Two Steps From Hell: Invincible Review
Invincible is how you will feel while listening to Two Steps From Hell.
Ask yourself, why is it that movie trailers are often better than the movies themselves? Don’t lie to yourself, movie trailers are feasts for the eyes, and the baited metal hooks that make Jim Carrey and six penguins look only half as retarded as their full-length counterparts. But why do the trailers seem so much better in comparison to their feature films? They obviously highlight the best portions of the movie – be it the best jokes, most explosive action scenes, or whatever – but it’s not like those very same scenes are missing from the final cut, and you’re bound to see them in the movie. No, there’s something else that drives the trailer forward like the drummer of a slave ship; something that touches the most primeval core of our very beings and subconsciously renders us believing the trailer to be far greater than scenes alone.
Now try this: The next time you watch a trailer, close your eyes. Don’t even watch it, but instead listen. Even without the action scenes or any of the visual comedy, the same air of greatness is likely going to be projected through one thing, and one thing alone: The music.
It’s no surprise that of all external stimulation, people universally react to music. Music, in one form or another, has been an integral part of every civilization, past or present: From tribes in the Amazon rainforests, to the steps of Ancient Rome, to the streets of modern day New York City, music is a cornerstone of the human condition because it is expression in its purest form. Music even plays a deeper part in our every day lives by even altering one’s own mood: you listen to hard rock and heavy metal to vent after a bad day, or you relax to classical or light jazz. How many of you have swelled up with pride and patriotism during an Independence Day parade when the brass bands play Stars and Stripes, or maybe you’ve dance in the streets to the Jazz and Latin beats of a Mardi Gras or Carnival celebration? The very same psychological effect occurs during your favorite movie trailers, where the music and the choirs swell in concurrence with pivotal scenes, and you feel that cold chill run down your spine over how good the trailer looks… or sounds.
And it’s very likely that the background music that makes you actually anticipate an upcoming Hollywood flop is scored by one of the most recognizable names in Hollywood movie trailer soundtracks: Two Steps From Hell.
Two Steps From Hell and One Step From Music Heaven
Two Steps From Hell is a Santa Monica, California production team, founded by Thomas J. Bergersen and Nick Phoenix, that produces movie trailer music. The group’s music has been used in trailers for such films as the Dark Knight, X-Men Origins and X-Men First Class, Prince of Persia, Harry Potter movies, Star Trek, Avatar, 2012, and the Twilight Saga. (Say what you want about the movies themselves, but the music in the trailers rocks nonetheless). Video games like Killzone 3 and Mass Effect 2 have also incorporated the music of Two Steps From Hell.
Now I’ll admit that I’m not a long-time fan of Two Steps From Hell, as I’ve only been aware of their existence for about a month as of the time of writing this review, and I haven’t listened to all of their albums as of yet, mostly because only “Invincible” has been made publicly available, where obtaining their demonstration albums requires less-than-legal methods, or a quick trip to YouTube and back.
So, this review of their album “Invincible” will be based entirely on its own merits, which is rightly so because from the music from Two Steps From Hell that I HAVE heard, nearly ever album revolves around different themes. For instance, their album “The Devil Wears Nada” focuses on more lighthearted comedy themes in comparison to “Legend” which focuses on just being so goddamn epic that playing a game of checkers to it would cause the gates of Heaven and Hell to rip apart, and the outcome would actually determine the fate of the world.
I SHIT YOU NOT.
One of the charms of Two Steps From Hell is that every song on their albums are very broad in terms of the music’s subject matter. Where nearly every professional artist directs their music towards one topic or another, that’s not the case with two Steps From Hell, as the group obviously writes music that fits well into a diverse array of movie trailers. While it’s lucrative for the group, and easier on the Hollywood trailer editors, it’s beneficial to the casual listener because since there are no specific subjects to each theme, they are able to ‘fill the gap’ themselves by using their own imaginations. A track that sounds like it is an epic theme for a historical Scottish war film, like Braveheart, to one person could also be the perfect theme for a fantasy-based story, like Dragonheart, to another. One person may listen to a theme and envision a lone hero emerging from a dystopian society, while another would picture a massive legion of people armed with spears and shields marching to war against an ultimate evil. Regardless what you see in your mind’s eye while listening to Two Steps From Hell, the fact that you actually use your imagination while listening to their music is a feat in of itself, and when you compile the mental images that you form while listening to entire albums, such as 2010’s “Invincible”, the end result is the best movie you’ll ever ‘see’ in your entire life.
Two Steps From Hell’s public debut album, “Invincible” is a massive 22 track eargasm that I honestly found too lengthy to detail each individual track, so below is a compilation of select tracks from their album, “Invincible”, consisting of early tracks and their most memorable songs.
“Heart of Courage” – Two Steps From Hell
Heart of Courage is probably the most popular song from Two Steps From Hell’s available discography, judging primarily from the three million views accumulated on YouTube. And that figure is well earned, as this is the song that captured my ears, my imagination and my heart. Past a soothing opening, there’s an underlying theme that continues to build through the first half of the track, crescendoing with what I envision is the rise and triumph of a mythological hero. And after the climax, the strings continue on, as if quoting American General MacArthur: “Old soldiers never die. They just fade away.” Heart of Courage is an unfortunately short track that, rather than overstaying its welcome, feels that it is over way too soon, leaving you listening to it at least twice for the full impact.
Master of Shadows sounds like a literal crossover between The Dark Knight and Harry Potter in that it is a fantasy and wizards-driven theme with a string section that sounds nearly identical to the main theme from The Dark Knight. While Master of Shadows isn’t a grand piece that will make your feel like you could kick the world’s ass, this dark theme is perfect for a shady anti-hero and suitable enough for most supernatural villains.
Moving Mountains is pure escalations and to paraphrase a YouTube comment: “This shit just got real.” Moving Mountains is bold, threatening and ultimately overwhelming in a “goddamn, I didn’t think that the dragon would be THAT big” kind of way. An excellent piece for that pivotal part of any story’s plot where ‘it hits the fan’ but the hero has no choice but to continue forward.
Am I Not Human begins as a technological oddity that transforms into a track that, if it’s not on the Tron Legacy soundtrack, belongs on it. The rich blend of techno and orchestral elements is only amplified by the voice over which, like other tracks on this album, are not lyrical but are treated like simply another instrument in Two Step From Hell’s arsenal.
“Enigmatic Soul” – Two Steps From Hell
Enigmatic Soul is a piece whose fluid and tranquil undertones, akin to Noboru Uematsu’s work on world themes the later entries of the video game series Final Fantasy, are layered with monk chants and female vocals, and a woodblock that sounds suspiciously like the tappings of a woodpecker in a forest. There is something oddly ‘organic’ about Enigmatic Soul, but it is a very uplifting track thanks to a light and appropriate use of violin. There’s something about Enigmatic Soul that almost lets your guard down up until the end where it climaxes in complete awe, and leaves the listener with the parting, beautiful female voice that fades away like the world when you sleep. Eargasm indeed.
Fire Nation should never EVER remind you of the horrible The Last Airbender movie. But this track does have an air of the acclaimed Avatar: The Last Airbender series, where The Fire Nation is a medieval equivalent of a warmongering military-industrial society. There is a heavy military theme coinciding with sparing use of the drone of an electric guitar, potentially conveying the industrial half of this song. Fire Nation is the sound of war, the heat of a great battle and the clash of metal weapons.
Fill My Heart is a far mellower theme than the majority of the work that Two Steps From Hell is famous for, and to be honest, it’s one of the best tracks on the entire album. The violins are uplifting and the theme is heavily driven by a soothing and joyous piano. And that’s what you get from the excellent, but extremely short-lived piece “Fill My Heart”: Joy. If you wanted an example of the mental imagery that “Fill My Heart” conjures, then I would say that this piece is entirely up for interpretation; as for me, I pictured a scene reminiscent of a small town atmosphere with a nostalgic sense of closeness and childhood wonder, combined with a festive overture for good measure. But I’ll guarantee that if you ask anybody what they think of when they listen to this song, each answer will be different, yet it’ll be something uniquely personal.
“To Glory” – Two Steps From Hell
To Glory is my personal favorite track on the entire album. To Glory reminds me a lot of the movie “Frank Miller’s 300”, not just in title, but because of the pseudo-modern inclusion of the light droning of a heavy metal guitar set to the triumphant brass, fierce percussion, urgent strings, and an almost religious undertone from the presence of the God choir. To Glory is concluded with a classic patriotic war march of a flute and a snare drum, which immediately conjures mental imagery of patriots, soldiers, and revolutionaries of nearly every culture of European descent. Without a doubt, To Glory embodies ‘glorified war’ with its aggressiveness, its patriotic elements, and a God choir that carries the theme by seemingly promising Glory to those who fight for a Godly cause.
“1000 Ships of the Underworld“ – Two Steps From Hell
1000 Ships of the Underworld would ideally fit the final climactic battle of Pirates of the Caribbean 3: World’s End by its name alone, and while the title may imply an epic battle between ships in a maelstrom (big fucking whirlpool), the mental image I conjure is that of an epic duel. The symbols crash like thunder as the final battle between good and evil is taking place. All eyes watch as two warriors fight atop a dark, rain-slicked tower against the brilliant flashes of lightning that spark with every clash of their swords. The God Choir swells and as the triumphant final blow is struck the ringing of bells fade in the distance. While all of the music of “Invincible is nothing short of noteworthy, I feel that “1000 Ships of the Underworld” was one of the most prominent themes on the album and deserving of a place on this demo list.
“After The Fall“ – Two Steps From Hell
After The Fall is the resolution of “Invincible”, plain and simple. The culmination of strings and a female solo vocal will project in your minds eye your personal favorite medieval Western European fantasy ending; be it the hero saves a princess, an evil army is vanquished at a heavy price, or lasting brighter days of peace are in store for a war-ravaged land, everything has come to a full, satisfying conclusion that is made slightly bittersweet by the vocals. End movie. Roll Credits. Leave the theater and walk home in the rain as you replay the greatest movie (n)ever seen in your head. Go to bed and dream.
Dear Two Steps From Hell: Please give God back his iPod.
“Two Steps From Hell” is an accurate way to describe this production company because you know it’s got to be some sort of sin to release not 10, not 12, but 22 tracks of this caliber on a single CD.
“Invincible” is exactly how you will feel while listening to Two Steps From Hell’s first public album. For a production company that focuses primarily on music for 1-3 minute movie trailers, Two Steps From Hell offers some of the most universally appealing music that is nothing short of grandiose. With the general theme of the Invincible album being simply “epicness”, I would be shocked shitless if there were many gamers or movie buffs who couldn’t find at least one track on Invincible that they enjoy on some level. Two Steps From Hell has been used in audience-enticing trailers for movies from The Dark Knight to Harry Potter, from Star Trek to Twilight, so an album like Invincible is one that should please. And gamers, if you listen Invincible while playing games YOU WILL DOMINATE ALL OPPOSITION. Just try it, but don’t break the controller between your fingertips while in the throes of an adrenaline rush that not even Mountain Dew can provide you.
For those of you who are casual listeners and have extremely vivid imaginations, the music of Invincible will be unlike anything you’ve ever listened to before. I’m not joking when I tell you that the music of Invincible will conjure some of the most amazing things you’ve ever imagined, so be sure to sit with a pencil and pad so that you can record what comes to mind because the results could be the best story (n)ever told.
I rarely, RARELY ever purchase music, not because I’m a cheap Scroogy bastard (well, I actually am) but there’s not a lot of music CD’s that are worthy of a full $15 purchase because there’s only 1-3 good songs on the entire disk. That is NOT the case with Two Steps From Hell’s album “Invincible”. Despite my music pirating nature, I always support artists that deserve my dollars, and because of the abundance of excellent music I was more than comfortable purchasing the entire “Invincible” album, as well as write an overwhelmingly favorable album review.
So definitely think about purchasing “Invincible” because it’s worth every penny and every minute.
But for the love of God, never EVER listen to Two Steps From Hell’s “Invincible” while driving your car, or your next of kin will testify that you were far from invincible.