A Soundtrack to War: Ultramarines

by | Apr 7, 2020

As most of us are stuck in our home dealing with the unfolding health catastrophe spreading across the world, I thought it would be a good idea to revive an very old set of posts a blogger did for Blood of Kittens, were he explored the music he felt really spoke to him when thinking about particular armies and factions he played.

Since many of us have the time to paint and/or build, what better way than to get in the right mood with music I think reflects specific armies or factions. This first post is music that inspires me when it comes to the Ultramarines.

Now before you go on telling me about the definitive Ultramarine soundtrack, I am well aware, and for those too young, check out this crazy 16-bit game from Soundtrack from 1999.

Now with that out of the way, what does come to mind when you first think of music for the Ultramarines? Well for me I instantly think of the movie Gladiator from 2000 and one of the coolest opening battle scenes ever filmed. It is though the complete immersion with the help of the Barbarian Horde track which goes on for 10 minutes, and even more famous companion piece The Battle. It shouldn’t come as a surprise those two songs were created by modern movie score master Hans Zimmer.

While both tracks are powerful, it is really the exceptionally moving Now We are Free that starts to define my musical vision of the Ultramarines. It is the Ultramarine honor and nobility, but ultimately how death is the only freedom from duty. The track pairs nicely with the classic Space Marine mantra ‘Only in death does duty end’. “Now We are Free” speaks to those feelings and if you look up the English translation the song uses at least 3-4 different languages to express. “Now We are Free” is only the beginning on how to think about Ultramarines, but it does speak to a certain throughline; Ultramarines sound has to be epic and  include musical anthem quality to them, with certain air of superiority.

Lets jump right into with this next track, I think hits right on the nose, from a sound composition sense, Power by Kanye West. Almost anyone knows at least the intro to “Power” with its almost royal quality. The lyrics though on a most superficial way speak can speak to the “struggle” of the Ultramarine both in lore and in the meta consciousnesses. In fact if you wanted the ultimate Roboute Guilliman anthem this would be the one, with lyrics like “I guess every superhero needs his theme music” to “No one man should have all that power”. You can easily see Roboute Guilliman current dilemma in the 41st millennium through this song. On a meta level, the Ultramarines have all the power, not in the rules themselves, but in the financial power they have over the company that spawned them, exemplified by these lyrics, “The clock’s tickin’, I just count the hours Stop trippin’, I’m trippin’ off the powder ‘Til then, fuck that, the world’s ours“. This was an extremely personal track for Kanye, which of course what track isn’t for him, but this at the time a comeback album, after the whole Taylor Swift stage storming.

Moving on in a completely different direction, to the Irish/German electrionic band VNV Nation and their song Gratitude which at first listen might come across as cynical, but in truth it is about the personal growth and everyone and everything that makes that possible. If you want to apply this to the Ultramarines lyrics like “Though well-concealed, the scars they just compound Until there’s nothing left of what was my former self” can talk about the transformation of the Astartes, and coming to fruition.  While other lyrics, “Sometimes I wish that you could see me now. In the rightful place where I knew that I belong”, make me think about the sometimes close ties the Chapter has to the people of Ultramar or blood relatives. While the song has a very simple progressive synth backing, that hits you with it’s repetitive jabs, the vocal builds and drives the song to epic heights. The song though really hits the Ultramarine highs by the time lyrics like this hit, “We bide our time, let the future unfold. Like immortals in great legends to be told”

The next track is a minimalist in it lyrical content and tells a simple story of obsessive love, Grimes So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth a theme Grimes often leans into. Is more a feeling track than anything if try and put it into an Ultramarine context. The burden the Ultramarines carry as the paragons of humanity and even for many other Adeptus Astartes chapters, all too willing to accept the Space Marine burden with repetitive lyrics like “Cause if I can fall, Yeah, oh So heavy I fell through the earth”

Leaning back into modern anthems, Coldplay’s Viva la Vida broken apart can easily fit the bill when it comes to thinking about the Ultramarines, with on point lyrics like, “Roman Cavalry choirs are singing. Be my mirror, my sword and shield”. Coldplay’s song was inspried by Frida Kahlo last painting titled Viva la Vida her last finished painting, knowing she didn’t have long to live, making the title of the painting even more potent. The song also has some revolutionary elements that the band has often spoken about, but in the context of the Ultramarines it is the orchestral arrangements and high minded lyrics that I like to construe into an warrior ideal Ultramarines try represent: freeing humanity from the various oppressors.

Time is now to take things a little deeper from pop rock to a great “new” artist who channels Robert Plant like nobody else, and the ridiculously fantastic Age of Man by Greta Van Fleet. “To wonderlands of ice and snow. In the desert heat where nothing grows. A tree of life in rain and sun. To reach the sky it’s just begun” It makes sense this song was created while the band was recorded in a cabin communing with nature. “Age of Man” has only four distinct stanzas, a haunting journey, you can easily picture the Ultramarines deep in the Immaterium, not knowing where the next battle lies or even if they will escape the wrap itself. It is the wondering nature of the song exemplified by that second stanza above.

Returning back to the special “burden” the Ultramarines bare and another song you probably first discovered as part of some trailer or game tie in, Rag’n’Bone Man’s Human puts the human condition into simple direct verse. Ultramarines are just as flawed as the genes they are made, a struggle Ultramarine lore often explores with varying degrees of success. The perceived flawlessness of the Ultramarines is often complied with the potential fallibility. This note is easily captured with lyrics like, “Some people got the real problems. Some people out of luck. Some people think I can solve them. Lord heavens above. I’m only human after all” 

Keeping with beautiful sentimentality, the next song is about is haunting struggle dealing with the death of a loved one by Civil Twilight’s Letters From The Sky . This song is masterclass in musical layering, with simple chord progressions, anchored by the piano, that keeps on building, as the composer waits for the world end. In terms of the Ultramarines it reminds me of the idea of them holding the line until the emperor returns and their duty won’t ever end until that happens. Especially with lines like this, “but until that day i’ll find a way to let everybody know that you’re coming back, you’re coming back for me ’cause even though you left me here i have nothing left to fear these are only walls that hold me here”.

Finally, lets end with one fun campy band, still going strong speaking to the certain type of Warhammer 40k player. That of course would be Dragonforce and the epic song, Cry for Eternity. This eight minute opus. where you can easily imagine Ultramarines dropping from the sky burning through hordes of heretics with an opening barrage of words like this…

Falling from the sky now, a sign of the burning sun
Into the face of the evil one
Nowhere to hide now we’re on the run right before your eyes
We’re watching, we’re waiting, our souls are forsaking
The sign of the warriors, where we will arise
Through the fire and the flames, breaking the chains
Into the night we go
Time to pay, time of the slain
Such as the death we know.
There you have it, the tracks I think about when thinking about Ultramarines, hope you see a common thread with them all. I know it is pretty silly exercise, but we all have a lot of free time and besides, what sort of music plays in your ears when thinking about Ultramarines or any other faction?
See the Spotify playlist below for all the tracks above and how I think they should be arranged. 
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