Creating a soundtrack worthy of a Grammy

When Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Dawn of Ragnarök clinched the first-ever Grammy in the Best Score Soundtrack for Video Games category, it was a game-changer for the gaming industry. This achievement was celebrated by Ubisoft Sofia, lead studio on the ambitious expansion, Simon Landry, Music Supervisor at Ubisoft Music, his team, along with Stephanie Economou — the award-winning composer who crafted this masterful work.

So, how do you whip up a soundtrack that garners critical acclaim? Simon shared the creative process at South by Southwest, giving us a peek behind the curtain of this epic musical journey.

Simon Landry and Stephanie Economou at SXSW 

A soundtrack forged in time and metal

Simon says it’s important to understand the game’s universe developed by Ubisoft Sofia. He describes Svartalfheim as a “mythical world that is a mix of beauty and danger, a land where fire meets ice, inhabited by mythical creatures embroiled in war.” The narrative also played a huge part. “Given the larger-than-life story, we knew the score would need gravitas to match the characters’ highs and lows.”

Svartalfheim, the fantasy world of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Dawn of Ragnarök developed by Ubisoft Sofia

Once immersed in the games universe, Simon’s team tackled the musical vision for the original soundtrack. “Due to the nature of the game, the music for Assassin’s Creed has always blended old with the new,” explained Simon. “The music serves as a time machine, like the Animus,” he added. Incorporating archaic instruments such as the talharpa, hurdy-gurdy, kantele, and bowed lyre, the soundtrack has a neo-folk sound that zaps players back in time. 

Stéphanie Economou playing the talharpa

To complete the vision, a modern element was needed—something heavy that would accentuate the narrative’s dramatic tones and forge the soundtrack’s identity. “Black metal was the perfect choice,” said Simon. “Combining the orchestral sounds of string instruments with the heaviness, structure, and code of black metal created something distinct.”  

Influences from bands like Mogwai, Bathory, and Gorgoroth shaped the musical direction, while collabs with other artists were instrumental in the soundtrack’s creation,” Simon pointed out. “We were fortunate enough to work with the American metal band Wilderun, vocalist Ari Mason, and Einar Selvik—original composer for Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and black metal guru.”   

With all the pieces in place, Simon was now on the hunt for his dream team to bring this musical vision to life. 

Strings and metal: Wayne Ingram from Wilderun, Ari Mason, and Stephanie Economou breathe life into the Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Dawn of Ragnarök soundtrack.

A colossal team effort

Simon knew that putting together the right team was crucial for the project’s success. “Surrounding yourself with the right people, drawing on their experience, and building trust through candid discussions—this is what truly solidifies and brings a project’s vision to life,” he explains. 

Thankfully, Simon had his team at Ubisoft Music and the incredible folks at Ubisoft Sofia right from the start.

Ubisoft Sofia’s Creative Director, Mikhail Lozanov, and the Associate Producer, Rossen Yankov, were at the core of this musical journey. “Rosen and I both deeply believe that the music and sound in a video game is of the utmost importance to the entire experience. I envisioned three key moments in the game backed by emotional songs sung in Old Norse. The music had to be distinct from the main game, and would create an avant-garde sequel, building on the folk motifs in the main game while drawing inspiration from black metal riffs and guitars.” added Mikhail.

Mikhail Lozanov, Creative Director at Ubisoft Sofia, and Rossen Yankov, Associate Producer of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Dawn of Ragnarök

And the team wouldn’t be complete without Stephanie Economou, the brilliant composer behind the original soundtrack.

Rossen knew she was the perfect choice, based on her previous work on the Siege of Paris DLC, her versatility, and her openness to experiment musically with the direction they had for the game. “We love her unique style, we trusted her, and we knew she would be able to create a score above our expectations. Writing music for a video game is much different than writing music for static media (film). In video games, the music should be able to change in real time depending on what the player is doing. This is the so-called adaptive music and is generally a big challenge for any composer.’’ he replied.

When Simon was asked why they chose to collaborate with her, he admits that Stephanie was a no-brainer.

“I knew she was the perfect person to bring our vision to life. I was familiar with her work and felt like it resonated with the Assassin’s Creed’s universe, especially her mastery of the violin,” said Simon.

The team’s glimpse of potential in Stephanie were not unfounded (perhaps foresight granted by Odin himself!) She became the first person (and woman) to win a Grammy for a video game soundtrack!

Reflecting on her Grammy win and thrilling journey in composing for games, Stephanie credits collaboration as vital to the team and project’s success.

“I was terrified to step into games, and doing so under Assassin’s Creed Valhalla which has such iconic music just made the terror and fear that much greater, but the excitement as well.

I’m grateful to Ubisoft Sofia and Simon Landry for inviting me into this incredible world of Assassin’s Creed and for always pushing me to experiment, challenge myself, and try for something different because I’m a better composer for it.’’ added Stephanie.

Simon and Stephanie at the 2023 Grammys

Walking the red carpet

Winning a Grammy isn’t just about the shiny trophy. According to Simon, it’s also recognition for the quality, popularity, influence, and cultural impact of video game music worldwide. “The Academy acknowledging our work and our industry’s musical journey is an honour,” he concluded. 

That honour was also shared by Ubisoft Music, the entire Assassin’s Creed team, and the team in Sofia, who’ve weathered great adventures and challenges together to create what is now a musical piece of art that will go down in history.

 Experience the Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Dawn of Ragnarök score by Stephanie Economou here: