The Halo soundtrack is truly wonderful, not only does it do its job of creating an ancient, powerful and mysterious feeling when exploring the varied environments of the various Halo games, the soundtrack makes traversing open landscapes, tight corridors and winding, labyrinthine battlefields both on and off of Halo rings all the more atmospheric and enjoyable thanks to the fact that the soundtrack is so rich and masterfully crafted by the fantastic Martin O’Donnell.
However, although the soundtracks for all the Halo games can be considered masterpieces, there are certainly some standout tracks that are iconic and perfectly suited to their moment in gameplay, but, also stand out as excellent pieces of music in their own right. These are in no particular order until the top three, and some may surprise you.
Charity’s Irony – Halo 2 Anniversary Soundtrack
This is a remastered version of the final section of the High Charity Suite from the original Halo 2 Soundtrack, that plays in-game during the opening segment of the mission, High Charity. The focus is clear here – this is the theme for the Covenant Holy City, which ironically plays in-game just as the city begins to fall to the Flood, and another reason why I like it so much. The tune itself is a fantastic electronic track that makes encounters tense but is actually very intricately constructed, like all of the best Halo tunes, including electronic tones and choral singing for an iconic Halo feel.
Bravery, Brotherhood – Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Soundtrack
This is a remastered version of Brothers in Arms from the original Halo: Combat Evolved soundtrack, and continues the legacy that its ancestor set down of having a Brothers in Arms variant in almost every Halo game, getting more bombastic each time. This represents the culmination of the evolution of the Brothers in Arms melody that was built upon in Follow our Brothers, the version that appeared in Halo 3. This version crescendos with the most energetic vigor yet, and hopefully the next time this track gets remastered they will continue this pattern.
Heretic, Hero – Halo 2 Soundtrack
Heretic, Hero is essentially the Arbiter’s theme in Halo 2, which is contestable with several other tracks on the soundtrack – Respite, from the High Charity Suite, or Reclaimer (ironically). The difference with Heretic, Hero is that it always plays during tense encounters with longevity, such as the section with the Wraith tank in the last level of Halo 2, or the Gondola section that the Arbiter traverses to recover the Sacred Icon. Either way, Heretic, Hero is an excellent ambient soundtrack that combines heavy, industrial tones with choir and light guitar riffs, and the name of the song reflects the Arbiter’s status as a branded Heretic on a mission to save his race.
Spirit of Fire – Halo Wars Soundtrack
For a main theme, Halo Wars could have done much worse. Spirit of Fire sums up Halo Wars in one piece of music – it harks back to the pre-classic era of Halo whilst also creating an atmosphere of isolation and desperation as the crew of the actual Spirit of Fire are left drifting in space. The piano segments are chilling and the piece is generally considered to be one of the most moving pieces to come from the Halo Wars subgenre of Halo Soundtracks. Undoubtedly, it is one of my favourite re-imaginings of the Halo theme and holds a rightful place as a unique theme for a wholly unique game.
Requiem – Halo 4 Soundtrack
Whilst Halo 4’s soundtrack is not one of my favourites, by any stretch of the imagination, it cannot be said that it was completely devoid of music that sounded truly Halo-esque. Of the best tracks on the Halo 4 soundtrack like Arrival, 117, Green and Blue, Solace, Wreckage and Mantis, none really compares to Requiem for me. Not only does it perfectly capture the feeling of wonder when emerging from the cave near the start of Halo 4 and seeing, for the first time, the unique floating metal structures of the Dyson Sphere known as Requiem, but the song itself is so mellow, so interesting. It sounds almost like the opening theme to a David Attenborough documentary series, if not for the periodic haunting-sounding electronic pangs. Overall, highly atmospheric, and certainly very Halo.
In Amber Clad – Halo 2 Soundtrack
A remake/re-imagining of Under Cover of Night from the Halo: Combat Evolved Original Soundtrack, which is itself a fantastic track, In Amber Clad provides for me what I call ‘the Halo 2 effect’, in that the unique style of Halo 2’s art and sound design makes each piece of the soundtrack truly unique from other soundtracks within Halo in that the atmosphere that Marty O’ Donnell seems so adept at creating and infusing into his soundtracks is very much alive and well here. The tune is nostalgic and hopeful but puts its own twist on the Under Cover of Night melody, combining several electric guitars with the preexisting ever-present bass line. A great little detail is the guitar lingering at the end after all the other instruments have stopped, a detail that was tragically removed from this song’s remake, Trapped in Amber.
Epilogue – Halo 2 Soundtrack
As far as Epilogue’s go, Halo 2’s is both extensive and simultaneously nonexistent. As far as the cliffhanger ending goes, most people agree now that the game earned one, and in hindsight this made Halo 3 all the better. But players at the time did complain that Halo 2 does seem to just cut off right when stuff starts to get good. You kill Tartarus as the Arbiter, thereby preventing him from activating the Halo ring, and yet Master Chief is left plummeting towards Earth on a Forerunner ship controlled by the Covenant, and then the game just ends. But it does have an Epilogue, and according to this tune that includes the first song of the credits, a fantastic continuation of the motif heard at the start of Impend from earlier in the Halo 2 soundtrack that features poignant guitar melodies performed by none other than John Mayer, who remained deliberately uncredited for 10 years so that he could keep the secret between his friends.
Perilous Journey – Halo: Combat Evolved Soundtrack
Perilous Journey is a truly iconic piece, not least because it plays during three of the best levels of Halo: Combat Evolved, as well as being remastered twice and featuring in one of Halo 3’s best levels. But despite appearing more than most tunes on the Halo soundtrack and across multiple games, this track never gets old. It fosters a feeling of adventure and inspires hope during difficult encounters such as the battle with the Zealot on the snowy bridge during Assault on the Control Room, or during the vehicle section of Halo 3’s The Ark. This track has been remade into First Step for Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary and was remade and included as Make Them Pay in the Farthest Outpost suite of the Halo 3 Soundtrack, truly a testament to its memorability and standout quality as a tune.
Covenant Dance – Halo: Combat Evolved Soundtrack
This tune is brilliant, and it is a shock to me that it was never re-released in any other Halo game. This does mean that the bond between this tune and its origin game is very strong, since hearing it brings back memories exclusive to Halo: Combat Evolved. Thanks to Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, a remaster of this tune does exist in the form of Choreographite, and although that tune is great in its own right nothing quite beats the original for nostalgia factor alone. The best thing about this piece is the sudden and unexpected shift halfway through from a generic-sounding Halo drum-and-choral track to a groovy electronic dance track. What makes this piece particularly memorable is that it plays when you finally reach the control room in Halo: Combat Evolved’s Assault on the Control Room, and the electronic part kicks in just as the door opens to reveal a Zealot and his advance guard, heightening the tension and enjoyment factor of the encounter.
Asphalt and Ablution – Halo 3: ODST Soundtrack
Despite the fact that this is the only track from the Halo 3: ODST Soundtrack that features on this list, it cannot be understated how fantastic the soundtrack for this game is. Despite the fact that, like all Bungie Halo games, this soundtrack was composed by the one and only Martin O’Donnell, the whole album sounds nothing like anything that has ever been in Halo before or since. For one, the welcome introduction of the saxophone as a regular recurring instrument in this soundtrack gives every track a dark, moody noir feeling, which fits perfectly with this game’s setting in an abandoned futuristic metropolis drenched in rain at night time, and the slower pace signifies the increased difficulty and setup of encounters in the game, since in this game you are no longer a super-soldier. If you’re a fan of night-time ambience, this track is for you.
Under Cover of Night – Halo Combat Evolved Soundtrack
Remade as In Amber Clad that was included on this list, as well as Cloaked in Blackness for Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, Under Cover of Night is different enough from its progeny that it stands out for more reasons than it just being the original. Playing at iconic parts of levels like Truth and Reconciliation and Two Betrayals, this track has the legitimate Halo identity that makes it so well-loved by fans.
One Final Effort – Halo 3 Soundtrack
Of all the bombastic versions of the Halo drums that exist, this is one of the best. Whilst the Halo Theme has been re imagined in dozens of different ways across almost all of the Halo soundtracks, from outside-the-box wind-chime atmosphere of Halo: Combat Evolved’s Ambient Wonder to the more traditional style yet non-traditional fusion with 117 in Halo 5’s The Trials, none can beat the simplistic yet effective application here in Halo 3’s One Final Effort. Played during one of the most memorable moments in the game, the climactic battle with a pair of Scarabs, this track has certainly made an impact.
This Glittering Band – Halo 2 Anniversary Soundtrack
A fantastic remastering of Leonidas that was included in the Delta Halo Suite of the original Halo 2 Soundtrack, This Glittering Band is played during the gondola ride over a gleaming lake in the sunshine as Covenant Banshees and Drones assault your vehicle from all angles. The tune is possibly more commonly recognised as being part of the Three Gates section of the Halo 3 soundtrack, as that too was a remake of Halo 2’s Leonidas. Being an Anniversary version, This Glittering Band incorporates elements from both the original and the Halo 3 version of its predecessor to find a perfect balance.
Peril – Halo 2 Soundtrack
One of the standout tracks of the Volume One CD of the Halo 2: Original Soundtrack, Peril plays during two distinct parts of Halo 2 – first during the opening section of the level Delta Halo following the iconic drop-pod sequence, and second during the level High Charity in one of the outdoor garden sections of the Covenant Holy City of High Charity. Oddly, this track also featured in an episode of ‘Top Gear’, during James May’s review of a Jaguar XF in 2007, a full 3 years after the soundtrack came out. Guess someone was a fan. Overall, this piece uses rapid staccato strings to create a tense atmosphere making encounters more suspenseful.
And finally, the number one is:
Genesong – Halo 2 Anniversary Soundtrack
It should not come as a surprise to anyone that Halo 2 was big enough to get Steve Vai to record songs for the soundtrack during the development for its original release in 2004. Back then, Halo 2 was as big as it gets. The game revolutionised gaming online for consoles with the introduction of a functional matchmaking system that was unparalleled for its time and paved the way for hundreds if not thousands of other console shooters and games of all kind to follow in its wake. The game was being hyped up to the extent that it outperformed most big-budget movies of that year, and was considered by news outlets at the time to be bigger than any movie. Steve Vai, and all the other artists who contributed to Halo 2 such as Breaking Benjamin, John Mayer, Hoobastank and Incubus as well as producer Nile Rodgers, took the project immensely seriously, and Breaking Benjamin didn’t even receive payment for their work on the soundtrack, doing it for free as the publicity from having one of their songs in Halo 2 would pay for itself. This was a point where Halo was huge not only in the gaming world but in the mainstream media as well.
However, times have changed, and Halo is not the franchise that it once was. What is surprising, however, is how dedicated its fans still are to the games, the lore and the production of Halo and its tributaries. 10 years after recording one of the best songs on the Halo soundtrack, Reclaimer, Steve Vai returned to Halo 2’s soundtrack for the Anniversary version and recorded several tracks, including this remastered version of Reclaimer known as Genesong. Steve Vai’s contribution to the soundtracks of both versions of Halo 2 cannot be understated, particularly since he contributed to the excellent Mjolnir Mix and Gungnir Mix formed the main theme for Halo 2 and its remake. Truly, the Halo Theme and tracks like Genesong represent the pinnacle of not just the Halo Soundtrack, but video game soundtracks in general.
Do you agree with this list? What’s your favourite song from the soundtrack? Leave your thoughts in the comments and leave a like if you enjoyed. See more:
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- Ranking the Levels – Halo: Combat Evolved
- Ranking the Levels – Halo 2
- Ranking the Levels – Halo 3
- Halo – Microsoft E3 Announcement – How Halo: Infinite could save the franchise