Paul Leonard-Morgan Explains His Dark Soundtrack For Dawn Of War III

Posted on by HB Duran

“It’s not often you get the chance to do something completely different,” Paul Leonard-Morgan told me over the phone from his Santa Monica studio in between recording sessions. The BAFTA and Emmy award-winning composer is known for his edgy, electronic themes for Dredd, Limitless and Battlefield: Hardline—driving synth that narrates emotion, action and environment all at once. But that day, we were talking about Dawn of War III.

LeonardMorgan spent over a year on the project and wrote 150 minutes of music for 180 individual cues. Due to the amount of music, the score was mixed in two studios on two continents for two months.

41st Millennium Color Palette

With the accent of a Scotsman and the frantic, passionate tone of a mad scientist, Leonard-Morgan explained that each project has its own color palette—and Dawn of War III’s is “dark, dark, dark.”

“You can’t see, but I’m surrounded by a billion pictures from this game because I have, as of this morning, finished up the last trailer for it,” he said. “I like immersing myself in a world whether the world is this [Dawn of War III], Dredd, a band—whatever it is. For me, [over] the last year and a quarter—you gradually start coming up with the colors for a score.

“The color palette is not orchestral. If people are expecting a typical Game of Thrones type of [soundtrack], it’s not happening. Yes, there’s orchestra on it, but it’s very much in the background. At the forefront is the analog synth and the orchestra kind of helps it along its way rather than being an orchestra soundtrack with a little bit of synth.”

Different, But Good

Those who have played the previous games will immediately notice a stark difference in soundtrack from those composed by Doyle W. Donahoo.

“People have played Warhammer for [a long time],” he said, “and it’s important that you don’t go on too much of a tangent that it’s going to annoy them but at the same time, you wanna bring it up to a new generation as well.”

Dawn of War III is a brutal battlefield set in the 41st millennium, which opens up the imagination to what a composer could do within that lore.

“It could be a million years ago or a million years in the future—it’s just a completely unique universe,” Leonard-Morgan said. “I didn’t listen to the previous Dawn of War soundtracks. Not because I didn’t have any interest, but because I didn’t want to be beholden to previous soundtracks. I told [Relic Entertainment], ‘I’d love to do this but I want to create my own unique sound,’ and they really went for it.”

Collaborating with the Relic team, his confidence was boosted when fans heard his score for the official announcement trailer. Thousands of emails poured in wanting to know where they could buy the music—a great sign that he was on the right track.

Dark, Dark, Dark

The soundtrack for Dawn of War III is hard to categorize, and Leonard-Morgan likes it that way. “I like it when you do mash-ups,” he said.

“A lot of the sounds I used to create this game [soundtrack] is so unique that I spent ages just to create these weird, synth-y, analog combos. There’s Minimoog mashed up with a real orchestra that I made a patch out of, and then [took] that real orchestra (which I recorded 10 years ago) and made a sample out of it and then put it through so many effects that it’s just this crunchy kind of an 8-bit sound blended in with the Minimoog. That became the lead, bendy horn in the trailer and in the game for a lot of the main sound. It’s as much about the sounds as it is about the melodies; it’s about making people feel immersed in this world.

“I created so many samples. I went to the parking structure just outside my studio in Santa Monica and took rocks and slabs of concrete and just smashed them all down and made effects out of those and adding reverb and re-tuning them. They became very metallic sounds in the end. I went off to record bird sounds—I sound like such a hippy,” he laughed, “and watched the sun come up and it was really cool. There’s this planet [in the game] which is very Earth-like in appearance, whereas a lot of the other planets have lava flowing, ice and so on . . . and you’re trying to make each of these planets very unique so that every planet has a different sound. So it’s got to tie-in with the overall sound of the game which I created, but at the same time they have to sound unique so you know by the sound which planet you’re on.

“For this Earth-like planet I thought, ‘let’s get a real natural sound.’ So I went up into the hills and recorded bird sounds at about 5 ‘oclock in the morning when the sun was just coming up and sampled them all up, made them all very strange and very kind of weird sounding with phasers and flangers and re-tuned them and made a kind of drum loop out of it. So in one of the atmos layers, it’s coming in and out. I like doing stuff that’s subliminal so people don’t realize it–you’re just carried along on an emotional journey without realizing why you’re being carried along.”

Paul Leonard-Morgan’s passion for music is infectious, and the resulting soundtrack is incredible.

Warhammer 4000: Dawn of War III is available now for Microsoft Windows and its soundtrack will be available to purchase this summer. For more information on Paul Leonard-Morgan and his music, you can check out his official website.

HB Duran
VGNS Founder, HB Duran is a gamer, artist, musician and occasional game dev. From early forays into all-night NES sessions, her career has blossomed into working as a game industry journalist, artist, QA tester and consultant. “HB” plays a variety of game genres and platforms, but is best known for her love of Silent Hill.

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