With WoW Classic on the horizon many people are, unsurprisingly, excited to spend some time in the Azeroth that they knew and loved for many years. But considering Blizzard’s release date attitude of ‘it’s ready when it’s ready’, some speculate that we may not see WoW Classic for quite some time. Playing on a private server may scratch the Vanilla-flavoured itch for many, but others are understandably cautious about investing their time supporting what is essentially an illegal enterprise. If you’re one of these people, looking for a way to experience some WoW nostalgia without resorting to Light’s Hope or Kronos, or perhaps just looking to bolster your current Vanilla adventure, then look no further: quench yourself upon the chalice that is Taverns of Azeroth.
The first thing to discuss about this album is the fact that it was primarily composed and arranged by David Arkenstone. This is a man whose prowess with instrumental music is as exceptional and unrivaled as his flowing mane. Take one look at the man, and anyone can see – this is the guy you want to be making tavern music. When I first browsed his website doing research for this article, a song began to auto play. Like most people on Earth, I find the practice of embedding audio to auto-play quite irritating, like the ghost of past MySpace frustrations. But in this case, I honestly didn’t care – it was so good, I left it playing. Arkenstone has earned three Grammy nominations throughout his storied career, which recently included music for TV and video games. His work on Taverns of Azeroth is simply incredible. Each tune has a remarkable sense of imagery with every track evoking a scene, like Azerothian postcards. The musical themes and motifs are believable; each arrangement fits its setting in a very thematic way. It’s no surprise that Arkenstone’s music has been described as ‘soundtracks for the imagination’.
The only track on the album not written by Arkenstone is the very first track – “Lion’s Pride” – which is perhaps one of the more well-known tavern tunes. That tune was written by Jason Hayes, a mainstay of Blizzard’s music composition team. Many of you hardcore old-school WoW players will notice that some of these tavern tunes don’t sound quite the same as they did in-game, and some of them simply weren’t there at all. Well you see, Taverns of Azeroth, and all of its Arkenstone glory, came out in 2007. Prior to that, there were only a few tunes that played in all of the taverns in WoW, – two for Alliance, and four for Horde – and those are the Jason Hayes tunes. They are featured on the Vanilla WoW soundtrack as “Tavern (1-3)- Horde” and “Tavern (1-2) – Alliance”, as well as the additional “Undead Dance” for the Horde. They were all promptly replaced with the Arkenstone tunes sometime after the release of Taverns of Azeroth, but the tune “Tavern 1 – Alliance” remained – now renamed “Lion’s Pride”. This tune has a wicked melody and is probably the most nostalgia-soaked for most people. It plays at it’s namesake inn in Goldshire – the Lion’s Pride. A lot of people would have encountered this inn and this tune at one point or another seeing as Goldshire is an early Alliance quest hub.
In fact, most of the tunes on the album play at the Inn’s they are named after. Here is a list of them, along with their locations:
Track 1 – “Lion’s Pride” – the Lion’s Pride Inn, Goldshire, Elwynn Forest
Track 2 – “Stonefire” – the Stonefire Tavern, Ironforge
Track 3 – “Pig & Whistle” – the Pig & Whistle Tavern, Stormwind City
Track 4 – “Gallow’s End” – Gallows’ End Tavern, Brill, Tirisfal Glades
Track 6 – “Shady Rest” – Shady Rest In n, Dustwallow Marsh (this Inn is in ruins for lore reasons)
Track 7 – “Scarlet Raven” – Scarlet Raven Inn, Darkshire, Duskwood
Track 8 – “Salty Sailor” – the Salty Sailor Tavern, Booty Bay, Stranglethorn Vale
Track 9 – “Deepwater” – the Deepwater Tavern, Menethil Harbour, Wetlands
Track 12 – “Slaughtered Lamb” – the Slaughtered Lamb, Mage Quarter, Stormwind City
Track 13 – “Thunderbrew” – the Thunderbrew Distillery, Kharanos, Dun Morogh
Track 17 – “Tarren Mill” – Tarren Mill, Hillsbrad Foothills
Track 19 – “Temple of the Moon” – the Temple of the Moon, Darnassus
My personal favourite on the album is the second tune, “Stonefire”; an absolutely beautiful arrangement that makes great use of the flute and chime bell. This chime bell sound in particular is all over this album and is especially brilliant sounding, in every sense of the word.
There’s a bit of a musical trope with tavern/folk music – that most of it is in ¾ time. Taverns of Azeroth succumbs to this trope, though not as much as one might expect. The album starts off with two killer tunes in ¾ – “Lion’s Pride” and “Stonefire”. Later on, there’s “Slaughtered Lamb”, “Gallows’ End”, and “Temple of the Moon”. But that’s it – the rest of the tunes are in 4/4, save for one; that one being perhaps the most surprising tune on the album – “Scarlet Raven”. Being in 5/4 time really elevated the uniqueness of that tune compared to the others on the album.
A minor but important detail is the ambiance sound on the album. Each of the tracks are linked together by lore-appropriate tavern sounds; Alliance tavern songs will feature laughter and faint conversation, as well as the clinking of glasses and shuffling of tables and chairs. Others might feature an eerie wind or the crackling of a fire. Altogether they are successful by fostering a certain mood for each of the taverns and would be especially suited for accompanying a D&D campaign.
If you’re hungry for a nourishing Vanilla WoW nostalgia fix to hold you over then Taverns of Azeroth should accomplish just that. But beware, as this is weapons-grade nostalgia; just one listen is enough to get you channeling your hearthstone back to the inn you once called home.