*SPOILERS* FOR DISHONORED
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This mix is a loose collection of tracks that I came to associate with the 2012 first-person action stealth game Dishonored. When I play games, I absolutely trawl through them (probably to the annoyance of others) and try investigate anything I can get my hands on. Anyone who has played Dishonored before will know that’s a hefty task, so let’s just say I spent way longer than I should have on this game…
Once again, I posted this on my Tumblr way back when so if it’s familiar, that’s why! It’s been up on 8tracks since 2013, but here are some more in depth reasons for this rather brooding and chaotic mix of songs.
1. Japan – Ghosts (Tin Drum, 1981 – buy here)
A fitting beginning, and starting as one means to go on. This track is so wonderfully eerie and atmospheric. Each new musical element creeps in unannounced, from the garbled mechanical sounds to the subtle hymnal synth.
Lyrically, it also fits perfectly with the overarching theme of the game. “Just when I think I’m winning/When I’ve broken every door/The ghosts of my life/Blow wilder than before.” These fit no matter how you played the game – either high or low chaos. The spectres of Corvo’s life chase him around every corner. He can’t ever escape being branded as the Empress Killer, nor can he escape his attachment to Emily.
The sparse music mirrors the empty, plague-ridden streets of Dunwall. “The simple life’s no longer there…” David Sylvian croons, a cruel reminder to Corvo of the familial bliss he shared with Jessamine and Emily.
2. Soap&Skin – DDMMYYYY (Lovetune for Vacuum, 2010 – buy here)
Anja Plaschg’s brand of mechanical neoclassical interpretations fit perfectly with the steampunk, almost timeless aesthetics of the game. Fusing cold electronica with more traditional noisemakers, be it a whirring clock or the clacking of a typewriter, DDMMYYYY is a striking marriage of sounds.
The design of Dishonored is one of its strongest assets. Whether it’s scaling the desolate streets or observing an aristocrat’s party from the shadows, the game is rife with beautiful examples of neo-Victorian fashion and interiors. For example, the antiquated lab equipment and wooden furnishings in Dr. Galvani’s laboratory (where we visit early in the game) coupled with the supernatural advancements in science give the game a truly fairy tale-esque feeling. It exists squarely in its own world, its own time, and makes escapism easy. This track blends the organic with the artificial, and some muffled screams, much like the game itself.
3. Darren Hayes – Darkness (The Tension and the Spark, 2004 – buy here)
Ye gods, a sheer, unadulterated pop song? Not in my Dishonored mix! Except there is, because I will never shy away from my love for ex-Savage Garden prodigy (yes, you read that correctly) Darren Hayes. This album is full of meticulously crafted pop songs of the highest order.
Darkness is a slow burner that grapples with themes of loneliness, hurt, retreating into the shadows when you don’t know how to interact or deal with your emotions.
“Ever wonder why I never really truly connect/Although my eyes are open…” lyrically, this captures the idea of Corvo becoming an outsider, living life on the edge of society and unable to participate. “You’ll discover that the monster you were running from/Is the monster in you,” – this speaks for itself during a High Chaos playthrough. The world of Dishonored is a very lonely and unforgiving place, but therein lies the beauty.
4. Danger – 4h30 (09/17, 2009 – buy here)
Instantly attention-grabbing, much like Corvo’s antics on his High Chaos sprees. This is a high-energy electronic track by French musician Danger, a master of disguise himself. I felt this song in particular parallels the frantic and anxiety-ridden times the player decides to wreak havoc upon the guards and Whalers. It’s steady, pulsing rhythm is like a heartbeat, and it’s a perfect track that builds into a crashing frenzy of synth and adrenaline. Plus, the twinkle sounds add a little touch of magic.
5. Sneaker Pimps – The Fuel (Bloodsport, 2002 – buy here)
Another song that fits the mood, both sonically and lyrically. With a snaking build-up, the singer’s voice coils around the dripping instrumentation: “I’ve got the fuel and I might get offensive,/I might be some threat.” This track represents not the thrill of the fight, but rather the darker, brooding moments spent in the pub.
This is for the times when Corvo can collect himself and reflect on what he’s done, what he might do, and how far he will go to protect Emily and for self-preservation alone. A clanging, chilling, cold song amplified by the incessant drum rhythm.
6. Kate Bush – The Man With the Child in His Eyes (The Kick Inside, 1978 – buy here)
Perhaps one of the most delightful surprises about this game are the interactions between Corvo and The Outsider. This enigmatic character is male in appearance, speaks in riddles and poetry and possesses otherworldly powers. Described as a “figure of myth, neither good nor evil,” he gifts Corvo his magical abilities and follows Corvo’s path, like a perceptive deity.
‘Deity’ is a fitting term for this character, as there are shrines dedicated to him scattered across the Isles. I chose this song for the gentle, precocious delivery of Kate Bush and her sage lyrics, such as “He’s very understanding and he’s so/Aware of all my situations/When I stay up late/He’s always here with me.”
7. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Ain’t Gonna Rain Anymore (Let Love In, 1994 – buy here)
There are no shortages of lovelorn songs of tragedy in Mr Cave’s back catalogue. This track, with its particularly gloomy disposition and allegories of the sea and water, is a perfect representation of the potential story of Corvo and the late Empress Jessamine Kaldwin.
It’s never explicitly stated in the first game that they were an item, but it’s not an absurd idea either. “Now the storm has passed over me/I’m left to drift on a dead calm sea/And watch her forever through the cracks in the beams.” Lonely, desolate and missing Jessamine, this melancholic and beautifully dismal track is classic Bad Seeds and a complement to the emotional backdrop of the game.
8. Holy Other – YR LOVE (WE OVER/YR LOVE 7″ – buy here)
Another instrumental. For me, an enormous part of the Dishonored experience was simply taking in the scenery and bathing in the wonderful atmosphere. Lurking, observing, people-watching. Gathering fragments of information from books and paintings, eavesdropping in on conversations to try and ascertain what was truly happening in the broken world around Corvo.
Dishonored excelled in its world-building, but never let it become overwhelming. Instead it was a challenge – an achievable one – to locate and fit the pieces of the Dunwall puzzle. But it was completely optional and choosing not to do it wouldn’t impair the overall story experience, which is why it was such a winning formula. This track is a moody, witch house-y, sensual genre blaster: cutting across electronica, R&B and house influences making a truly otherworldly cut. Introspective – much like Dishonored.
9. Fever Ray – I’m Not Done (Fever Ray, 2009 – buy here)
And now, a fitting end. Let’s recap: your possible child gets kidnapped, your friends royally stab you in the back (pun intended) and the world turns to shit if you (accidentally or not) shot a few people. But this is Corvo Attano we’re talking about, and if we learned anything from the plot of Dishonored it’s that this guy doesn’t go quietly.
While the game ends with the new Empress on the throne, the fate of Dunwall was a product of Corvo’s blood, sweat and tears. Karin Dreijer Andersson’s thick, ominous vocal stays assured as the music clatters around her: a destructive, electronic accomplishment.
“One thing I know for certain/I’m pretty sure/It ain’t over/I’m not done…”
Thank you so much for reading! If you have any questions/queries about the music feel free to leave a comment or get in touch here. I hope you enjoyed the music, and have a great day!