No Tune Unturned: World of Warcraft

Welcome back to No Tune Unturned, a feature in which some dude with no musical training beyond boring childhood piano lessons elaborates on why, precisely, he likes videogame music so much. You’re probably just now rousing from an undisturbed nap after last month’s peaceful repose, which means you’ll be wide awake for a topic close to my hearthstone. Heart. I meant heart. The point is: It’s time for some World of Warcraft music.

This day (September 25th, 2012) marks a special event. If the banner ads and roiling internet hubbub didn’t already tip you off, Mists of Pandaria is now the fourth World of Warcraft expansion available for mass consumption. At last spotting an excuse to delve into the MMO’s long-running musical score, I gathered a choice selection of the very best it has to offer. In my mind, World of Warcraft’s greatest accomplishment is right there in the name; it sculpted a world that begs to be explored, and the soundtrack is a perfect guide to lead the way. Every version of the game will make an appearance throughout ten songs, so please enjoy the ride and keep your arms inside the gnomish tram. I would hate to see you dismembered on my account.


World of Warcraft

This is the vanilla version, some might say, but that sounds too plain for this portal of adventure. Besides, vanilla-flavoured cereal is extremely gross, so let’s change the subject. World of Warcraft’s music originally lacked the full orchestra flair it developed through the years, but don’t underestimate the early classics. Each lovingly-modelled area bound itself closely to a distinct colour pallet, ambiance, and– of course– soundtrack. Closing your eyes and fording the river between Elwynn Forest and the dank Duskwood could tell you everything about these wildly contrasting locations, in no small part due to the many wonderful musical motifs.

Legends of Azeroth

From World of Wacraft

Composed by ???

“The drums of war thunder,” warns the grim narrator from World of Warcraft’s opening cinematic, “once again.”

And so they do, grim narrator. So they do. That’s exactly what begins this legendary title theme, joined by furious strings and, at 0:22, a commandeering horn that signals the mighty clash of Horde and Alliance armies. This conflict drives a sprawling plot spread across two continents engulfed in battle, but the drums die to a distant rumble when 0:48’s soft interlude enters the scene. Even as orcs tear humans limb from limb and vice versa, peace exists in Azeroth just beyond those ominous twin statues that stoically guard the title screen. The excitement of this unexplored land starts to boil over at 1:28, swirling faster and faster like a sea-splitting maelstrom until it unleashes in a rolling drum beat and dark choir voices. That’s pretty much what it felt like to play World of Warcraft for the first time.

Dun Morogh

From World of Warcraft

Composed by Jason Hayes

Dwarves are a noisy lot; always clanging hammers and laughing uproariously, they are. Their inns are filled with lively music, broken by the clattering of mugs on occasion, but step outside and everything changes in the blink of an eye. Wintry strings usher in a windswept mountain range enveloped by fresh snow, quiet as the pure-white rabbits that flop their way into evergreen groves. Deepening mystery fades to the soft-spoken wonder of 1:07’s wandering piano and harp, both of which come and go through a flurry of snowflakes. The lonely horn that echoes a lasting dwarven theme at 4:36 feels like a distant voice beneath the shadow of mountains, which isn’t far from the experience of trekking through the freezing hills of Dun Morogh. Vast and roaming, the musical cues never distract but, like a winter wind, penetrate whatever defences you build. Having spent hours soaking in the textured soundtrack while questing, I’m known to shiver compulsorily with every other note.

The Burning Crusade

Legions of demonic forces can generally be prevented by watching for the telltale signs of shallow breathing, a tingling left arm, and extraterrestrial interlopers crash landing on your home planet. Bizarrely, that’s the rough set-up for The Burning Crusade, World of Warcraft’s first expansion, which introduced the Outland along with space-travelling draenei and sophisticated blood elves as playable races. The symphonic genius hit a creative peak with this instalment, which solidifies it as a shining era in Warcraft history. A subtle touch brought the entire soundtrack to a new level of complexity with music that embodied every aspect of the on-screen worlds.

Shards of the Exodar

From World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade

Composed by ???

Yes, the draenei are blue-skinned aliens from outer space with hooves for feet and tentacles on their faces. While somewhere between “Tatooine cantina regular” and “Futurama reject” on paper, the team at Blizzard turned this description into one of the most dignified races on Azeroth. Brower’s mystical score for the Exodar, a crystalline city once fit for interstellar travel, glows with an inner peace that all draenei seem to share. What sounds like gemstone wineglasses filled with varying amounts of star juice mingles with the mystical hum of endless lights. 1:25’s mournful wind instrument and a rhythmic drumbeat at 2:10 speak to a shamanistic lifestyle the now-terrestrial culture have been forced to accept, treading that fine line between fantasy and science-fiction all the while. Not only will this song end up on my non-existent Top 10 Meditation Tunes playlist, but its otherworldly aura very nearly puts me into a trance during every visit to the stunning Exodar.

The Sin’dorei

From World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade

Composed by Russel Brower

Known as the sin’dorei in their native tongue, blood elves live in a culture of decadent decay, their shining exterior only serving to darken the underlying shadows. A sinuous cello snakes its way through strings plucked with needlelike precision, always trapped by a tension that courses through magic-addicted veins. 1:36’s reverberant female lead makes an escape attempt with a light and silky quality reserved for the finest of wines until a sharp stab of strings at 2:04 strikes like a knife in the back, winding the melody down to a mistrustful whisper. The cellos return, ominous and trembling as they build up to a flat horn at 3:32 that stomps forward like the mammoth abominations stalking the deadened scar of Eversong Wood. This black mood devolves into low chanting choirs and drums that pound dully until, as if nothing at all is the matter (why would you ask?), a graceful flute at 4:24 whisks the song to safety. The grandeur, beauty, and arrogance of the sin’dorei are captured in a final burst of energy at 6:04, settling down into a quietude that brings no rest.

Wrath of the Lich King

Dual spoilers: Anakin Skywalker is Darth Vader and Arthas Menethil is the Lich King. The stories of Star Wars and Warcraft are parallel in this way, and this second expansion finally dealt with the tragic events of Warcraft III. Sweeping players off to the freezing realm of Northrend, Wrath of the Lich King tossed a high-level death knight class into the mix and encouraged everyone to ride around on skeletal dragons. These dire, relentless escapades set in a frozen continent were captured with a grave atmosphere of Celtic inspiration unlike anything yet seen on Azeroth. It’s good stuff, folks. Very good stuff.

Arthas, My Son

From World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King

Composed by Neal Acree

In a desolate tundra crackling with desperately freezing temperatures, the Lich King stands utterly alone. This scene and a discordant force of dangerous-sounding instruments set the stage for one of the greatest opening cinematics videogamedom has ever seen. Fear is overtaken with profound sadness at 0:39 as a single boy soprano sings against a bleak backdrop of deep choirs and stern horns, harkening back to day when this Lich King was a young man named Arthas. That dream flew out the window when he murdered his father for the throne, a steely fact that 1:24 reclaims with suspenseful force. The deceased king speaks over the cinematic, each proud word for his son ironically twisted with the Lich King’s horrendous deeds. Redemption dies with the fierce crashing of drums, punctuated by staccato vocals and a warlike horn wailing its death throes. Strings shriek like cracking ice set to burst and, at 3:02, that’s exactly what happens. Arthas is gone, trapped beneath endless waters colder than anything– anything but his own heart. (That’s metaphorical drama.)

Northrend Transportation

From World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King

Composed by ???

I have to admit that I’ve never been to Northrend, nor have I travelled via its transportation. You may wonder, and rightly so, why I included a song titled “Northrend Transporation” in this feature. In truth, I stumbled upon it during the intensive research phase that No Tune Unturned requires (typing words into the YouTube search bar) and couldn’t stand to leave it out. There is an ancient sense of history to this earthy composition; perhaps the walrus-men tuskarr have seen many moons of biting winds as this ballad of their hard-fought existence plays on. I can almost hear the creak of old boats scraping their rough, wooden hulls against ice that never melts or feel the numb grip of a helm clasped with thick gloves of frayed wool. This is why music listened to with the slimmest of context can be so powerful. This is also probably why I’m a crazy person.


Blowing up the world is a gutsy move. For good or ill, Blizzard took a wrecking ball to Azeroth and changed the face of their MMO forever, smashing classic landmarks and creating new ones in the process. Although this technically occurred for all players during the Shattering patch, it paved the way for Cataclysm and its two races, worgen and goblin. I have a great many qualms with the long-lasting effects of this expansion, but with altered quest lines and muddled difficulty curves came a host of fresh music– and brilliant music at that. Beautiful depth and texture sprang up from the ruined earth, far surpassing the original score in sheer quality. Comparing the modern-day Elywnn Forest theme with the 2004 model is nothing short of eye-opening (or perhaps ear-opening?), and the change was a good one.


From World of Warcraft: Cataclysm

Composed by Neal Acree

 The Horde’s former war chief Thrall and his (relatively speaking) nonviolent beliefs have been replaced by one Garrosh Hellscream, whose name more or less sums up his personal ideals on foreign policy. Orgrimmar and its theme song have been reforged in blood and steel, crying out for battle with a rallying horn just five seconds into the orchestral piece. The entire city has been plastered with metalwork, reflected in the clanging and banging that sets an aggressive tempo for these new marching orders. Unrestrained and unafraid, the music rolls over everything like an out-of-control bulldozer that has no intention of being stopped until it hits a barbaric crescendo at 1:24. Bristling with weapons and foaming at the mouth, the orcs are fully prepared to fall off the deep end this time, and hearing the familiar theme of old Orgrimmar raise a fist in rage at 2:56 is terrifying. I suggest hiding under a table until Mists of Pandaria finishes downloading.

Curse of the Worgen

From World of Warcraft: Cataclysm

Composed by Russell Brower

You know what’s creepy, commonly associated with the Victorian era, and most likely cursed? “A worgen” is the correct answer, but I would have accepted “harpsichord” in a pinch. Werewolves hailing from rainy Gilneas, the worgen slink through cobblestone alleyways set to a dreary song that epitomizes their dismal home. Furtive glances seem to be the rule, shifting into straight up paranoia at 0:59. It’s hard to blame them, though, locked up in a city gone mad; 1:40 warbles an ode to the haunted fate of its inhabitants who never had choice nor chance. Again and again, the music churns, the rain falls, and the harpsichord does that thing that harpsichords do. The curse of the worgen is without end.

Mists of Pandaria

The Burning Legion invaded, the Lich King unleashed his wrath, the Cataclysm tore the land asunder, and now– today– we face the greatest threat of all: anthropomorphic panda bears. I knew about World of Warcraft’s track record for being silly, but my knee-jerk reaction to playing as a “Pandaren” was still exceedingly high on the Sceptic-O-Meter. It took playing the beta, viewing the opening cinematic, and pondering to myself while sitting in the classical “Thinker” pose (with pants on) to realize an important truth at long last. Blizzard may be blindly ripping off Eastern cultures, creating an ewok situation ripe for controversy, and quite literally turning an April Fool’s Day joke into reality; but none of that matters because the soundtrack is the best. After the apocalyptic, doom-bringing expansions of the past, Pandaria is a tranquil journey through music beautiful enough to implode your heart. In the good way, I mean. 

Wandering Isle (Hero Theme 2)

From World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria

Composed by ???

The mists part as a traditional Asian erhu warms up the song with warm simplicity, aided by delicate strings that swap out for cadent drums at 0:16. The opening is a mere breath before the full-voiced melody repeats at 0:23, backed by muted chants with an abrupt rhythm. Verdant vistas of peaked architecture and tall stone mountains waste no time in filling my mind as the music sails onward, subliminally balancing the yin and yang within my soul at every turn. The heartfelt peak of emotion at 0:53 gets me every time, no matter how many times I hear the flowing euphony of legato delight. The chanting returns with fervour at 1:22, calling to mind foggy training grounds lined with disciplined, form-shifting pandaren monks at the break of dawn. This image should be comical, but it’s actually… well, kind of thrilling. Pandaria can be like that.

Heart of Pandaria

From World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria

Composed by ???

Every expansion shapes World of Warcraft’s title screen both musically and visually; Cataclysm’s radical changes went so far as to wrench the theme in a purposefully discordant direction. Yet the drums of war embarked us on this quest of harmonious adventure and now they thunder once again to see us off. Legends of Azeroth blares proudly before taking a bow to introduce our new friend at 1:24. The Pandaria theme rises and falls with an ensemble led by the same captivating erhu, dropping into thoughtful meditation at 2:25. Appropriately, Stormwind City rushes forth like a storm when 3:28 hits, followed back to back with an angry appearance by Orgrimmar at 4:18, stoking the rekindled flames of strife between Horde and Alliance. The medley passes through darkness, danger, and excitement, but always the Pandaria theme returns– most notably so when 5:43 springs up in pure joy and exhilaration. This grand enthusiasm brings new life to an homage of classic songs from World of Warcraft yore, placing Heart of Pandaria in a seat of honour as far as I’m concerned.

Thanks for reading/listening! I only wish we could have stopped by night elven forest of Teldrassil, the lovely Arathi Highlands, and a few taverns along the way. Maybe next time. If you have some fantastic World of Warcraft songs that I missed out on, feel more than free say so in the comments. The same goes for future No Tune Unturned ideas, whatever the request may be.

If you’d like to get in on daily videogame songs chosen by myself and viewers like you, follow @NoTuneUnturned on Twitter. Good times and good tunes, I can assure you.

And as farewell until next time, I offer the greatest nugget of wisdom I currently possess:

Videogame music is great, so listen to it!

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Written by Stephen K

A lover of video games in general, Stephen will happily play just about any sort of game on just about any sort of system, especially if it's a platformer or an RPG. Except sports games. Sports games are boring.

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