cases. Are they fair? Maybe less so. The Call of Duty franchise essentially consists of Modern Warfare with a single marquee feature that all the marketing is focused on to hide the fact that the games don’t actually change all that much beyond balance shifts. You know what other franchise does that? The New Super Mario Bros. sub-franchise. Literally the same thing. You know what they both have in common?

They make tons and tons of fucking money.

Granted, Call of Duty has begun to see diminishing returns for the past year – Ghosts failed to exceed Black Ops II in sales, and it is speculated that Advanced Warfare, this year’s installment, will do the same thing. But money is money, and Black Ops II made a billion dollars in three weeks. That’s the sign of a successful franchise, critical reception and pop culture reputation notwithstanding. So, now we shift back to Reznor, and ask: why?

Well, the money’s a big factor, obviously. But Reznor himself noted that he’s a fan of the franchise, and he took the opportunity because it was offered to him and interested him. Previously, he’d brushed off the idea of writing for video games after Quake and Doom 3, but, you know, people change their minds.

And, most importantly, the track is great. It seems like Reznor challenged himself to make something different than his most recent output with Nine Inch Nails and How to Destroy Angels, reaching back to The Fragile in terms of musical palette. That’s not to say this song would fit in with The Fragile, being an instrumental track written in 2012 for a first-person shooter, but the depth and variety of the track’s sounds recall that album more than anything he’s put out since then. The song has several sections akin to “Theme for Tetsuo: The Bullet Man,” where the song’s tempo and volume shift dramatically, providing variety and movement to the song. It’s an enjoyable instrumental track, and, with no real ties to Black Ops II beyond serving as its theme song, it’s a good listen in any situation.

The soundtrack for Black Ops II provides two versions of the track – the original that appears in the game, and an alternate version that mixes live strings in. I personally prefer the second version of the track, because there is more going on in the forefront with the additional strings. When I want to listen to the track, I choose this one, because it doesn’t shift the tone at all, instead adding more color up front.

Released towards the tail end of the five-year Nine Inch Nails drought, with a How to Destroy Angels album still to come, “Theme from Call of Duty: Black Ops II” is a nice diversion and small stopgap on the road to Hesitation Marks.

It’s still pretty weird to imagine Reznor playing Call of Duty and camping, getting a cheap kill on an opponent, and teabagging them, though.


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