The Lyrics to God of War

Sony PlayStation’s classic God of War franchise journeyed from Ancient Greece to Norse myth, telling the story of Kratos and his young son Atreus, in an epic saga spanning two games, God of War (2018) and God of War Ragnarök (2022). I composed two scores to support the narrative, drawing influence from the soaring orchestral overtures of Hollywood and the rustic melodies of Nordic folk music. The most striking sound in both scores is the human voice, ranging from evocative solos from Faroese singer Eivør Pálsdóttir and multi-platinum artist Hozier, to massive full choir passages featuring Iceland’s celebrated choral ensemble, Schola Cantorum. Their unique voices are even more distinct because the lyrics were written in a dead language, Old Norse.

In my previous God of War blog entries, I alluded to the team of dedicated artists and writers who collaborated with me to create the lyrics for these scores. Here, I hope to chronicle the meticulous attention to detail and ambitious scope of their work. I will also, at long last, share the lyrics and translations that fans have been clamoring for. This is the story behind the lyrics of God of War (2018) and God of War Ragnarök (2022). (Spoilers for both games lie ahead.)

THE DEPTH BECOMES EVIDENT

I recall the decision to use Old Norse text in the score was made early in the process, as far back as 2015, when I first scored the God of War prototype that would lead to the game’s eventual production. The creative team and I felt that having the choir and singers perform in Old Norse was a fitting way to acknowledge the Norse cultural and mythological setting of the story.

However, the decision brought with it logistical challenges. No one living speaks this language in their daily lives, so who would sing it? We learned that, due to the nation’s geographic isolation, the modern Icelandic language is the closest existing language to Old Norse; so close in fact, that Icelandic singers could both read and understand the text. We decided to record our choir passages in Iceland, because vocalists there wouldn’t have to slow recording sessions down to learn words phonetically. Next, we would need English lyrics with appropriate meaning for the story, and an efficient workflow for translating them into Old Norse.

I recognized immediately that these lyrics would be a massive effort, one I simply did not have the bandwidth for while I simultaneously composed the three to five hours of score each game required. While Sony Interactive Entertainment and Santa Monica Studio have an expansive team of game development professionals, they understandably did not retain any full-time lyricists. Thankfully, many members of the team served double duty, juggling both their primary jobs and serving as lyricists or in other support roles for the process of lyric creation. For this blog, I have spoken to several of them, including Game Director Eric Williams, Narrative Director Matt Sophos, Score Producer Keith Leary, Music Affairs Manager Justin Fields, and Translator Björn Thorarensen.

BEAR McCREARY: Thanks for chatting with me. To begin, I want to point out that in 2018 a handful of fans online translated the text of the main theme from Old Norse back into English, and they got impressively close to the original English text! But, this was just a couple fans, out of literally millions. It raises a simple question: if only a sliver of our audience will ever know what the text is saying, why did we go to this tremendous effort? What do lyrics in a dead language add to a gamer’s experience?

ERIC WILLIAMS: The lyrics being sung in Old Norse help honor the culture our story is borrowing from. If we’re going to say something, it should mean something. That’s part of the world-building, right? As game developers, we can’t stop ourselves. We know it’s not real, but we want it to feel real when you’re there with us. So, if the lyrics turn out to be made-up gibberish, it starts to unravel the whole magic trick.

MATT SOPHOS: We wanted everything in this game to have meaning. And that goes to the lyrics. We did it because we wanted it to feel authentic and mean something to us. I never think of the lyrics as a singular thing, but as part of the journey. Lyrics in the score are a part of the soup that makes up the entire gaming experience.

BEAR: I love the idea of adding “meaning” to the music. I think that somehow listeners can tell if that meaning is real, or if it’s an impersonation.

MATT: People can always sense when something is just there for aesthetic reasons. We could have very easily had the choir sing with oohs and aahs and still had beautiful music. But, audiences can tell when there is something more behind it. The depth becomes evident, even if you can’t understand it. The deeper detail in the lyrics from the choir just feels right for people.

BEAR: I think it’s worth pointing out that there was never a point in the process where anyone suggested not doing this, despite the drain on precious resources. It was as if we all instantly agreed that crafting original lyrics in English and painstakingly translating them into a dead language was the only way to approach this.

KEITH LEARY: Well, it’s in our DNA. It’s what we do. We always go the extra mile. I think it comes down to authenticity. The music has to feel right, so it feels real. There’s nothing fake in there. I think you feel that in the performance, even if you don’t understand the language being sung. I think you feel the emotion. Your brain deciphers it, and you feel it emotionally in your heart.

JUSTIN FIELDS: Leave no creative stone unturned. If there’s an opportunity to lend authenticity to a game, you do it. Even if it’s something the vast majority of people are not going to comprehend, or ever translate. For us, it’s still part of the pride in doing what we do. That also comes from the material that you’re creating, because the music and melodies are so inspirational that it would be a shame to not add these tiny lyrical flourishes that complete the piece in some regard.

BEAR: Aside from a hidden layer of additional meaning, do these lyrics bring anything else to the game?

JUSTIN: The folks who are singing the choir parts understand the language. So, my hope was that the lyrics we provided would help inform and inspire their performances.

KEITH: The modern Icelandic language is the closest to Old Norse. So, when they sing it, they actually understand what they’re singing. I think that’s key. When they get the emotion of the music, and it means something to them, it makes the music better.

BJÖRN THORARENSEN: In any singing, the text has to be the inspiration for how you interpret the music. You base your interpretation on the lyrics.

BEAR: I have found that musicians always perform in a more emotional way when they understand the context of the music, and this is especially true of singers, even more than instrumentalists. I am certain that the sound of these themes, these cues, would be diminished if the individual members of the choir did not know what they were saying, or worse, knew they were singing nonsense syllables. I also think that having recurring lyrics over certain ostinatos and leitmotifs helps the listener remember them.

ERIC: It’s like when you hear a song in a language you don’t understand. If it’s a good song, you’re still moved by it. And then, when you learn what the words are actually saying, the song is even more impactful. That’s the beautiful part. It should enrich the experience for you even more. For people who like puzzles, the puzzle is there.

MATT: I’m from that old school of film score fan in that I love leitmotifs. I love hearing the same theme in a major key, then a minor key, because it drives home the idea that this theme is tied to a specific character, and I can tell what they’re going through because of how their music sounds. You handle the God of War score the way some of the classic John Williams scores worked, where the audience hears the themes many times throughout the story.

KEITH: The quality of the theme writing is what engages the audience. It’s what builds that connection between you as a player and the characters, and then weaves its way into the story.

LYRICS FOR KRATOS

For the God of War games, I always began my creative journey by crafting themes. I knew if I could write themes that became iconic for specific characters, story arcs, and realms, that they would ultimately translate to deeper emotional connections for the gaming audience. Most of my themes feature prominent lyrics to help listeners identify them.

The most iconic music in the modern God of War franchise, the Kratos Theme or Main Theme, is built upon a foundation of a recurring three note pattern or ostinato. A recurring lyrical pattern is established in the text right at the beginning, setting a precedent that will pay off in subsequent development passages and quotations throughout the cinematics and gameplay cues. 

“God of War”
From God of War (2018)

Exiled God
Father’s shame
Mother’s hope
Child in pain
 
Exiled God
Father’s shame
Mother’s hope
Child in pain
Son of war
 
Truth denied
Wounds remain
 
Heal his rage
 
Exiled God
Storm of hate
Growing fear
Wounds remain
Confront the past
 
Divine plague
My sins laid bare
 
Trust the boy
Heal his rage
 
Curse of blood
Beyond repair
 
Trust the boy
Heal his rage
 
He will leave
I’ve no redemption
 
Exiled God
Father’s shame
Mother’s hope
Child in Pain
 
Exiled God
Storm of hate
Trust the boy
Heal his rage
 
Growing fear
Wounds remain
 
He’s in pain
He needs a father not a god
Curse of blood
I’ve no redemption
 
Wounds remain
Confront the past
Útlægr Guð
Smán föður
Von móður
Þraut barnsins
 
Útlægr Guð
Smán föður
Von móður
Þraut barnsins
Stríðs sonur
 
Saurgun sannleiks
Und svíður
 
Græð kvöl hans
 
Útlægr Guð
Stormr haturs
Vex óttinn
Und svíður
Ger fortíð upp
 
Guðs plága
Ég syndir ber
 
Treyst drengnum
Sefa heift hans
 
Blóðs bölvun
Óbætanleg
 
Treyst drengnum
Sefa heift hans
 
Hann mun fara
Ég hef enga aflausn
 
Útlægr Guð
Smán föður
Von móður
Þraut barnsins
 
Útlægr Guð
Stormr haturs
Treyst drengnum
Sefa heift hans
 
Vex óttinn
Und svíður
 
Hann þjáist
Hann þarfnast föður ekki Guðs
Blóðs bölvun
Ég hef enga aflausn
 
Und svíður
Ger fortíð upp

MATT: The main theme was perfect for Kratos. We were very, pardon the pun, Spartan with his lyrics, because he’s not a guy who’s verbose about all kinds of things. Having that restriction is not something that was foreign to the narrative team because we were constantly trimming Kratos’ dialog in the game, saying “That’s too much. It doesn’t sound like him.” As soon as he talks for more than a few sentences at a time, it’s too much. Kratos speaks simply, and I felt when I heard your sketches that you understood this. Even his music was broken up into these simple beats.

BEAR: What was it like hearing your lyrics for the Kratos Theme come alive in the final mix?

MATT: I wrote all these lyrics in English and emailed them off, and then you and the audio team did your thing. From my perspective, at that point, I was out of it. I was on to the next thing. To be honest, the first time I ever heard the music was when you walked out into the orchestra pit at the E3 in 2016! I was just sitting in the audience and, boom, these bass drums and chanting male singers hit. The music started to play and nobody in the audience knew what it was. But I knew what it was! I had the extra special thing of knowing what was being sung in the lyrics. I knew the meaning behind it all.

The Kratos Theme would return for God of War Ragnarök, though I felt strongly it needed to be altered to reflect the fact that the Kratos in this game carries with him his character growth from the last game. His lyrics were changed to support this concept. I also notably added melodic quotations of the Faye Theme and Atreus Theme to the middle of the Kratos Theme, to make clear that his family has forever changed him, they are now a part of him.

“God of War Ragnarök”
From God of War Ragnarök (2022)

Exiled God
Father’s shame
Mother’s hope
Child in pain

Exiled God
Father’s shame
Mother’s hope
Child in pain
Son of War

Letting go
Takes great strength

Heal his rage

Exiled God
Storm of hate
Growing fear
Wounds remain
Exiled God
Storm of hate
Confront the past

A Giant
Dwells in the youth
A god’s son
Grows stronger
A Giant
Still young
A god’s son
Grows stronger
He will leave
I’ve no redemption

Exiled God
Father’s shame
Mother’s hope
Child in pain

(Eivør Pálsdóttir solo)
Follow my voice
Light the way through the dark

Exiled God
Father’s shame
Mother’s hope
Child in pain
Exiled God
Storm of hate
Trust the boy
Heal his rage

Ragnarok
Approaches

Prophecy
Upon the wall
Who then shall fall?
 
Ragnarok
Útlægr Guð
Smán föður
Von móður
Þraut barnsins

Útlægr Guð
Smán föður
Von móður
Þraut barnsins
Stríðs sonur
 
Fyrirgefning
er þungbær
 
Græð kvöl hans
 
Útlægr Guð
Stormr haturs
Vex óttinn
Und svíður
Útlægr Guð
Stormr haturs
Ger fortíð upp
 
Jötunninn
Í bernsku dvelur
Guðs syni
Vex máttur
Jötunninn
Ungur enn er
Guðs syni
Vex máttur
Hann mun fara
Ég hef enga aflausn
 
Útlægr Guð
Smán föður
Von móður
Þraut barnsins
 
(Eivør Pálsdóttir solo)
Heyr mína rödd
Vísa myrkvaða leið
 
Útlægr Guð
Smán föður
Von móður
Þraut barnsins
Útlægr Guð
Stormr haturs
Treyst drengnum
Sefa heift hans
 
Ragnarök
Þau nálgast
 
Spádóminn
á vegginn ritar
Hver fellur þar?
 
Ragnarök

LYRICS FOR CHARACTER THEMES

There is a striking solo in the middle of Kratos’ Theme from God of War Ragnarök sung by Eivør Pálsdóttir, quoting the Faye Theme. This melody is arguably the second most significant of the franchise. Though Faye appears only briefly on screen, her spirit is ever present in the narrative subtext. Her album track, “Memories of Mother,” features Eivør singing and humming a wordless text, meant to evoke a mother singing a gentle lullaby to an infant. However, her melody features a frequently occurring text when it appears in the score in quotations and variations. Variations of this lyrical concept are heard dozens of times, throughout both game scores, set to her memorable and mournful melody.

Faye’s Theme
Frequently Recurring Text

Follow my path
Guiding you to the truth
Fylg minni leið
Þig til sannleikans ber

With three members of the story’s core family, a trio of musical themes would not be complete until God of War Ragnarök, for which I finally composed a theme for Atreus. I didn’t write one for Atreus in the first game because it focused on him learning about his two parents. Instead, his scenes were scored with clashing variations of their themes. In contrast, God of War Ragnarök focuses on Atreus becoming his own independent person, so he needed his own theme, but surprisingly, there are no lyrics in it.

BEAR: Atreus has no words because he’s the cool teenager, and I felt his music had to rebel against the music of his father.

MATT: It’s the absolute right call, because I feel as soon as you put choir with lyrics into a theme for Atreus, it feels older and weightier. And that’s not who Atreus is.

BEAR: Agreed! Lyrics in the choir imply wisdom and experience. While Atreus is very smart and clever, he is neither wise nor experienced, yet. However, certain revelations in the narrative made it possible for me to support his character arc with a different theme, that of the long-lost Giants of Jötunheim.

MATT: I remember listening to your sketch for “Lullaby of the Giants,” and feeling it’s got this mysterious quality, but there’s a serenity and sadness as well. It felt right. The narrative team and I went deep on it, further than we needed to. I wanted to just write a poem, something that feels right. We didn’t worry about the form because we knew the music team would translate it, cut it up, and do whatever they needed with it. The Giants Theme was a vibe!

KEITH: I loved the lyrics the narrative team wrote, and they worked beautifully for the middle section, when the female singers take over. We ended up writing the lyrics for the main melody of that theme. I remember during the recording sessions that the lead soprano afterwards thought this was an authentic Old Norse lullaby. She was amazed when I told her we had written it! That was a real stamp of approval.

“Lullaby of the Giants”
From God of War (2018)

Jotun, the fierce and mighty
Exiled to their realm
Jotun, no God and no mortal,
To mountains, Jotunheim
 
Jotun, the fierce and mighty,
Exiled to their realm
Jotun, no God and no mortal,
To mountains, Jotunheim
Up to mountains, Jotunheim
 
Strike hammer skywards
None left to tell
As we flee this realm
Hide behind time
These walls of stone stand tall
We’re lost to all

Jotunheim, Jotunheim
 
Jotun, the fierce and mighty
Exiled to their realm
Jotun, no God and no mortal,
To mountains, Jotunheim
Up to mountains, Jotunheim
Up to mountains, Jotunheim
Jötnarnir, miklu og máttku
Hraktir í útlegð heim
Jötnar, ei Guðir né dauðlegir,
Til fjalla i Jötunheim
 
Jötnarnir, miklu og máttku,
Hraktir í útlegð heim
Jötnar, ei Guðir né dauðlegir,
Til fjalla i Jötunheim
Upp til fjalla i Jötunheim
 
Ljóst hamri’ að himni til
Frásagnar ei
Neinn er við flýjum land
Tíminn oss felur
Steinmúrar standa hátt
Við glötumst brátt

Jötunheim, Jötunheim
 
Jötnarnir, miklu og máttku
Hraktir í útlegð heim
Jötnar, ei Guðir né dauðlegir
Til fjalla i Jötunheim
Upp til fjalla i Jötunheim
Upp til fjalla i Jötunheim

God of War Ragnarök embraced a more nuanced and layered story with a larger cast. As a result, it required several new character themes, most of which required lyrics. I knew from day one that I would need to compose a theme for Odin, the storied villain who was built up throughout the previous game and makes his first appearance in the sequel. I wrote a theme, called “The Hand of Odin,” to represent Odin, his son Thor, and the impending death of the Norse gods, Ragnarök.

JUSTIN: For the lyrics to “The Hand of Odin” I really tried to focus on something that felt as weighty as the music that you had written, because it was so ominous and foreboding. Sure, we’re talking about mythological characters, but we can all relate to fear. We have these characters who have been invincible for all time, now facing extinction. How do you put that into words? How do you put that into music?

BEAR: I was fairly intimidated by that, true!

JUSTIN: The melody, tone, and tempo of what you composed inspired the simple opening lyric, “Twilight of the Gods,” which is the literal translation of “Ragnarök.” I wrote “Twilight of the Gods, Ragnarök is near, the mightiest will fall, and the fearless will know fear.” That last line stuck with me, as I imagined a character who has never known fear their entire existence actually feeling they are close to the end. The lyrics explore a really simple concept but with tons of meaning below the surface.

“The Hand of Odin”
From God of War Ragnarök (2022)

Twilight of the Gods
Ragnarok is near
Mightiest will fall and the
Fearless will know fear
The fearless will know fear
 
Twilight of the Gods
Ragnarok is near
Mightiest will fall and the
Fearless will know fear
The fearless will know fear
 
Showers of flame
Bring forth the end
Upon every head
A cruel sword descends
The sword descends
 
Showers of flame
Bring forth the end
A cruel sword descends
The sword descends
 
Ragnarok is near
Sortnar Goða sól
Ragnarökin nær
Æðrulausir skelfast þau
örlög þungbær
þau örlög þungbær
 
Sortnar Goða sól
Ragnarökin nær
Æðrulausir skelfast þau
örlög þungbær
þau örlög þungbær
 
Loganna haf
Endar tímans ferð
Þungt á höfuð hvert
Höggur biturt sverð
Biturt sverð
 
Loganna haf
Endar tímans ferð
Höggur biturt sverð
Biturt sverð
 
Ragnarökin nær

Creating a theme for Angrboda was another unique challenge presented in the sequel. She marked the first character of Atreus’ own age he would interact with, and brought a new perspective to the story. Her lyrics offer a simple description of her gentle life.

“Giantess of Ironwood”
From God of War Ragnarök (2022)

Mother
Mother of Wolves
 
You will endure
Will endure
 
You are your savior
 
Keeper
Keeper of souls
 
Last of the Giants
Mother of wolves
You will endure
Móðir
Móðir varga
 
Þreyja þú munt
Þreyja munt
 
Þú ert þinn bjargvættur
 
Hirðir
Hirðir sálna
 
Síðust Gýgja
Móðir varga
Þreyja þú munt

I also composed a theme for Brok and Sindri, fan-favorite supporting characters in God of War (2018) who take a central role in the sequel.

MATT: “The Huldra Brothers” hit me like a ton of bricks. I remember hearing your sketch for the first time, and I alternately got chills and tears in my eyes because I knew their arc. I heard their entire journey in that one song.

BEAR: Brok and Sindri have such a jaunty theme. If their music had a flowery, Shakespearean lyric, it would feel pretentious. Still, despite the jovial simplicity of the theme’s introduction, by the end of the game it packs the biggest emotional punch of all.

KEITH: The simplicity in the music and the lyrics helps that emotional punch later. Lines like “they forge, they mend, they sacrifice, they dream.” You can imagine those mechanical things.

BEAR: Lyrical images like that did help, especially because the dwarves have those images already associated with them from the narrative. I thought it was brilliant to make their text a bit more literal in that sense.

JUSTIN: I think this is common to mythological characters in general, that they all have something that’s iconic about them. Perhaps it’s a weapon, or a specific relationship. That’s something you can include in the lyrics and that makes sense throughout the game.

“Huldra Brothers”
From God of War Ragnarök (2022)

They forge
They mend
They sacrifice
They dream
 
Gods defy and Hell (Death)
 
They forge
They mend
They sunder
They dignify
They sacrifice
They dream
 
Forge-Mend
Forge-Mend
Dream-Sacrifice
Dream-Sacrifice
Forge-Mend
Dream-Sacrifice
Forge-Mend
 
Forged in Blood
Móta þeir
Bæta þeir
Sundra þeir
Dreymir þá
 
Goðunum storka og Hel
 
Móta þeir
Bæta þeir
Sundra þeir
Göfga þeir
Fórna þeir
Dreymir þá
 
Móta – Bæta
Móta – Bæta
Dreyma – Fórna
Dreyma – Fórna
Móta – Bæta
Dreyma – Fórna
Móta – Bæta
 
Mótað í blóði

THE PATH FROM WORDS TO MUSIC

From my earliest days writing on the God of War franchise, the need was clear for a system to be set up where the lyrics could be generated, translated, and placed into the score. Score Producers Pete Scaturro and Keith Leary were immensely helpful in creating this system, allowing me to stay focused on musical composition.

KEITH: Whenever there are lyrics in a score in a PlayStation game, the job often ends up in my lap. For example, we wrote all the lyrics to Demon’s Souls and I did all the Latin translations. (We joke that I’m the only person in the music team who is old enough to have studied Latin in school!) Creating the lyrics for God of War was a wonderful opportunity for our team. When your musical sketches come in, the first question is to figure out which category it fits in: a character theme, a realm theme, or a cinematic. Then, we start our research, starting with the narrative team, led by Matt Sophos.

MATT: When you were starting to compose for God of War (2018), Pete Scaturro and Keith Leary reached out to me and said, “Hey, would you be interested in providing lyrics for the main theme?” And honestly, I was like “Wait. You want us to write something that Bear might use? Hell yeah!” I was excited to do something I hadn’t done in my career, to contribute to lyrics for music you were going to create. There’s truly no better way for the music to tie directly into the narrative than to have the people crafting the narrative help provide the lyrics.

KEITH: For character themes, we asked the narrative team for detailed lore arcs. For a realm theme, we got the in-game mythology and researched the actual mythology as well. For a cinematic, we analyzed the emotions, the story, and the characters. What is the scene trying to say?

JUSTIN: There were significant new character and realm themes in God of War Ragnarök that had choir and beautifully written melodies. The narrative and music team were looking for some help with the lyrics, so they came to me. I jumped at the chance to be involved as a lyricist.

KEITH: For the lyrics, the simpler the better. As long as the core meaning, the core emotion that was being portrayed by the words in English, was still there in Old Norse, then we felt we were doing our job.

JUSTIN: The lyrics had to be simple because the language that they’re being translated to has far fewer words than English. I had to make sure we did not get too flowery with the language and subsequently lose meaning in the translation. To begin, I was given some character outline documents, concept art, and rough level descriptions. I really didn’t have very much to go on. But, that actually worked in my favor, because I had just enough to understand the arc of the main characters and the story.

KEITH: After we wrote the lyrics in English, the next step was to send those lyrics to the director for approval, Cory Barlog (for God of War) or Eric Williams (for God of War Ragnarök). Once a cue was fully approved, our music team would get the musical audio stems from you and your team. We would isolate the choir stem and create a choir-forward mix. We would also work with the orchestrators to create a lead sheet for the vocal parts into which we would insert the English lyrics. All those assets would then go to the translator, Björn Thorarensen, along with a blank lead sheet for him to insert his Old Norse lyrics in.

Björn Thorarensen is a singer and musician based in Iceland, whose experience creating Icelandic localized translations of Disney films brought him to the attention of the God of War team.

BJÖRN: Nobody in Norway speaks or understands Old Norse. But here in Iceland, probably due to the isolation of Iceland in the Middle Ages up to the nineteenth century, the written language stayed the same. It is the same language, grammatically, with the same vocabulary. There is, however, one thing that has changed and that’s the pronunciation. Nobody really knows why it happened, but the pronunciation really changed sometime in the fifteenth century. It may have to do with the Protestant movement. People in modern Iceland would not understand someone speaking to them in Old Norse, but we have no problem reading the old texts. We have these old sagas coming from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and we can easily read and understand everything that’s written in there.

BEAR: What are some of the biggest challenges in adapting a lyric from English to Old Norse?

BJÖRN: We’ve had lots of new words coming into Icelandic, so I was very careful not to use any modern words. I took care to only use words from Old Norse. Also, Icelandic words tend to be three or four syllables longer than the English words. To begin with, I was very worried that I was going out of your framework, because I didn’t realize I had the freedom to change the rhythms.

BEAR: I recall, early in the process, I realized you needed more notes for syllables in Old Norse than I tended to imagine when I was composing. I knew we had to give you creative license to adapt the text as needed, to make sure the Old Norse sounded poetic and intentional. I distinctly remember when your lyrics came back for the main theme. I had built the entire piece around this three-note ostinato for Kratos. And one phrase needed to be four syllables, “heal his rage” (“Sefa height hans”). Even though the four-note line broke up the signature, relentless rhythmic pattern of the theme, I wanted to keep the integrity of the lyric, because it was so important to the narrative. So, for that one bar, the iconic three note pattern became four notes! That was just one of many examples of the music being changed to accommodate the meaning of the text.

BJÖRN: In the end, I managed to make the lyrics fit. In English, there’s a very different way that you put the accents in because so often you have the accent coming on the second syllable. In Icelandic, the rule is basically that the accent is always on the first syllable of a word. We sometimes had to add extra notes to accommodate all the syllables. It was great to have that freedom.

KEITH: We asked for translations back to English to make sure that it still made sense. And it was interesting reading the back translations, because even though they made sense, it wasn’t exactly like the English lyrics we started with. But, it was always poetic and beautiful. Once we got the translations back from Björn, they were sent to the orchestrators to write them into the score and create the parts. Then, the final step was that we got the parts back from the orchestrators and copyists and sent them back to Björn one last time to proofread them.

Once Björn completed the final proofreading, the text returned to the orchestrators and copyists so that scores and parts could be printed. Beyond being a translator, Björn is also a skilled musician and singer, and took part in the recording sessions, singing in the choir on the score after having translated it.

BJÖRN: Many of the singers in Schola Cantorum are quite knowledgeable about Icelandic poetry and literature. So, I was a little stressed that they wouldn’t think my translations were so terrific. But, it was all quite well received!

DRAMATIC CUES, GOD OF WAR (2018)

My first few months writing on both God of War games were always focused on creating the main character themes. However, the majority of the music I was tasked with writing were dramatic cues (narrative scenes in which the gamer is merely an observer, called “cinematics”) and interactive music for the various realms (broadly falling into “traversal,” “skirmish,” or “combat” categories). These cues comprise the vast majority of the score, and often showcase passages where both musical and lyrical thematic threads weave together into a dynamic emotional tapestry.

Even though most cinematics feature dialog, I felt no reason to avoid lyrics in the score. I found lyrics in choral passages had a profound impact on dramatic scenes, imbuing them with gravitas and emotion. I took great care to make sure lyrics were placed in key dramatic moments where they would not detract from dialog.

KEITH: When cinematics first come to the music team, we look at what the scenes are trying to say. We want to understand the story within that cinematic. Then the team and I would match existing lyrics or write new ones to shape to that particular scene.

The first chapter of God of War (2018) introduces Kratos and Atreus as they mourn for the recently deceased Faye. These cues, represented on the soundtrack album by the song “Ashes,” showcase interweaving threads of the Kratos Theme and Faye Theme, each with their iconic lyrics. Even with a quick glance at the text, once can discern where Kratos’ iconic three notes occur, with his signature text “Útlægr Guð.”

“Ashes”
From God of War (2018)

Follow my path
Follow my room
 
Exiled God

(Eivør Pálsdóttir solo) 
Follow my path
Guiding you to the truth
A sad end to your youth
My one regret
Give him some space
He is broken inside
In time you’ll see
It, in you he’ll confide
 
Exiled God
 
(Eivør Pálsdóttir solo)
In time you’ll see
It’s you he’ll confide
Follow my path
Guiding you to the truth
A sad end to your youth
My one regret
Fylg minni leið
Fylg mínum róm
 
Útlægr Guð
 
(Eivør Pálsdóttir solo)
Fylg minni leið
Þig til sannleikans ber
Æskulok þín
Eini harmur minn er
Rými honum ljá
Brotinn andi hans er
Síðar munt sjá
Að hann treysta mun þér
 
Útlægr Guð
 
(Eivør Pálsdóttir solo)
Síðar munt sjá
Að hann treysta mun þér
Fylg minni leið
Þig til sannleikans ber
Æskulok þín
Eini harmur minn er

Sometimes a dramatic set piece, or boss fight, will feature music so distinct that it could arguably function as a character theme. One such piece from the first game underscored the bombastic Dragon fight, as Kratos and Atreus first climbed the summit in Midgard to face a beast named Hræzlyr.

“The Dragon”
From God of War (2018)

Fire comes (from) above
A bonfire will swallow all
Cut the air, leather wings
Echoing sound 
Deafening sound
No one flees
 
Flame
Burn
Deletes
Wound
World
Black
And spends soothless/ash grey souls
 
Swallowing bonfire
Envelops the shining globe
 
Flame
No one flees
Eldur kemur ofan
Bál gleypa mun alla
Skera loft leðurvængir
Bergmála hljóð
Ærandi dauðahljóð
Enginn það flýr
 
Logahríð
Brennir
Eyðir
Svíður
Heiminn
Svartan
Og eyðir öskugráum sálum
 
Gleypandi bál
Umvefur löndin glóandi faðmi
 
Logahríð
Enginn það flýr

Another dramatic combat cue that functions as a character theme is “Valkyries.” This haunting melody, and its eerily poetic text, taunted players who attempted to fight their way to Sigrún, the Valkyrie Queen.

“Valkyries”
From God of War (2018)

Seek and find courageous men
To Valhalla they go and stay there
Blood-driven choice
The horns sound
Tied up, a sword oath
Curse of the divided wings
 
Seek and find courageous men
To Valhalla go and stay there
A little undersea separated
Find them wise
Wings blow over souls and
Follow into a new world
 
Angry horns sound a
Warfare beat
The music of the winged fleet
Leitið og finnið hugdjarfa menn
Til Valhallar þeir fara’ og dvelja þar
Blóði drifinn valkostur
Hornin gjalla
Bundnir eru, sóru eið
Bölvun hinna sviðnu vængja
 
Leitið og finnið hugdjarfa menn
Til Valhallar þeir fara’ og dvelja þar
Lít und skarða skildi
Finn þá vegnu
Vængir blakta yfir sálum og
Fylgja’ í nýjan heim
 
Hátt gjalla hornin og
Stríðsdrumbur slá
Tónlist hins vængjaða flota

When I reflect on the cinematics from God of War (2018) that had the most profound emotional impact on me personally, they tend to be scenes featuring intimate character interactions between father and son. One of the most striking is the cue I wrote for the scene when Kratos finally tells Atreus of his godhood. Here the score quotes repeating phrases of Kratos’ iconic three-note ostinato, however I reharmonized them into major tonalities, and revoiced them to feel uplifting. Rather than falling upon the recurring words for Kratos’ ostinato, the lyric team wrote new text for these rhythms, for use solely in this pivotal scene of character growth.

“The Reach of Your Godhood”
From God of War (2018)

God and cage
Light your way
Around dark nights
Follow me
 
God and cage
Light the way
Hear my voice
Follow me
Follow my love
Guð og bur
Lýs yðar veg
Um dimma nótt
Fylgið mér
 
Guð og bur
Lýs þinn veg
Heyr minn róm
Fylgið mér
Fylg minni ást

Deeply emotional variations of the Kratos Theme and Faye Theme evolve throughout the 2018 game, reaching their climax with two cinematics in Jötunheim at the end of the game, “The Ninth Realm” and “The Summit.” Again, in both pieces, one can observe how the lyrics, over familiar melodies and ostinatos, have been altered to reflect the end of the uplifting story arc.

“The Ninth Realm”
From God of War (2018)

Jotun, no God and no mortal
To mountains, Jotunheim
 
Mother’s hope
Child in Pain
Mother’s hope
Child in Pain
 
Follow my path that guides you by night
He needs your strength
You need his courageous heart
 
Curse of Blood
Wounds Remain
Jötnar, ei Guðir né dauðlegir
Til fjalla í Jötunheim
 
Von móður
Þraut barnsins
Von móður
Þraut barnsins
 
Fylg minni leið er þér lýsir um nótt
Hann þarf þinn styrk
Þú þarft hjarta hans frjótt
 
Blóðs bölvun
Und sviõur

“The Summit”
From God of War (2018)

Follow my voice that guides you by night
He needs your strength
You need his courageous heart
The past shall be forgotten
Nothing more will be added
Follow my path and follow my love
 
Follow my path
Bound together
Follow my love
Fylg minni rödd er þér lýsir um nótt
Hann þarf þinn styrk
Þú þarft hjarta hans frjótt
Liðnu skal gleymt
Ekkert fleira mun bætt
Fylg minni leið og fylg minni ást
 
Fylg minni leið
Saman fá grætt
Fylg minni ást

DRAMATIC CUES, GOD OF WAR RAGNARÖK

God of War Ragnarök (2022) needed many new cinematics and boss fight cues. One of the most lyrically nuanced is the music for the set piece in which Atreus and Angrboda confront her grandmother, Grýla.

JUSTIN: “Grýla” is probably the longest piece I wrote, for a character who is clearly not the centerpiece of the game. But the composition was just so fantastic! Your music included lower vocals, higher vocals, and there was a melody that the piece begins with that’s slightly different from the rest. I treated the opening as a prologue, kind of like a Greek chorus, where the singers act as an omniscient narrator explaining the setting. Here’s where we are, here’s who this character is.

ERIC: When you read the words, particularly in the Grýla and Angrboda sections, the lyrics basically tell their stories. Even though you can’t understand it, you’re getting that feeling the whole time.

JUSTIN: After the narrator, we have the male vocals singing as Grýla’s lost son, speaking to her directly. And then the higher vocals serve as Angrboda’s melody, offering her perspective, reaching out to her grandmother saying, “I just want to love you. I just want to be loved by you.” In response, the lower vocal part speaks to Grýla, saying, “Hey, just listen to her. Forgive me for what I’ve done. Don’t blame her.” It’s a beautiful, tragic situation. Although we’re experiencing the story in the context of a video game, it is written like any kind of family drama. I feel like a lot of people can relate to it. The different vocal lines you composed allowed for a lot of interplay between different character perspectives.

KEITH: “Grýla” features technically the best lyrics in the whole score. I think we just got lucky with Justin, he is a very intelligent dude.

“Grýla”
From God of War Ragnarök (2022)

Beware, you innocent beasts
Who call this hidden wood home
For Gryla here doth make feasts
Of any soul caught alone
 
Poor mother desperate to
Smother her grief
With just a whisper she can
Steal a soul
Find relief
But though she fills her cauldron
Her empty heart remains broken
 
Dear mother,
Hear me
Do not blame her for my choice
She is blood,
Yours and mine
Show her kindness
Forgive your son
For what I have done
 
Poor mother desperate to
Smother her grief
With just a whisper she can
Steal a soul
Find relief
But though she fills her cauldron
Her empty heart remains broken
 
With just a whisper she can
Steal a soul
Find relief
But though she fills her cauldron
Her empty heart remains broken
 
Dear Gryla
Hear my plea
Show her love
Forgive me
Saklausu dýr, varist þér
Sem eigið heimili hér
Því Grýla veislu býr sér
Úr þeim sem einsamall fer
 
Móðir af örvæntingu
Hylur sinn harm
Með einu hvísli getur
Stolið sál
Þerrað hvarm
En þó hún fylli pottinn
Hennar kjarni enn er brotinn
 
Kær móðir,
Heyr mig
Refsa henni‘ ei fyrir val mitt
Hún er blóð,
mitt og þitt
Sýndu gæsku
Syni fyrirgef
Fyrir það er gert ég hef
 
Móðir í örvæntingu
Hylur sinn harm
Með einu hvísli getur
Stolið sál
Þerrað hvarm
En þó hún fylli pottinn
Hennar kjarni enn er brotinn
 
Með einu hvísli getur
Stolið sál
Þerrað hvarm
En þó hún fylli pottinn
Hennar kjarni enn er brotinn
 
Kær Grýla
Bæn ég hef
Sýn kærleik
Fyrirgef

Some of my favorite Angrboda moments occur in her intimate conversations with Atreus. Though both characters have their own themes which certainly get their moments to shine, I frequently created more emotional impact in their scenes by quoting the Giants Theme, a melody they share through ancestry.

“Whispered Souls”
From God of War Ragnarök (2022)

Jotun, the fierce and, mighty
Exiled to their realm
Jotun no God and no mortal
To mountains, Jotunheim
To the mountains, Jotunheim
To the mountains, Jotunheim
Jötnarnir, miklu og máttku
Hraktir í útlegð heim
Jötnar, ei Guðir né dauðlegir
Til fjalla í Jötunheim
Upp til fjalla í Jötunheim
Upp til fjalla í Jötunheim

For the Nidhogg boss battle in Vanaheim I wrote a unique combat cue, as we knew it would be used in this specific story moment and could make the lyrics very specific to the narrative.

“The Hidden Beast”
From God of War Ragnarök (2022)

Cursed tree
Crimson soil
Putrid garden
The serpent there coils

Queen, fly home
Make loose the knot
That twists your fate, a strangled root
Fly home!

Beast bound
Beast slithers
Roots drown
Roots wither

Beast bound
Beast slithers

Cast off your chains
Take hold the reins
Eternal

Beast bound
Beast slithers
Roots drown
Roots wither
Beast bound
Beast slithers
Roots drown
Beast bound
The root withers away

Beast bound
Roots drown
Beast bound
Bölvað tré
blóðrauð jörð
Hringar sig
Ormur í úldinn svörð

Drottning far heim
Og leys þann hnút
Sem veldur þér ávallt sorg og sút
Far heim!

Engist
Dýr fjötrað
Drukknar
Rót visnar

Engist
Dýr fjötrað

Kastaðu dróma
Gríp valdatauma
Ævarandi

Engist
Dýr fjötrað
Drukknar
Rót visnar
Engist
Dýr fjötrað
Drukknar
Engist
Rót visnandi fer

Engist
Drukknar
Engist

The grandest set piece in either game, the climactic battle of Ragnarök, presented unique challenges for both music and lyrics. By this point in the game, I wasn’t sure how I would get a cue to sound any bigger than the bombastic ones I had already written. Thankfully, the creative team proposed an alternate approach: crafting a dramatic, emotional cue that built gradually over the course of the battle.

“Ragnarök”
From God of War Ragnarök (2022)

War! Blood!
Valhalla be warned
End is here
The world will burn

Ragnarok
The world destroyer
With sword forged
Brings death to Asgard as foretold

Fate marches on
Night
Dawn
After death
Comes rebirth

Nine realms united in war
Clash with Odin’s Einjerjar
Torn earth and fallen heroes
None can oppose what fate has written

War
Blood
War

End
Stríð! Blóð!
Valhöll varast þú
Endir nær
Heimur mun brenna

Ragnarök
Veraldar böðull
Með brugðið sverð
Mun eyða Ásgarði eins og spáð var

Örlög streyma
Nótt
Dögun
Eftir dauða
Endurfæðing

Sameinuð ríki níu
Berjast við Einherja Óðins
Sviðin jörð og fallnar hetjur
Enginn stenst örlaganna þungan nið

Stríð
Blóð
Stríð

Endalok

The epic battles were not the most daunting cues in the game, however. I felt a nearly overwhelming pressure when I set out to score the final scene with Kratos and Atreus together, “Letting Go.” I took inspiration from the scene’s title, and let go of my own insecurities and fears, to simply write the best cue I could. All I could do was hope I would compose something worthy of the story and characters.

KEITH: After the game came out, I saw many fans talking about the ending of the game, especially “Letting Go.” There was one line, “prophecy becomes the truth,” that I think came from the script. That, for me, was a key line for that scene. “With honor, with dignity, with heart, with courage. The brave shall live forever.” So many of the lines in this piece are very simple writing, right? But that simplicity works.

“Letting Go”
From God of War Ragnarök (2022)

Son of War
 
Prophecy
Truth
Prophecy becomes the truth
Prophecy becomes the truth
A new journey
A new dawn, a new journey
 
A new sun rises
On a new world
A new beginning
A new dawn
 
The brave shall live forever
 
A new sun rises
On a new world
A new beginning
A new dawn
With honor
With dignity
With heart
The brave shall live forever
Stríðs sonur
 
Spádómur
Sannleikur
Spádómur verður sannleikur
Spádómur verður sannleikur
Nýtt ferðalag
Ný dögun, nýtt ferðalag
 
Ný sól rís
Nýr heimur
Ný byrjun
Ný dögun
 
Hugdjarfir lifa að eilifu
 
Ný sól rís
Nýr heimur
Ný byrjun
Ný dögun
Með sóma
Með virðingu
Með kærleik
Hugdjarfir lifa að eilifu

In the game’s final cinematic, “A Viking Funeral,” all the Dwarven characters gather in their homeland (including the handsome hurdy gurdy playing dwarf, Ræb!) The cue I composed was built upon the Brok and Sindri theme, reimagined as a funereal dirge. Rather than quoting the shared lyrical iconography of “Huldra Brothers” or “Svartalfheim,” lyricist Keith Leary felt a new approach would be more effective.

KEITH: When we were writing lyrics for “Raeb’s Lament,” I found and incorporated an ancient Viking prayer. That was one of the best finds in my research. It says “where the brave may live forever” and that idea translated beautifully.

“Raeb’s Lament”
From God of War Ragnarök (2022)

Lo there, Brother
Brave Brother
Take your place
where the brave shall live
for eternity
I will see you soon
Take your place,
where the brave shall live on
Forever
Heill þér, bróðir
Frækinn bróðir
Finnumst með ásum
á lðavelli grænum
til eilífðar
Minnumst á megin dóma
Finnumst með ásum
á lðavelli grænum
Til eilífðar

LYRICS FOR THE REALMS

Because of the music’s relatively limited use, lyrics for the cinematics and boss set pieces could be very narratively specific. We all felt the interactive adaptive music underscoring the main game play also deserved to have equally meaningful text. We just had to craft lyrics carefully, because these cues could be used for a variety of purposes throughout each realm, at various points within the narrative.

Midgard is the realm where Kratos shared his life with Faye, and where his home still lies, so we felt that this realm’s music should be the one most closely connected to Kratos’ Theme. The music, and especially lyrics, underline Midgard as being Kratos and Atreus’ home.

“Midgard”
From God of War Ragnarök (2022)

Dark days
Cold bears down
 
Dying light
Frigid blight
 
Exiled God
Father’s shame
Mother’s hope
Child’s pain
World stands still
Fate draws near
Fate draws near
World stands still
 
Fate draws near
Storms of war
End is near
Myrk tíð
Kuldahríð
 
Ljósið deyr
Nístir þeyr
 
Útlægr Guð
Smán föður
Von móður
Þraut barnsins
Kyrr tíminn
Örlög nær
Örlög nær
Kyrr tíminn
 
Örlög nær
Stormastríð
Nálgast lok

One of the largest realms in God of War Ragnarök (2022), Svartlafheim is the home of the dwarves. Having already composed a jaunty theme for Brok and Sindri, I wanted to incorporate their musical identity into the music for their homeland. The text team likewise leaned on lyrical imagery that evokes Brok and Sindri’s words.

“Svartalfheim”
From God of War Ragnarök (2022)

Brothers in blood
Brothers in steel and in flame
Bellows breathe, hammers blow
Strong is the bond
Strong is the bond by the forge

Defy, provoke
Hammers blow
They defy Hell (death)
Defy, provoke
Defy Gods
They provoke Hell (death)

Brothers in blood and in steel
Hammers blow, hammers blow
Brothers in blood and in steel
Hammers blow, in our hearts, early and late
 
The fire in our hearts
Begets the fire in our blades
Our blades
The strength in our hearts
Begets the strength in our shields
Our shields
 
Tell me now
Do you know
The place where dreams are born
 
Our journey
Starts here
And nothing we shall fear
 
Hope awakens
As fear is silenced
And darkness fades
When the light shows the homeward road
Bræður í blóði
Bræður í stáli og báli
Belgir físa, hamarshögg
Römm er sú taug
Römm sú taug við aflinn

Storka, ögra
Hamarshögg
Storka þeir Hel
Storka, ögra
Storka Goðum
Ögra þeir Hel
 
Bræður í blóði og stáli
Hamarshögg, hamarshögg
Bræður í blóði og stáli
Hamarshögg, hjörtum í, ár og síð
 
Bálið í hjörtum vorum
Bálið tendrar ljómann í sverðum vorum
Sverðum vorum
Máttur í hjörtum vorum
Magnar styrkinn í skjöldum vorum
Skjöldum vorum
 
Seg mér nú
Þekkir þú
Staðinn þar sem draumar fæðast
 
Okkar ferð
Byrjar hér
Og ekkert munum hræðast
 
Vonin vaknar
Þá óttinn þagnar
Og myrkrið víkur
Er ljósið vísar veginn heim

Gamers got to explore the realm of Alfheim in both games, providing two opportunities to expand upon this haunting theme. I am fond of these lyrics because they embrace the concept of war between the Dark and Light Elves, without taking a side, thus embracing the moral gray area of the narrative.

“Alfheim”
From God of War Ragnarök (2022)

Bright and dark
Fate of slaves
Dark and bright
And hate of slaves
War and hate of slaves
 
Hate and war

Dark and bright
Bright and dark
Slaves fortune
Cruel fate
 
(Eivør Pálsdóttir solo)
Divine plague
My sins laid bare
Curse of blood
Beyond repair
 
Bound by light
Forever
Light and dark
And dark and gentle
Hate of slaves and war
Bjart og dimmt
Örlög þræla
Dimmt og bjart
Og hatur þræla
Stríð og hatur þræla
 
Hatur og stríð

Dimm og björt
Björt og dimm
Auðna þrælsins
Örlög grimm
 
(Eivør Pálsdóttir solo)
Guðs plága
Ég syndir ber
Blóðs bölvun
Óbætanleg
 
Ljósi bundin
Alla tíð
Björt og dimm
Og dimm og blíð
Hatur þræla og stríð

Helheim, the realm of the dead, is similarly explored in both games. The music of Helheim is inspired by the region’s ice and wind, translated into music by long, slow-motion atonal choral clusters. The music is viscerally sour. Upon entering Helheim, one is visited by the ghosts from their own tormented past, forced to confront mistakes and regrets. Inspired by this, the lyric team repurposed the text of Kratos’ iconic ostinato. In this new context, the very words that usually accompany a triumphant rhythm are now smeared across dissonant, horrific textures. Instead of empowering Kratos, they taunt him.

“Helheim”
From God of War (2018)

Exiled God
Father’s Shame
Mother’s hope
 
Exiled God
Father’s Shame
 
Mother’s hope
Child in Pain
Son of War
 
 He’s in pain
Curse of Blood
Wounds Remain
Útlægr Guð
Smán föður
Von móður
 
Útlægr Guð
Smán föður
 
Von móður
Þraut barnsins
Stríðs sonur
 
Hann þjáist
Blóðs bölvun
Und svíður

These lyrics are most clear in “Helheim” from the God of War (2018) soundtrack, but we repurposed the same ideas for “Return to Helheim,” in God of War Ragnarök (2022).

Vanaheim is the most exotic and expansive realm to explore in God of War Ragnarök (2022). The team crafted a lyric that reflects Freya’s banishment and return.

“Vanaheim”
From God of War Ragnarök (2022)

Exiled queen of Vanaheim
Forsaken queen
Come home
Reclaim your seat of honour
Forsaken queen
Has come home
 
Noble queen
Daughter
Sister
Reclaim your high-seat (throne)

Draw
Bow
Axe
Wield
 
Raise the swords
Defy
Provoke
The hand of Odin
 
Search
And you will find
Your own way

Broken truce
Raising swords
Life taken
The flame
 
Enemy laughs
Teeth and claws
Shining spear
The steel
 
Broken truce
Raising swords
Life taken
The flame
Útlæg drottning Vanaheims
Týnda dottning
Kom heim
Endurheimt þitt öndvegi
Týnda drottning
Komin heim
 
Tigna drottning
Dóttir
Systir
Endurheimt þitt hásæti

Spenna
Boga
Öxi
Bregða
 
Lyftið sverðum
Storkið
Ögrið
Óðins mund
 
Leita
Og þú finnur
Tína egnu leið

Samningi rift
Sverðunum lyft
Lífinu svipt
Bálið
 
Óvinur hlær
Tennur og klær
Vigurinn skær
Stálið
 
Samningi rift
Sverðunum lyft
Lífinu svipt
Bálið

In both actual Norse mythology and the lore of the God of War franchise, the realms of Muspelheim and Niflheim are primordial, related realms. I wanted to codify this concept into music when scoring God of War Ragnarök (2022) by writing one shared piece of music for them, giving each realm a unique variant of musical color. For the fires of Muspelheim, I set the melody for low male singers. For the chilly mists of Niflheim, I moved the melody into the airy upper registers of female singers.

JUSTIN: The first lyric I wrote was for “Muspelheim.” This was kind of like my trial for Pete Scaturro and Keith Leary. Your writing made so much sense that I was inspired to write something that I felt was poetic. Maybe too poetic. It had a rhyming structure, even though a lot of the lyrics written for God of War (2018) were not written in rhyme because it all gets translated anyway. But, for me, putting that constraint on myself helped me focus and find the right tone and the right message. They loved it and asked me to take a stab at “Niflheim.” So, then I listened to “Niflheim” and realized it was the same melody as “Muspelheim.” I thought I probably should have listened to this before the other one! But, I took a stab at writing a companion piece, with slightly different words. And I think it worked.

“Muspelheim and Niflheim”
From God of War Ragnarök (2022)

Silent and still is this
Realm of frost
Echoing beats of a
Heart once lost
 
Deadly fog
Hangs low
Masking tears
Of snow
Ancient love
Grows cold
Nevermore
Behold
 
Ceiling of smoke and a floor of fire
Kyrrlát og hljóð
Er sú fimbultíð
Bergmálar
Hjartans slögin stríð
 
Banvæn móða
Liggur lág
Felur tár
Af snjá
Gömul ást
Kólnar þá
Aldrei framar
Sjá
 
Súðin er svæla en botnþiljur bál

BLOOD UPON THE SNOW

Not all the lyrics in the modern God of War franchise are sung in Old Norse or Icelandic. The one notable exception is the Hozier song I co-wrote and co-produced with Andrew Hozier-Byrne, “Blood Upon the Snow.” We wrote the song for the God of War Ragnarök end credits, and it grew into an anthem for the game, embraced by fans since its release for having captured the emotional essence of the two-game saga.

The lyrics were written by Andrew, inspired by the game’s narrative. The song began with a two-hour conversation between Andrew and Eric Williams. Eric set the tone for Andrew’s lyrics with the three descriptors he used to describe all aspects of the game: “Epic, Unflinching, and Honest.”

ERIC: It’s this big epic world, with this unflinching display of everything, from the combat to emotions. But, then it’s also very honest. We’re trying to make the characters as honest as real people, warts and all. I think Andrew immediately understood that. And when we started seeing his lyrics, I could see the song starting to take shape. There’s a natural, animalistic tone in those lyrics, but yet they convey this parent-child relationship.

“The song is something of a journey and I think that’s something I always got from God of War,” Andrew said in a behind-the-scenes interview during our recording sessions last fall. “I really enjoyed the returning motif of a bear and a wolf. Two animals. One is definitely not a pack creature. One is a solitary creature. Yet they travel together. They’re a pack of two. The tensions, the push and pull of a father-son relationship. That was the fun challenge of bringing that into a lyrical narrative that feels natural.”

ERIC: The idea of the bear and the wolf is something from God of War (2018), when we coined those terms for Kratos and Atreus. That always stuck with me because I like the naturalistic, organic descriptors of the characters. I like the idea of Kratos being a bear, an animal that goes out on its own. And Atreus being the wolf, a pack animal. They’re so different. The bear can clear a path that the wolf can follow. They can coexist and work together. I always liked the poetic nature of it.

“Blood Upon the Snow”
Music by Andrew Hozier-Byrne and Bear McCreary
Lyrics by Andrew Hozier-Byrne
From God of War Ragnarök (2022)

To all things housed in her silence
Nature offers a violence
The bear that keeps to his own line
The wolf that seeks always his own kind
The world that hardens as the harsher winter holds
The parent forced to eat its young before it grows

Every bird, gone unheard
Starving where the ground has froze
The winter sunrise, red on white
Like blood upon the snow
Like blood upon the snow

The ground walked here is a wonder
It ceases never to hunger
And all things nature’s given
She takes all things back from the living

I’ve walked the earth and there are so few here that know
How dark the night and just how cold the wind can blow
I’ve no more hunger now to see where the road will go
I’ve no more kept my warmth
Than blood upon the snow
Blood upon the snow
Blood upon the snow
Blood upon the snow

It’s not my arms that will fail me
But this world takes more strength than it gave me
The trees deny themselves nothing that makes them grow
No rain fall, no sunshine
No blood upon the snow
Blood upon the snow
Blood upon the snow
Blood upon the snow

To all things housed in her silence
Nature offers a violence

THE SPIRIT OF COLLABORATION

Game development is an exhausting endeavor for everyone involved. Knowing how much work was expected of everyone on the team already, I was struck by their overwhelming enthusiasm to contribute lyrics to the music. It seemed that everyone was eager to juggle their primary jobs and create lyrics at the same time.

KEITH: You know what it’s like, Bear. It’s so intense. There are the time constraints, and you’re just working so hard all hours of the day. You’ve got to get it done. But within that, you also have to maintain your creativity. Ultimately, the work has got to be right, emotionally and narratively.

MATT: I spoke to a classroom of writing students at a college recently and they asked me what my favorite moment in the game development process is. And I told them it’s when the music comes in! Because, up until that point, there’s chaos. But, when the music comes into a scene, you finally get a look at the full picture of it. It’s almost like the music is a cheat, a total cheat code, and you know the scenes and gameplay are going to get so much better. I appreciate every chance I’ve gotten to have conversations with you about character and story because you care so much, and that means the world to me and the narrative team.

JUSTIN:  I’m a huge fan of yours, and it’s been great partnering with you on projects over the past few years. And I know what your fans expect of you. They expect you to dig deep and pull back the curtain to show all this work. They expect nothing less. Being a part of the writing here with the lyrics was a huge honor for me.

BJÖRN: I don’t think those of us in the choir realized in the beginning how huge this game was going to be. Projects like this are very rare. So, for all of us in Schola Cantorum, working on God of War was great fun and an honor. And you should be, of course, so proud of what you’ve done here. It’s fantastic music.

ERIC: You know what’s really poetic about all this, at least in my mind, because I’ve been with you on this for so long. We brought this Norse saga to life at E3 in 2016 with Bear McCreary on stage conducting an orchestra and choir of our Main Theme. And we closed it on stage in 2022 with you and Hozier on stage at the Video Game Awards, performing “Blood Upon the Snow.” That’s kind of special.

BEAR: I appreciate all of you chatting with me about the creation of these lyrics, and I hope this gives fans a newfound appreciation for how much work goes into just this one particular layer of their experience. I guess my final question for everybody is a simple one: was it worth it?

JUSTIN: It’s definitely worth it, Bear. For me, personally, the opportunity to contribute creatively on any of our projects is always welcome. Even if that contribution ends up on the cutting room floor or is buried somewhere, you know it’s all a team effort.

MATT: If I get the opportunity to contribute to lyrics in the future, I will jump at that chance because it’s such a cool feeling!

KEITH: One hundred percent worth it. I feel very proud. I feel proud for myself, but mainly feel proud for the team. Everybody’s contribution was significant. I feel proud for you. You know what you brought to it. And doing a sequel, I feel, is actually harder than doing the first one in a lot of ways. You really did a great job. Do you think you reached your own personal expectations with God of War Ragnarök?

BEAR: I actually feel exactly like I did after God of War (2018) came out, oddly. Playing the final game exceeded my expectations and yet I can now hear new things I want to do better in the future. So yes, my work exceeded my admittedly self-critical and lofty expectations, but I’m already excited for the next opportunity to apply what I’ve learned and become a better composer. I’m excited to try to top it next time.

KEITH: We feel exactly the same way. That’s the type of people we are.

Bear McCreary
April, 2023


Special thanks are owed to everyone who participated in creating this blog entry, especially Pete Scaturro, Keith Leary, and Angelina Park at Sony Interactive Entertainment, as well as Reed Trachy and everyone at Sparks & Shadows.

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