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Hello, Gamespot!

So, i have quite a couple of updates to make. First of all, I have updates on the Bioshock score: I just ordered the I Am Rapture, Rapture is Me complete score for it, and I'm eager to see how well it works out now.

Secondly, this review thing is being moved to a union instead. The union's name is TBD, and it will be formed with Sharpie125. We will hold some review/counter reviews, and maybe a series or two.

We'll see where we can go.

The Astoundingly Memorable Soundtrack Cue entries will proceed soon.


Bioshock Original Score review

bioshock ost

Bioshock was one of 2007's best games, winning numerous Game of the Year awards and garnering much respect. Its strongest aspect was arguably the incredible atmosphere that was created in the chilling world of Rapture, and many games afterwards have tried to replicate the same intense, frightening and cold atmosphere that Bioshock achieved so well. One of the more important aspects to creating atmosphere is the music.
Composer Garry Schyman crafted a very careful score for Bioshock, utilizing some highly unique instrumentation to create a frightening yet vintage feel to the music. The music most will find most memorable in-game is likely to be the piece that plays during the descent into Rapture - a thrilling violin solo that manages to convey all the emotions of wonder, tensity, and apprehension all at once. Some of the other music in-game is licensed music - old, 1950s songs. The atmosphere is very successfully enhanced by the score, and though there hasn't been a proper album release just yet, it does contain enough to warrant a review.
Unfortunately, the promotional release of Bioshock's score is a rather sorry affair, containing a mere 16 minutes or so of the actual material in-game. Seeing that the game is likely to last players up to 16 hours to finish, the album is clearly a misrepresentation of the score as a whole.
The score can easily be divided into a few portions: the horror aspect, the narrative aspect, and the atmospheric aspect (different from horror - to be explained).
First up in the narrative aspect is the opening track. The main theme (in the first track of the score) doesn't actually appear too much in-game, though it is a very somber and heavy piece. It isn't likely to interest further than a few listens, due to the rather depressing feel of it and its tendency to hover about the higher strings. Moreover, its tune is actually extremely simple and lacking, considering the instrumental simplicity. A little more depth and inventiveness would've done wonders here, though the track sets the tone instantly. The solo violin is clearly the main speaker here, playing through the theme with emotion and heartrending feeling. All in all, the track reminds more of chamber music than anything else - which really is what the score as a whole feels like. However, calling it Bioshock's "main theme" is a bit of a misnomer, because it appears once in the entire album. Instead, the track just sets the tone for the score.
The second narrative track is also conveniently the second piece: Welcome to Rapture. It is arguably the highlight of the album, featuring some highly impressive solo violin work. The first half is especially impressive, with the use of the rest of the strings accentuating the violin. Behind, a piano (or celesta) provides some extra sounds (difficult to tell, really). The second half is less impressive than the first half, though in the moment it really fits. The dark feel to the track is extremely impressive. Unfortunately, this impressive violin solo doesn't really get much other showing throughout the score.
The next narrative track is the extremely pretty albeit depressing Dancers on a String, which uses some synthetic bass boosting to bloat the music in certain areas. The violin and piano carry on a delightful tune here, though it uses some synthetic horror effects for good measure. Some of these sound suspiciously like dissonant clarinets, of all instruments. It is unclear when the piece actually plays, though it is a pretty one.
Empty Houses is again, another piece that carries on the tradition of quietly evocative and tragic strings. It doesn't include many other instruments; mostly just strings.
And so ends the narrative portion; this side of it is the most accessible, the most sane. The rest of it, besides Cohen's Masterpiece, are horror pieces and atmospheric pieces, filled with string dissonance and plucky violin pieces. The artistic use of the violin is nearly unparalleled, with nearly every method of playing it utilized. The horror aspects are a great throwback to Bernard Herrmann. The first piece, Dr. Steinman, is a piece that comprises almost completely of string dissonance, and this borders on the annoying at several moments. The chords and buildup is horrific. Perfect for the horror genre.
The Docks is a great atmospheric piece, with some 1930s music thrown in (though it feels like it's been through a blender) for good measure. String horror runs rampant, and the atmospheric backdrop is great. It's very creepy stuff - the sort of carnival-esque horror that doesn't get many shows these days. It segues directly into The Dash, another atmospheric piece with frantic brass and forceful percussion.
Step Into My Gardens isn't technically a horror piece, but it definitely qualifies as an atmospheric piece, what with there being an actual violin solo. However, the lack of an actual tune and a significant amount of synthetic horror effects make this lean towards horror slightly. The horror effects aren't quite so distracting as in Alan Wake, and it doesn't even detract from the piece at all. Masterfully mixed.
The Engine City is a ferociously brass-driven piece with some excellent percussive bursts in it. It feels appropriately industrial, given the title. The use of an anvil was a great idea, and having the violin solo come in to give everything a twinge of humanity is a poignant twist.
The final two pieces, This is Where They Sleep and All Spliced Up are both difficult pieces. This Is Where They Sleep follows typical horror s-tyle, with some creepy strings and horrific buildups. The sense of otherworldliness and utter fright is great here, and the music feels so Bernard Herrmann it's exceptional. It wouldn't be out of place in The Exorcist.
All Spliced Up is an outright horror action piece, with stunning percussion and an immensely creative usage of a whistle that sounds much like a girl's high pitched scream. It's clever and horrific stuff, and though its ending is relatively abrupt, it still is a great piece.
One piece I haven't mentioned is Cohen's Masterpiece - a rolling and impressive piano piece that is at once elegant and intense. Garry Schyman immediately shows his prowess with the piano. It really is a masterpiece - a c-lassically inclined and pounding piano piece filled with energy and power. Very likable, if you like your c-lassical pieces.
The Good:
- Atmosphere is intact
- Very impressive horror, atmospheric, and narrative cues
- Cohen's Masterpiece is a highly enjoyable and brilliant piano piece
- Overarching feel is spot-on
The Bad:
- "Album" is severely lacking
- Virtually no narrative flow whatsoever
- Horror and atmosphere is difficult to swallow
- Recording is a little dry
Overall, the score is great. It's a delicious horror/drama score that draws many connections to one of Zimmer's best works, Hannibal. Both utilize impressive horror, both are c-lassically inclined, and both are absolutely gorgeous at certain areas. However, the album presentation is remarkably incomplete, with little to no thematic statements and basically zero narrative flow. The first two tracks are excellent and swallowable, though the following 3 are impossible. The next is difficult, followed by some more swallowable tracks, and ending in horror and atmosphere. There is no organization, no overarching story. Moreover, the lack of orchestral depth damages the score slightly due to the sparseness of the themes. The main theme (The Ocean On His Shoulders) lacks power because of a distinct lack of properly deep instrumentation. For a theme meant to represent a horror under the sea, it's incredible dry (pardon the pun). This damages the score as a whole in several areas.
Nonetheless, for all that the album is, it's remarkable. It carries an extensive amount of melodrama and weight to it, and it's inclination towards the insane is a great touch. A full release or even a bootlegged edition would be very nice to be able to have. It's just too bad one didn't come out. Hopefully Bioshock Infinite will have a special edition that includes music from the two preceding Bioshocks.
Music as It Appears In-Game: 9.5/10
Music As It Appears On Album: 4/10
Overall: 9/10

Captain America: The First Avenger Original Soundtrack Review

Captain America OST

For superhero aficionados out there, 2011 has been an incredible year. It's rare to see so many superhero movies come out in one year, and rarer still to see so many good ones. The better ones to come out this year include Thor, X-Men First C-lass, and Captain America. Depending on what you consider superhero movies, this is already 75% of all superhero movies this year (though if Green Hornet, Transformers 3, I Am Number Four, and Kung Fu Panda 2 count, then obviously not). Impressive. More impressive? All three of these movies have competent soundtracks. Thor marked Patrick Doyle's impressive first attempt at using an orchestra to emulate Zimmer's usual methods, and the results were fantastic. X-Men First C-lass saw Henry Jackman taking Zimmer's methods and also applying them to the orchestra, also with enjoyable results. Captain America, however, doesn't have veteran composer Alan Silvestri mimicking any of Zimmer's methods. Instead, he runs with the c-lassics of old - vintage Williams, and vintage himself. It sounds weird to have to say that, but Silvestri hasn't really composed anything of the caliber of his 1985 masterpiece Back to the Future, and he hasn't returned to the s-tyle since. It's wonderful to see a composer make a return to the days of old, where massive orchestral statements marked action scenes and excitement, as opposed to today's forceful percussion and over-reliance on synthetics. Captain America's score is a powerful enough brass score with theatrics and cheesiness to spare, and though its first half is surprisingly dry, it's final 20 minutes or so comprise of some of the best action material Silvestri has ever written - and that's saying a lot.
The main theme of the score - Cappy's theme - is introduced straight off, with the noble and restrained Captain America (Main Titles). This track tries to mimic standard World War II horn calls, and as a result, it's slow, it's noble, and it's apt. The light tappings of the snare drum give it a militaristic feel, and a brief string version move it along. Many reprisals are littered throughout the score, with one of the more interesting variations in Training the Supersoldier, a forceful and delightfully minor key variation. You can still tell what theme it is, and though it is brief, it's a fantastically energetic piece. Captain America "We Did It" contains a fuller version of the theme in its first minute or so, still in restrained form. Enjoyable? Yes, but a bit of a tease considering where it goes later. Small teasing in Unauthorized Night Flight eventually lead up to another huge performance in Triumphant Return, one of the more exciting ones. It's still restrained, sadly, but you can feel the energy bursting in it, as the brass crescendos throughout the first half. The second half has a saxophone, of all instruments, carrying on the theme. The final 30 seconds contain the most powerful rendition of the theme as of yet heard. The theme gets yet another reprisal in Howling Commando's Montage, albeit in its exciting minor key form. Howling Commando's Montage is one of the most exciting pieces in the score, with delightful energy and excellent instrumentation. The final score track, Captain America, is a one minute rendition of the theme. It breaks free of the previous restraint, though it still doesn't reach the soaring heights people would expect. Only in Captain America March, the iTunes exclusive track (dumb idea) does the theme finally break free of its restraint, and becomes everything one would expect. It reminds heavily of Superman and Back to the Future's End Credits piece, complete with cymbal crashes nearly every second. The brass obviously gets most of the attention here, and the massively patriotic theme finally gets the attention it deserves. Captain America March is one of the best pieces Silvestri has written, and though it is fairly short (clocking in at a mere 2 and a half minutes), it has all the boisterous energy of his best works. The theme truly is one of the most memorable superhero themes in ages, and it's wonderful to see Silvestri write such a wonderful theme after quite a while.
There aren't particularly many other themes in the score; really, Silvestri was hoping for his main titles theme to carry on the entire score, and really, it does so with relative ease. The only trouble with it is a lack of flexibility; nearly every single appearance of it is exactly the same throughout the score, with a difference in energy only. The villain theme, on the other hand, appears less and is much more difficult to find amidst the score. Essentially, it is a series of rising minor notes, and appears first in Frozen Wasteland. The theme is sprinkled liberally through the piece, and the piece itself contains much c-lassic movie influences in it, down to the fluttering strings rising above the rest of the piece and some high brass to create intrigue. The theme gets several references throughout the score, none quite as prominent as in Frozen Wasteland, a piece devoted almost entirely to the theme.
That's it for themes; the rest of it is pretty much all filler material. And it's awesome stuff. Passage of Time and Farewell to Bucky are poignant, pleasant pieces for easy listening, with some small hints at the main theme. While the quieter stuff definitely isn't bad, it's far outshadowed by the action material that Silvestri writes. The action material practically screams "vintage Williams," and it's a brilliantly nostalgic return to c-lassics. The first action cue, Kruger Chase, is a delightfully intense piece with rolling movements on strings and brass representing the action brilliantly. It's frantic stuff, and it reminds massively of Williams. Silvestri tosses in a few references to both primary themes, and keeps building it up. The frantic strings around 1:30 are outstanding. The conclusion will remind hugely of Back to the Future.
Hostage on the Pier also reminds of days of old, complete with raging brass dissonance at some points and strings moving across the high and low ranges. Unauthorized Night Flight to Factory Inferno are surprisingly dry pieces, with very little actual material to enjoy, and considering that Troop Liberation and Factory Inferno are both 5 minute long cues with very little happening, it's quite disappointing. Both contain some highly impressive material, but a lot of it is fairly tuneless and is fairly inconsistent as well.
Triumphant Return marks the start of the explosive final chapter to the score. The final 30 minutes or so is an absolutely incredible return to c-lassic action material, and it ranks among the most exciting work Silvestri has ever written. Hydra Train contains some references to the main theme. The low, pumping strings underneath the brass appropriately mimics the movement of the train itself, and the brass intensity is very impressive. While a little generic, it still is appropriately impressive. Rain Fire Upon Them is more of a buildup piece, leading into Motorcycle Mayhem, an outstanding piece with some explosive brass work. The enormously powerful and intense work is downright impressive in many instances, and this track succeeds off of its intensity alone.
Invasion continues this intensity. It's hard to say whether or not there is a piano involved; in many instances it sounds as though the piano's lowering keys are being banged to create a bass note. Either way, the piece is appropriately desperate and intense, with many false buildups along the way and many brass bursts.
Fight on the Flight Deck is the piece where Captain America does battle with the villain, Schmidt. It's a fairly disjointed albeit intense piece with some highly impressive brass and string work littered throughout. The biggest issue with it is that it's simply far too in-cohesive and disjointed to be truly enjoyable. Though it technically is the climax, it lacks the power and lacks heavy thematic statements, which frustrates hugely, considering the subject matter. Thus, with this piece, Silvestri brings the action material to a highly unsatisfying conclusion.
The final few tracks are more reflective. This Is My Choice and Passage of Time are both fairly quiet pieces, with both restating the main theme a few times. Both are enjoyably noble. Captain America and Captain America March conclude the score on a highly enthusiastic note.
The Alan Menken piece Star-Spangled Man is an enjoyable, hilarious piece that, while not entirely out of place, doesn't quite fit well either. Silvestri's score simply doesn't go well with Menken's piece. Star-Spangled Man, for all its theatrics and hilarity, doesn't go too well here. As a stand alone piece, it's pretty awesome. As a concluding track to the Captain America's score, it doesn't do too well.
The Good:
- Captain America's theme is excellent
- Action beats are remarkable
- Great return to days of old
- Captain America March
The Bad:
- Not quite as excellent as one would hope
- Too generic
- Not enough statements of the main themes in the action pieces
- Poor climax
All in all, Captain America's score is great. It's impressive. It's fast. It's huge. It's expansive, and it contains a massive amount of energy throughout. The problem with it is that it isn't quite memorable enough. There's just something in it that's lacking the charisma of one of Williams' pieces, and as a result, one simply can't fall in love with it as one would with Superman. For all its thematic grace and action-packed concluding pieces, it just doesn't measure up. By today's standards, it's a welcome respite from Zimmer's stylistic choices. However, when one considers this type of score's history, it really actually is extremely generic. Nonetheless, Silvestri's approach to the score is highly refreshing, and still manages a high rating.
Considering Common Scores Today: 9/10
Overall: 8.5/10

Titanic Original Soundtrack Review


Titanic is one of the most important soundtracks ever released. Why? Because it was, and still is, the most popular one ever released. Climbing to the number 1 spot on many charts, the score was propelled almost single-handedly by Celine Dion's absurdly popular variation on the score's love theme. The movie was loved by both genders, males for the delightfully explosive special effects and the looks of the female lead, females for the love story (obviously) and the charm of the male lead. James Cameron would later try to replicate this success to astonishing results in the 2009 blockbuster Avatar. The later film even included a song that was a variation on the primary love theme for the score, in the vein of Titanic. While I See You, by Leona Lewis, never reached the popularity of Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On, both had quite a lot in common, being lyrical versions of the love theme and also having the lyrics partially written by the composer to the score - James Horner.
James Horner has had quite a long and illustrious career. Titanic still ranks among one of his most popular despite his many other successful soundtracks. Titanic's score's success rode pretty much off the beauty of the love theme alone, a gorgeous theme that today has seen reprisals in pretty much every medium possible, be it funked out editions or sleazy jazz performances. This is to be expected; without doubt, Titanic's love theme is among the best Horner has ever written, despite its immense simplicity. The simple layering of the piano, strings, synthetic choir and Sissel Kyrkjebø's beautiful voice somehow came together in a delightful fashion to create a truly gorgeous theme deserving of the attention it received. Its true reprisals in the film appear in, sadly, three tracks on the album: Rose, Unable to Stay, Unwilling to Leave, and Hymn to the Sea. Thankfully, these three reprisals are all stunning in their form, particularly in Hymn to the Sea. While Rose features an outstanding performance as well, Hymn to the Sea's is far more noble, far more beautiful, and far more longing. It is the type of music that drives men to tears, and truly, it is amazing. Its first minute alone are truly incredible. The bagpipe driven portions in both Unable to Stay, Unwilling to Leave and Hymn to the Sea are slightly irksome in their instrumentation, but they still succeed due to the simple elegance of the theme. Rose's performance of the theme is gorgeous, and ends on a longing note to represent the ill-fated love story for the two main characters.
In the album Back to Titanic, the track The Portrait again reprises the love theme, this time in solo piano form. Performed by James Horner himself, the track is a lovely 5 minute piece with extra repeats and delightful simplicity. It works incredibly well.
However, one question people ask is how good the rest of the music is. Most pass if off as simple, unenjoyable filler material. How wrong, they are. In truth, the rest of the stuff is also highly impressive - arguably as good as, if not even better than, the love theme itself. The other themes you have are the ones that represent an older Rose, one for the ship itself, and one for the ship's sinking. You have some small motifs, like one for death, and one to represent the panic aboard the ship as it sinks.
The score opens with a statement of the ship's theme in Never An Absolution carried on pipes. It then moves on into a statement with vocals. It really actually is quite similar to the love theme, even going so far as to include synthetics playing the love theme underneath. It is surprisingly complex for an opening, and quite apt. Some more of it appears in An Ocean of Memories at the end of the album, and also appears in Southampton. Another reprisal is in A Life So Changed. Truly, the ship theme is a mighty impressive piece of work that is definitely underrated. Its nobility and simplicity again amaze the way the love theme does.
Older Rose's theme in An Ocean of Memories and Distant Memories are highly impressive as well. The methods used to convey the magical feel to it were utilized heavily for the forest sections of The Spitfire Grill, and some of it may also remind of James Newton Howard's later success in Lady in the Water. Its a simple, fluttering piece likely utilizing synth to make the "sleigh bells" effect, though they are eventually overtaken by strings. It really is hard to say anything else about the theme; it doesn't make many appearances, and for all its synthetic effects, it still feels organic.
The sinking theme is the most explosive. Obviously. Its primary performances start after the love theme's performance in Unable to Stay, Unwilling to Leave. After the initial beauty, a feel of impending doom sets in. In fact, a sense of unease begins around Hard to Starboard, where heavy and intense percussive beats accentuate the horror. The frantic strings flicking their way through the portions of the score are undeniably impressive as well, though they feel ripped almost straight from Apollo 13. The piece The Sinking is an outright violent piece, with explosive bursts of percussion and brass. It feels extremely militaristic in nature. Mixes of synthetic choir and cymbal crashes further the feel. It's intense stuff, and more importantly, extremely apt. The following Death of Titanic is a monster of a piece with some truly painful moments to endure. Brief reprisals of the love theme, with many uses of the panic motif, appear. Finally, at the conclusion of the mayhem, all cohesiveness disappears to be replaced with synthetic choral dissonance. Perhaps it represents the screaming of the victims as they are engulfed in water. The brass bursts and plucking strings are outright terrifying, and it all ends with a dramatic cymbal crash.
The themes truly are some impressive work, and all of them brilliantly capture the moments in the score. While some of the filler work feels ripped from many of Horner's previous works, it still works in context.
One thing to note about Horner's work in Titanic is the use of synth. Underneath many pieces, such as Southampton, you have a quiet but constant synth effect. It's not entirely clear why; the piece would have worked nearly perfectly on its own, and while the synth doesn't detract, it's a little odd seeing as it is made to represent a huge boat as opposed, to, say, the Matrix.
The narrative flow of the score is also highly impressive, with the pleasant portions of the score dominating the first third, the horror dominating the second third, and the reflective portions taking over the final bit. By the end of one listen to the score, one feels emotionally exhausted, and also quite sad. However, the important thing is that the score can tell the story almost on its own, and that is a feat few composers accomplish. The longing feel of the ship's theme, as seen in Hymn to the Sea and Never An Absolution, are amazing. The beauty of the love theme is incredible. The sinking theme is outright horrific, and the reflective nature of the older Rose theme is also quite wonderful.
It's clear that discussion of the album and the score would be incomplete without discussion of Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On as well. Her piece is well-sung, obviously, and while the lyrics may be painfully cheesy and simplistic, they aren't too bad either. Ultimately, score enthusiasts will be drawn to the piece as an extension of the love theme, while others may head straight for the piece for the lyrics alone. It isn't bad, but it definitely isn't as great as many might say.
The Good:
- Outstanding themes
- Great filler work
- Decent motifs
- Emotionally captivating
- Rose
- Never An Absolution
- Death of Titanic
- Hymn to the Sea
The Bad:
- Some themes may be too simple
- Some instrumental quirks
- Sinking theme is very difficult to sit through, as the entire portion featuring sinking lasts for a good 20 minutes or so
Overall, the score is a c-lassic. There is nothing else you can call it; it's just so utterly brilliant. While some points are painful to listen to, and some of the instrumentation (bagpipes and synth are a little overkill), Horner avoids most of his usual issues (4 note motif) and provides an emotionally captivating, completely engrossing score filled with gorgeous themes and painfully realized emotion. When Horner ends his incredible career, the score people are most likely to point at and call his crowning achievement will be this one - the most popular soundtrack album ever written, and also one of his best.
Overall: 10/10
Never An Absolution: *****
Distant Memories: *****
Southampton: *****/****
Rose: *****
Leaving Port: *****
Take Her to Sea, Mr. Murdoch: *****
Hard to Starboard: *****/****
Unable to Stay, Unwilling to Leave: *****/****
The Sinking: *****
Death of Titanic: *****
A Promise Kept: ****
A Life So Changed: *****
An Ocean of Memories: *****
My Heart Will Go On: *****
Hymn to the Sea: *****

Halo Original Soundtrack Review

halo ost

Video game music has never gotten the recognition that movie music has. Whereas you'll find entire webpages completely devoted to reviewing music from films, you'll be hard pressed to find the video game equivalent. Some suggest that video game music is simply not as good as film music. However, the two are nearly incompatible; whereas music in films simply plays over sequences, music in games has to loop, has to dynamically change with the player's actions. Thus, it is significantly more difficult to write cohesive video game music with obvious themes and ambience that fits the tone of the moment. WIth the players in decision of what happens most of the time, all the composers can do is write music that goes with the tone. Film music and video game music are practically incomparable.
So, when a video game has a soundtrack that has powerful themes and impressive ambience along with a terrifically unique feel, it's impossible for one's ears not to perk up. Halo is one such game. Martin O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori have created one of the most impressive scores of the digital age, featuring a truly unique s-tyle that hasn't been replicated since.
The trouble with Halo's score is its horrific album, a terrible presentation that is misleading for many reasons. First of all, the main theme, an intense and refreshing take on the Zimmer equation, gets very few showings in the album. The most impressive one is in the Truth and Reconciliation Suite, the obvious highlight to the album. It's rare that a main theme like this ever fits perfectly with the game; most of the time you get a cliched tune that goes well with the moment, but doesn't necessarily click perfectly. Halo's impressive main theme, however ethnically odd, fits with the game nearly perfectly. Thus, it's disappointing to see it get only one complete presentation on album.
Another issue with the album presentation is the stupidity of the first few tracks. Astonishingly, the music that plays over the Bungie logo - a brief electric guitar flourish - is actually included. This stupid choice of actually putting it in with the opening track is a very annoying inclusion and detracts from the track as a whole. Why not simply include it as its on separate track, titled "Bungie Logo"? Even 20th Century Fox has the intelligence to do that. Moreover, the way the tracks are presented, the only pieces worth listening to are Halo, the Opening Suite, the Truth and Reconciliation Suite, and Brothers in Arms. The rest of the pieces are terrible mixes of the ambience in the game.
Simply put, if one wants a good representation of the music you hear in the game, you're actually better off just playing it. But enough bashing of the album; no doubt you want to know about the music itself.
I'll put it this way: It's fantastic.
First, in the opening menu, you're greeted with a dark and foreboding Gregorian chant that aptly sets the tone of the entire game. It's one of the most famous motifs in music ever, and it's been used in advertisements and such across the world. Very impressive stuff. Despite its obvious simplicity, it's still a surprisingly apt motif that graces the game's various cutscenes several times. The chant represents Halo as a whole; most of the cutscenes depicting Halo and the characters' revelations towards it, this theme appears as the backdrop. Though one might expect something like John Williams' work, there is no such brass epicness to be found here. And guess what? This still works. Brilliantly.
The next few motifs you get is the primary "battle theme," the composers' crowning achievement. The theme is more constantly referred to as the main theme, the piece that flourishes at the center of Truth and Reconciliation Suite. The African drums opening the theme are catchy, and actually carry on the feel of battle alone. You get your usual cello and string ostinatos - and more intriguing is that they came before Zimmer defined the idea in Batman Begins. The usual patterns for Zimmer's music are all here; the string loops, the powerful percussion, and of course a stunning main theme. What's most impressive about the music here is how stunningly dynamic it all is. For buildup to the music, the game plays the drum beat repeatedly. When the battle escalates, the cello and string loops enter. Sometimes the main theme doesn't even come in, allowing the string ostinatos to carry on the intensity of the battles on their own, and this often works wonders. The game presents this theme throughout its entirety, and during the most intense moments of the game where enemies are swarming and you're desperately fighting for your life, the way the theme plays out elevates the gameplay to cinematic levels. The intelligent inclusion of it in the final desperate run of the Master Chief in the level The Maw is particularly impressive.
Other motifs make great impressions as well, such as the wonderful string themes in On a Pale Horse and the bold, militaristic beat to Brothers in Arms. While the recordings are fairly dry, their later representations in the sequels are simply phenomenal, and are all purely original pieces that easily stand against the waves of action music in Hollywood today. Brothers in Arms in particular has a great theme that is quite epic in its development, but the way the track is mixed results in the percussion overtaking it, ultimately damaging its appeal. The orchestral version in Halo 3, Follow Our Brothers, is an outstanding version that shows exactly what the composers had in mind when writing this music.
Another impressive motif is the one for the Hunters. This intense and well-written piece throws in ascending and descending bursts of strings, perfectly capturing the mood of the desperate battles against the hulking creatures. It's all very clever, and it's similarly impressive orchestral version in Halo 3 (Brutes) is also delightful.
As you move through the game, you find some impressive pieces as well, such as the percussively driven Drumrun and the near tribal Covenant Dance. Both are enjoyable pieces and fit well in game, and though they certainly aren't the best pieces, they earn their mark as worthy cues.
One cannot discuss Halo's music without also carefully observing its horror aspects. The sequences with the Flood take up a fairly large portion on the album, creating a bunch of pieces with seemingly meaningless string and synthetic ambience. It sounds awful on its own, though the difficult dissonance and twisted feel to the music fits amazingly well in game. The first time one plays the game and endures the sequences with the Flood, the music raises the horror to impressive levels. The entire Library Suite and other tracks are devoted almost completely to this idea, making them the most difficult tracks to swallow in the album. They aren't pieces you'll want to listen to more than once, though their effectiveness is uncontested.
The Good:
- Outstanding themes
- Great motifs
- Use of Gregorian chants is unique
- Impressive usage in game
The Bad:
- Terrible album presentation
- Flood themes are painful to endure
- Rock Anthem for Saving the World
In game, the score is great. There is no other way to say it. Its effectiveness and imaginativeness is huge, and though some of the pieces may be obnoxious (Ambient Wonder, A Walk in the Woods), they all do well in game. The album presentation is a terrible product, with no sense of narrative flow whatsoever and even less of a sense of a dominant theme. The final blow, the Rock Anthem for Saving the World, is a painful piece to endure and still is in the game, though it mercifully plays over the credits. Despite the obviously small ensemble to the game, the composers do a great job with the music, and earn their due recognition of composing one of the greatest video game scores of all time.
Music as it Appears In Game: 10/10
Music as it Appears on Album: 2/10
Overall: 9.5/10
*Note: This review does not include a track by track rating as it would sorely misrepresent the score as a whole.

X-Men First C-lass Original Soundtrack Review

X-men first ****ost

Ah, Hollywood. Can anyone be more shameless? This year for films is one filmed with reboots, sequels, and remakes. Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Transformers 3, Cars 2, Pirates of the Caribbean 4, Kung Fu Panda 2, Fast Five, The Hangover 2, Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2, and etc. have all come out this year, few of which were actually worth watching. The best movies this year were Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Kung Fu Panda 2, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and - unexpectedly - X-Men: First C-lass. With an impressive script, likable characters, and a fast pace, X-Men First C-lass succeeded as a comic book movie in ways they hadn't since Spider-man 2. It was fast, it was involving, it was enjoyable, and it was simply extremely well filmed. It's no coincidence that the best movies of this year have the best soundtracks (relatively) to go with them - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 being the best Desplat had ever written. Kung Fu Panda 2 was a delightful score, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes continued Patrick Doyle's further steps into the realm of action music. X-Men First C-lass? Its music is certainly functional. Is it actually brilliant? No, sadly. However, if you simply want an uncomplicated and enjoyable summer score to cherish for a while, this certainly fits the bill.
Henry Jackman has had a productive career thus far. Acting as one of many of Zimmer's ghostwriters, and finally getting several solo assignments, he's come quite a ways. Since he is part of Remote Control Productions, his scores still - sadly - carry on some of the few hundred cliches now made extremely popular by Zimmer and his associates. Strangely enough, these simplistic cliches and constant applications, however widespread, seem to remain quite popular among fans. One has to wonder - have they not heard better music? Or do they simply prefer intellectually lacking music?
If one dislikes the stereotypes of Hollywood action music, one would do better to search elsewhere. It's all here - the string ostinatos, the obvious percussion, the simplistic yet admittedly effective themes, the synth - but it also has a lot more. Whereas failures like Transformers: Dark of the Moon rode almost completely off of synth to dampen whatever interest the orchestra might have generated, X-Men First C-lass utilizes the orchestra to a much larger extent, and sticks to the strengths of RC Productions' scores - i.e. enjoyable themes.
This is all demonstrated without haste in the first track, the heroic and surprisingly good First C-lass. This track is to Jackman as Chevaliers DeSangreal is to Zimmer - a delightful suite taking the best segment of a score and cramming it into a single piece in an effort to win over the listener. Chevaliers DeSangreal certainly succeeded; First C-lass also does. The first thing that hits you is the orchestra. The strings instantly begin hitting off the typical Zimmerian string loops, but they utilize the orchestra well by subtly moving up the strings. The loud and heroic theme for the X-Men is immediately introduced at around 0:34. It's an extremely simple yet effective theme, one that is instantly enjoyable and memorable. Despite its near overwhelming simplicity, it sustains itself surprisingly well, utilizing the string ostinatos in ways that actually enhance the theme. A drum set is used extremely well, making it one of very few superhero scores that utilize a drum set. The string ostinatos are actually so effective that they carry on the track delightfully towards the end, an impressive feat that few of Zimmer's associates managed to achieve. This theme is reprised throughout the score, though its most impressive appearance is arguably in the first half of Sub Lift, an outstanding reprisal featuring powerful choral accompaniment and gorgeously epic brass. X-Training is an excellent new age-s-tyle piece, and if one can separate the piece from the film, it's quite an enjoyable reprisal of the main theme. Given the moment in the film, it fits quite well. Other reprisals include the final 30 seconds or so of Cerebro, an excellent little jaunt towards this theme.
The other primary theme to the film is undoubtedly the theme for Magneto, a theme that feels like a devilishly twisted version of the main theme. The string ostinatos are here, they travel up the strings, the brass carries on the main theme, the ostinatos themselves are actually surprisingly enjoyable, and it's very effective. Whereas most of the X-men theme is in major key, Magneto's theme is mostly in minor key. It gets introduced in Pain and Anger, though only after a minute of painfully bland buildup. I once saw someone say that it was a villain theme so effective it could compare to The Imperial March. I must say that this is absolutely not so, though it certainly is an enjoyable villain theme. It gets some delightful reprises across the score, in Would You Date Me? (with some Morricone s-tyle electric guitars), Frankenstein's Monster, Not That Sort of Bank, and etc. It's most brash performance is obviously in the track titled Magneto, oddly set as the theme for the end credits, suggesting that this theme is in fact the true identity to the score. Tracks like Coup d'Etat add in some creepy choral effects for good measure, and alternate instruments to carry on the theme are well utilized. Simply put, it's the most downright enjoyable villain theme that any Zimmer associate has put out in quite a while.
Intriguing is how that themes are connected sometimes. Would You Date Me? in particular features a delightful crossover between the secondary theme for the X-men and Magneto's theme. True Colors carries on Magneto's bass line and features a reprisal of First C-lass' theme.
One interesting aspect to the score is what theme actually represents the X-men as a whole. The theme in First C-lass is also used when Magneto lets his powers flourish in Sub Lift, and when the X-men are training. It's also used when Xavier first uses Cerebro, therefore making it represent the X-men's mutant powers. One theme for the X-men themselves is used first in Rage and Serenity, when Xavier first coaches Erik in utilizing his powers. It's later used in Mutant and Proud, and finally in the track X-Men. Therefore, it would seem to represent the X-men themselves.
Other minor themes are included, naturally. One of the secondary themes that gets the most exposure is the theme for Mystique, introduced in the third track, Would You Date Me?. The somber and pretty piano theme is instantly a breath of air to the previous energy of the preceding tracks. It carries on into all the moments with Mystique, including moments with Beast. Perhaps it references more than just Mystique. It may also represent the feelings of social outcasts, a theme explored in the movie. It gets a pretty reprisals in To Beast or Not To Beast, though fairly brief.
Besides the impressive themes to the score, another impressive aspect to it is the likable orchestra. The orchestra itself features some highly impressive usage, often times with some clever use of the electric guitar and piano. First C-lass features the piano tinkling away at the highest keys, and the Morricone-esque electric guitar is a motif representing Magneto. It really is interesting how Jackman utilized the orchestra, propelling it far above its similar scores.
A "battle theme" of sorts is introduced in What Am I Thinking's final moments. The low string ostinatos are ripped almost straight from Zimmer's Batman work, and the motif is utilized in Cold War, Mobilize for Russia, and Rise Up To Rule. It's mostly unimpressive and stereotypical stuff.
Filler material in Cold War, Mobilize for Russia, and Rise Up To Rule is fairly unimpressive. Basically, its a disappointing throwback to the stereotypes of RC Productions. Cold War features some brief renditions of Mystique's theme and First C-lass' theme. Mobilize for Russia briefly includes Magneto's theme, though its 1 minute length is disappointing. Rise Up To Rule contains some fairly impressive choral and brass work, though it too often degenerates into utter trash. Some of the renditions of Magneto's theme are admittedly impressive, but the use of synthetics and annoying string ostinatos are fairly painful.
Is the score perfect? No, of course not. Its themes may be nice, and its use of the orchestra may be dynamic, but some moments are simply awful - specifically, the rather horrific battle music in Let Battle Commence, and the awful continuation in the second half of Sub Lift. The filler music is also rather unenjoyable. Also, it lacks any form of reference to the time period. Nowhere are there any snippets of music meant to represent the Cuban Missile Crisis, and no moments have any ethnic references either. Given that portions of the movie take place in Russia and Germany, would it have been so hard to research music from either country? Or at least utilize some of the instrumentation to twist the primary themes for the score? Moreover, its blatant lack of true inventiveness in the way the score is put together is an issue. It still uses the string ostinatos, it still uses the disappointing synthetic effects at certain areas (particularly the battle music), and its themes are still hugely simplistic. Nonetheless, it is still highly enjoyable, and even to me, a person who openly loathes all of Jablonsky's work for Transformers, it managed to have a sort of allure.
The Good:
- Enjoyable themes
- Good instrumentation
- Much less synth
- Clever motifs
- When the score is good, it's really good
- First C-lass
- Magneto
The Bad:
- Unenjoyable battle music
- Unintelligent
- Cliched
- When the score is bad, it's really bad
- Let Battle Commence
If you want to decide on whether or not this score is for you, you have to see whether or not you can enjoy obvious Zimmer's stuff. If you can enjoy stereotypical RC Productions music, you'll probably like it a lot. If, however, you demand intelligence in your work and complex themes with effective filler work, you probably won't like it very much. In the end, it still boils down to how much you like or dislike Zimmer. I felt that the score was enjoyable due to its unique instrumentation and organic take on Zimmer's methodologies. While it won't be anywhere near my top 50 scores of all time, it's still a nice little score and well worth looking into if you were a fan of the film. It's better than Jablonsky, better than Djawadi, but not quite as good as Doyle's work this year.
First C-lass: *****
Pain and Anger: *****/***
Would You Date Me?: *****
Not That Sort of Bank: ****
Frankenstein's Monster: *****
What Am I Thinking: ****
Cerebro: *****/****
Movilise for Russia: ***
Rise Up To Rule: ****
Cold War: ****
X-Training: *****
Rage and Serenity: *****

To Beast Or Not To Beast: ****
True Colors: *****
Let Battle Commence: **
Sub Lift: *****/**
Coup d'Etat: *****
Mutant and Proud: *****
X-Men: *****
Magneto: *****

Overall: 7/10
When Graded on Sheer Enjoyability: 8/10

Astoundingly Memorable Soundtrack Cues - Entry 17

Hello Gamespot!

Recently, I've been listening to a lot of c-lassic Hans Zimmer works, like Backdraft, Beyond Rangoon, and the original Lion King. That stuff was impressive, and it's a little sad to see where the great composer has come to now. Such beautiful works originally.

So, I discovered how stunningly beautiful his works in The Lion King were. If you can, you should absolutely buy a bootleg copy of the Lion King's score. It's simply astonishing. The themes are beautiful, the percussion and instrumentation work perfectly in context, and though the quality of the sound itself is a little faulty (being bootlegs), you should definitely check out this score.

There are simply far too many good tracks in this score, so I will have to give some advice. One of the best tracks is obviously Circle of Life, but not the one you'd envision; rather, it's the one without english lyrics. The instrumental portion is actually quite brilliant.

Another great piece is the powerhouse Simba Alive, a great piece. The theme is simply outstanding. Under the Stars is also outstanding.

I can only provide one download link, so I'll just provide Under the Stars' album edition.


Review for How to Train Your Dragon Original Soundtrack

how  to train your dragon ost cover

Few composers have an understanding of the orchestra quite like John Powell. If there's one thing he is well-known for, it's his incredible ability of composing massively complex orchestral works that are often both enjoyable and jaw-dropping in their stunning complexity. While some previous works demonstrated this ability (X-Men: The Last Stand is a prime example), it wasn't quite perfect in that it wasn't particularly consistent, some of its themes weren't all that memorable, and some aspects were simply lacking. Where Powell belongs is on the animated productions market, where he can let his joyful and often highly energetic music flourish along with the vibrant characters onscreen. Consequently, How To Train Your Dragon and Chicken Run are among the best of his career, with How To Train Your Dragon being far more consistent and thematically swallowable than the latter. Simply put, if you like your animated scores mature and smart while still being joyful and energetic, How To Train Your Dragon should be at the top of your collection.
This is Berk: *****
Dragon Battle: ****
The Downed Dragon: *****
Dragon Training: *****
Wounded: *****
The Dragon Book: ****
Focus, Hiccup!: ****
Forbidden Friendship: *****
New Tail: *****/****
See You Tomorrow: *****
Test Drive: *****

Not So Fireproof: ****
This Time For Sure: *****
Astrid Goes for a Spin: *****
Romantic Flight: *****
Dragon's Den: ****
The Cove: *****
The Kill Ring: *****/****
Ready The Ships: *****/****
Battling the Green Death: *****
Counter Attack: *****
Where's Hiccup?: *****
Coming Back Around: *****

The Viking Have Their Tea: ****
While no true suite of all four themes in the score does exist, the closest you get is This is Berk, aptly setting the tone for the entire score. This is Berk summarizes the score well, including 3 of the primary themes. All of the instrumentation is here; the beautiful choir hovering over the instruments, the Viking tones to it, and the massive energy that enters at around 1 minute through. This theme is likely the title theme of the score, as it otherwise would be difficult to say what this represents. Its appearance in This is Berk is one of the strongest, with the brass blaring out this massive theme as strings, choir, and other instruments mix along. The hyperactive percussion also bangs along, creating what is effectively one of the most speedy and swashbuckling themes for the genre of animated features. The theme for flying appears in the first minute, albeit in heavily toned down form. The love theme for Hiccup and Astrid appears at about 3 minutes through, forming yet another wonderful moment for the piece. While the final one minute is basic meandering and filler material, it's playful and boisterous enough to warrant a listen. It is interesting to note that some of the filler material is actually better than some of the themes, especially in See You Tomorrow.
Dragon Battle is a brilliantly intense piece with a bunch of exciting instrumentation and powerful anvil bashes for percussion. The final 30 seconds or so reprise the flying theme for some reason, and it is only that the piece is so short that it merits a four star rating. Otherwise, carried on by its own energy and power alone, this piece would be an easy 5 star rating.
The Downed Dragon opens with an intriguing teasing at the flying theme, before following up with the title theme's final moments. It's all very easy manipulation of the various themes, an impressive demonstration from Powell. Little tidbits of the men's choir in its deep, masculine form is impressive. Minor themes for the Vikings show up here and there as well, giving you some highly impressive manipulation of themes. Just beware the percussive blast at 1:56; it may very well shatter your ear drums if you turned up the volume to hear the lovely mixing of the themes earlier on. The final minute and a half is dominated by the filler material written especially for the moment where Hiccup must (SPOILER) kill (SPOILER OVER) the dragon. Some interesting suspense material using instrumentation as varied as the electric guitar to the bagpipes will be infuriating to some, but I found it smart here. What keeps this track from a highlight rating? Well, it's a little too inconsistent. Too much material isn't good either, especially one mixed so that you barely get enough time to appreciate it. It isn't the writer's fault, but it still isn't perfect.
Dragon Training begins with some interesting editing in it; you can barely hear the bagpipes in the background, while the foreground is dominated by choir and strings. It's a very clever move, and it sounds quite nice. After about a minute, this ends, to be replaced with an interesting Zimmer-esque string ostinato. It doesn't last particularly long, and is replaced shortly with some hyperactive brass. The speed of the strings, brass, and percussion will have your head spinning, and it's this ridiculous sense of speed and orchestral cohesion that will likely leave you panting after listening. If you aren't the least bit excited from the material dominating the last half of the track, check your pulse.
The attractive female vocals at the outset of Wounded is wonderful. Meshed with the other choral effects, the piece reprises the flying theme briefly, and then enters much more playful material. It's short, but it's very pretty, and instantly merits a 5 star rating.
The dragon theme gets much expansion around The Dragon Book, emerging near the beginning and dominating towards the end, before being replaced with the first portion of the title flying theme. Far too brief. Again, look out for the massive burst with 5 seconds left for the song. Painful.
Focus, Hiccup is a frenetic piece with consistently rowdy percussion and instrumentation. The theme is appropriately intense and fits well, but unfortunately, the piece doesn't consist of this theme only, with some random filler material as well. Thankfully, little reprises of the title theme show up to make the piece more enjoyable. It isn't that listenable, and isn't all that great either, meriting only a 4 star rating. However, in comparison to the brainless synthetic music of other Zimmer associates, this piece is a powerhouse. Just not here.
Forbidden Friendship is one of the best pieces here. It's one of the quietest pieces here, an absolute necessity from the previous rowdiness. And it's beautiful. It reprises the flying theme in several places, and uses a very unique ambience previously unheard, utilizing instruments as sleigh bells and the xylophone to convey a truly beautiful and fairy-tale like feel to it. Subtle uses of the electric guitar here and there also help to underscore the tone; Powell never overuses the electric guitar, only using it for a bass boost to give the track a hint of coolness. The use of the choir at 3:00 is truly beautiful, and it carries on to the end of the track, though the final forty seconds seem to have a child carry on the main part of the track. Truly delightful.
New Tail utilizes the penny whistle to a wonderful degree. The minor theme for the Vikings shows up here, though some of the comedy material in New Tail may be slightly irksome to some. It is very brief, but doesn't make for a particularly consistent listening experience. Thankfully, the final 50 seconds are a brilliant reprisal of the title theme. The reprisal is massive, explosive and powerful, and everything you could hope for in a reprisal for a theme as wonderfully bombastic as this. The male choir at 2:28 is stunning.
See You Tomorrow is filled with filler material that connects the themes together in a delightful way. The hyperactive strings together with the snare and various other instruments create a delightfully upbeat atmosphere that reminds of Chicken Run in its speed and enthusiasm. If this track doesn't get your feet tapping, then something's wrong. The reprise of the flying theme at about 1:15 or so is fantastically catchy. About halfway through, the speedy strings stop for a bit to include some more instrumentation. The harpsichord makes an appearance, playing the flying theme, as the title theme gets a reprise above all else. The Viking theme takes over again, and the final 30 seconds become quieter and fade out, the exact opposite of the beginning. A fantastically fast and enjoyable piece.
Test Drive is one of the best pieces, finally expanding the flying theme into all the orchestral majesty and power you've wanted. The bagpipes mesh with the penny whistle, brass, electric guitar, snare, and various other instruments in incredible ways, delivering a wondrous piece. You don't even realize how many instruments carry on the theme until you think about it, one great quality that X-Men The Last Stand lacked. A rather annoying buildup at 1:20 or so threatens the fun, but it's brief and it doesn't disturb too much. Overall, this piece is filled with delightful energy and joy, and it's one of the best in the score. The timpani bang at the end of it is a stylish exit.
Not So Fireproof is a slightly quieter and more playful piece than its predecessors, with some of its instrumentation and attitude actually reminding slightly of some of John Williams' Harry Potter scores. Because of this filler material that doesn't really go anywhere, it's difficult to give this track a particularly high score, even with the flying theme reprise at the end.
This Time for Sure and Astrid Goes for a Spin are both pieces that reprise the title theme with bombastic ease and intensity, though both do seem to end a little prematurely. Nonetheless, the fast and speedy theme does wonders to help this score soar. While a recognition as highlights is a bit much, a 5 star rating is basically guaranteed, especially for the latter (Astrid Goes for a Spin).
Romantic Flight is the second truly quiet and lovely piece. True to its name, it retains a very romantic feel to it, with a solo violin at first carrying on the theme. Its beauty and upbeat nature cement its rating as a highlight. Sadly, the remaining pieces have no sweet interruptions of beauty as Forbidden Friendship and Romantic Flight, making the massive climactic cues here exhausting and intense.
Dragon's Den marks the start of the climactic material, with the usual string ostinatos strumming away in the background along with brass ringing away in the foreground. Halfway through the primary theme for dragons appears, though it very quickly fades out and enters the usual filler material. It's a fairly unimpressive piece, though it is well-written for the moment.
The Cove reprises some of the lighter material for How to Train Your Dragon, featuring the love theme and the flying theme reprised in a quieter fashion. It's one of the more introspective pieces as well, and is a wonderful calm before the storm. A highly likable piece, despite it's briefness. The instrumentation is wonderfully sweet.
The Kill Ring begins with a french horn carrying the theme for the Vikings. It's a wonderfully enjoyable little opening with some tinkling instrumentation backing it up, and the strings helping out also benefit the intro well. After the one minute or so intro, the music abruptly enters massive bursts of John Williams brass, though it ends quickly. From there, the track loses the thematic smoothness and enters into decidedly less swallowable frenzied instrumentation, especially at 2:20 or so. The enjoyability is damaged, though some themes eventually prevail. It's glorious stuff, but a little difficult.
The track Ready the Ships carries on the powered orchestral masculinity of the preceding track. Many themes make it in here, from the flying theme all the way to the dragon theme. It's quite a nice piece, and you can feel a good amount of emotions in here, from innocence to anticipation. The anticipation is best felt in the final minute or so, as the Vikings prepare to take on the Green Death.
And hear marks the beginning of the remarkable 3 track suite of exhausting climactic music as the Vikings battle the Green Death. I can only treat this suite as a single track, so I shall. It is epic, and filled with huge amounts of orchestral harmony and dissonance. Some of the themes make great appearances (like around 1:40, where the Viking hero theme flourishes), with some great hinting at previous themes (the title theme gets great touches throughout). It's glorious and brilliant stuff. The dragon theme gets touches here and there, and the sheer intricacy with which the themes connect and flow is remarkable. The final 2 minutes of Battling the Green Death are outstanding, with the flying theme getting an outstanding reprisal that almost perfectly matches Test Drive, albeit sped up.
Counter Attack is one ridiculously intense piece, with the sheer brilliance and orchestral mastery impressing to a ridiculous degrees. The speed and terrific instrumentation is brilliant, and the inclusion of the various themes is impressive as well. John Williams' s-tyle makes a pretty obvious show here, with the massive brass bursts and frantic strings all appearing. The final moment, with mysterious and alien choir is a definite point of interest.
And the tense feel winds down here, finally allowing us some space to breathe with Where's Hiccup. The brief brass burst signalizing victory is a brilliant inclusion, and a piano solo for Hiccup is absolutely magical. The amazing narrative s-tyle is impressive; somehow, the music tells everything on its own. An impressive feat, by anyone's standards.
Coming Back Around reprises all major themes (besides the title theme) in a brilliantly victorious manner. A definite highlight for the score, with its great meshing of various themes. Its feeling of relief and happiness is one that is missing from most other tracks in the score, without a single depressing or overbearing moment to it. A great way to end a great score.
The epilogue track, The Vikings Have Their Tea, is a somewhat ridiculous little inclusion featuring some pleasant variations of the Viking theme. The rather comedic aspect to it feels a little unnecessary to close off a hugely explosive and exciting score. It isn't bad, but I found it a little unnecessary; I would have been perfectly happy with Coming Back Around to act as the ending.
The Good:
- Explosive and exciting
- Outstanding themes
- Orchestrally impressive in its harmony and dissonance
- Impressively climactic cues
- Tells the story on its own
- Truly impressive in so many ways
The Bad:
- Ethnically incorrect
- Slightly unnecessary epilogue
For all its greatness, How To Train Your Dragon's score isn't perfect. For one thing, its use of Scottish instruments to represent the Vikings is sort of random, especially with the use of the bagpipes and penny whistle. Both are pretty, of course, but considering the subject matter, technically ethnically incorrect. It is true that some parts are ethnically correct (especially the brass call at Dragon Battle).
Besides that minor gripe, the epilogue still feels a little unnecessary, as discussed before. But it really isn't much of an issue at all. All in all, this is an incredible score with great themes, great orchestral harmony, brilliant climactic cues, and fantastically cohesive. John Powell hasn't reached levels of this greatness before, and I sincerely hope he eventually will be able to score a trilogy with this consistency and orchestral expansiveness. Bring on How to Train Your Dragon 2!
Overall: 10/10

Astoundingly Memorable Soundtrack Cues - Entry 16

Hello again, Gamespot!

I now have a definite schedule down for upcoming reviews. Look out for the review for How to Train Your Dragon soon!

This week's astoundingly memorable soundtrack cue is Theme from Schindler's List. Written by John Williams for (you guessed it) Schindler's List, this theme practically defines tragedy. It suits practically any moment in historical tragedy; if used properly, it could be used to represent the aftermaths of various disasters, including earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc.

Originally, it was used to represent the tragedy suffered by the Jews during World War II. The appropriately somber and depressing solo violin theme holds so much raw emotion in it that it's simply tear-jerkingly remarkable. While many other scores are known for subtlety in their emotion-conjuring ability (various works by James Newton Howard and some by Howard Shore are choice selections), some are also known for their raw power and emotion summoned from their unrelenting beauty and somberness. James Horner's score to the historical drama Glory and Danny Elfman's score to the fantasy drama film Edward Scissorhands are notable mentions, though it must be admitted that John Williams' incredible work for Schindler's List tops them all. The score is actually quite emotionally draining to listen to in one go; thus, it is best appreciated in bursts.

The primary theme is absolutely fantastic. While it does stretch on for 4 minutes, it never overstays its welcome because of its simple beauty and effectiveness.

Enjoy! (up to you to figure out how to download it...)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 Original Soundtrack Review

harry potter and the deathly hallws part 2
After the score ended on a musical cliffhanger, I was eager for the follow-up for Desplat's work. Desplat himself said that this last score would be the most difficult, and would be a massive challenge for him; too true, this is. With the final installment looking to have about 90% of the drama and exciting stuff that's even in the seventh book, Desplat has to compose a true powerhouse of a score, one that is at once touching and emotional while still epic in scale to stay true to the wars and battles. Moreover, he has to keep things human and yet visceral to symbolize the reality of the wars, something many composers still haven't quite gotten pat down yet. The expectations for the final score are high, indeed; having grabbed the score yesterday, I wondered how Desplat would do it. Would he succeed? Would it be worth anything at all?
Simply put, I loved it. It's not perfect, but it is definitely damn good.
Lily's Theme: *****
The Tunnel: ****
Underworld: ****/***
Gringotts: ****
Dragon Flight: *****
Neville: *****/****
A New Headmaster: ****/***
Panic Inside Hogwarts: *****
Statues: *****

The Grey Lady: *****/***
In The Chamber of Secrets: ****
Battlefield: *****
The Diadem: ****
Broomsticks and Fire: *****
Courtyard Apocalypse: *****

Snape's Demise: ****
Severus and Lily: ***
Harry's Sacrifice: *****
The Resurrection Stone: *****

Harry Surrenders: *****
Procession: *****
Neville the Hero: *****
Showdown: *****/****
Voldemort's End: *****

A New Beginning: *****/*
Lily's Theme is the first track here, and it fits because it's used extensively throughout the score. It's quite a dark and dreary piece, highly melodramatic and depressing. Nonetheless, it's quite pretty in its instrumentation, with a solo female voice carrying on the theme at first. While this is a fairly brief track that makes the listeners long for more of it, it still isn't a half bad piece. It makes sense, then, that this piece gets much more expansion in the following tracks.
The track The Tunnel is the first action track of the score, with many more to follow. Its brass and strings are fast paced, and remind slightly of Danny Elfman's similar work in the 1989 c-lassic Batman. It's difficult to say why it only deserves a 4 star rating; whereas many James Newton Howard or Hans Zimmer action beats are easily enjoyable, Alexandre Desplat tends towards the darker, grittier s-tyle of action beats that are decidedly hard to enjoy, but not necessarily bad. As graded on a technical and emotional level, The Tunnel is a good piece; however, on a listenability level, The Tunnel isn't quite as great. As a result, it's a 4 star track that comes extremely close to meriting a 5 star rating.
Desplat's action methods are carried on into the unimpressive and long Underworld, a surprisingly dry piece. It seems to me that many long pieces often merit higher ratings because at least some portion of it has to be uncontestedly 5 star material; not so with Desplat. It makes some references to the Locket theme of the previous score, but Desplat fails to use it in any truly intelligent way. The lack of interesting moments and truly listenable instances is frustrating. You hear some clever hints at previous themes, but some of the action material is almost pure dissonance, and is basically unlistenable. The track ends on a great buildup, but altogether, Underworld is a completely uninteresting piece that merits your attention for one or two playthroughs at most.
Desplat plays around inside his comfort zone for the first part of the score; most of the first few pieces are either boring or predictable. While Gringotts has some excellent mischievous motifs in it, most of it is again dry and atmospheric. If there's one thing Desplat succeeds in, it is undoubtedly his ability to channel an ominous feel through his music; the strings in Gringotts remind of the Library Scene from the first score and the rather disturbing echo effects provide a very apt atmosphere. In a bit of Howard Shore work, Desplat closes the piece with a false build-up, something Shore is notorious for overusing in some of his tracks for Lord of the Rings.
Dragon Flight is another action track, and it finally propels Desplat's methods and themes into 5 star territory with bold brass and the same emotional power that Desplat is renowned for. You hear takes on Hedwig's Theme meshed with Lily's Theme in glorious strings and brass, making this one of the best pieces in the score. It's also one of the few with an actual resolution, as opposed to the usual false buildups.
Neville is a predictable piece; it begins with some briefly intense stuff, but quickly segues into the "allies" theme, an unofficial theme for the Order of the Phoenix that represents the good guys. It's great to hear it restated at last, with its previous statement in this form at the start of the first score in Polyjuice Potion. The track ends on a quiet note. The best part of this track is the order of the phoenix theme.
A New Headmaster is a far less interesting piece than the previous two, though Hedwig's Theme is most apparent in this piece. It appears around 0:22 and 2:14, though these little teasing are less interesting than hoped for. It seems Desplat didn't want to use too much of the theme, sticking to only the mysterious first portion of the music. Some interesting thematic developments at 2:29 remind of Lord of the Rings, though this quickly ends to be replaced with another frustrating buildup.
Panic Inside Hogwarts is outstanding. It sounds absolutely incredible, beginning with a wonderful brass statement meshed with choir. Lily's Theme appears in brass, together with the choir hovering slightly above everything else. The strings and timpani all work together extremely well, and you're left with an outstanding piece that mixes the orchestra and choir together with ease. It sounds natural, and it sounds beautiful. It comes close to the s-tyle of Howard Shore, and it's simply great. It even ends on a false-buildup. The track reminds of Hans Zimmer as well, with the brass themes and string loops playing and choir hovering through the piece. The only difference is that it's played with the orchestra, and consequently sounds great.
Statues continues the excellence of Panic in Hogwarts, with the emphasis on Zimmer's methods accentuated. The rising brass structure and the string loops, together with repetitive percussive beats and choir make for an outstanding piece. Better yet? There isn't any of that frustrating false buildup type deal that Desplat seems to have taken an interest to. It's outstanding.
Sadly, this brilliance is ended for two tracks, with the rather dry Grey Lady being filled with atmospheric fluff. One section at 1:10 or so sounds great, with some intense percussion and brass bursts. Sadly, it ends after about 30 seconds. At 2:04, another interesting sequence appears, with magical (albeit disturbing) choir taking over. It ends quickly, however, and doesn't get any reprisals elsewhere. Another wonderful sequence at 4:04 is outstanding because of its cello beats and outstanding choir. Some subtle references to Lily's Theme, clearly the predominant theme in the score, also make appearances. Another highlight is at 5:12, with some great percussive work. This is a long piece with infrequent bursts of brilliance that fade away quickly. Disappointing.
In The Chamber of Secrets begins with a brief little snippet of Hedwig's Theme, a lovely little bit that even uses the same instrumentation. Later, this same snippet is played at a much slower speed on the brass. Unfortunately, the track resorts to pure orchestral dissonance at the level of Bathilda Bagshot from the previous score. Not particularly enjoyable, and a little too short. While the reference to John Williams is clear, it is distinctly lacking.
Battlefield carries on the incredible music from Statues and Panic in Hogwarts. The Order of the Phoenix theme opens it, though the track is followed with an awe-inspiring synthesis of choir, percussion, and strings. This is then followed up with some great brass work with string ostinatos strumming away in the background. The choir is used extensively, and it sounds absolutely beautiful, elevating the score to wondrous proportions. Hedwig's Theme is reintroduced here again, in fragmented form, and its been transformed into dark battle music. It fits surprisingly well. Simply put, it's one of the best cues of the entire year.
The Diadem is an interesting piece with some intriguing and strange themes, but they don't really factor into anything truly incredible. They're likable and apt, but not exactly brilliant stuff. The woodwind instrumentation is unique and interesting, and the use of strings and brass to play the themes with woodwinds providing the ostinatos is a unique take on Zimmer's methods. Some super low piano riffs here and there with a little brass dissonance does wonders for emotional buildup, and Howard Shore's orchestral s-tyles make an interesting show here. However, this piece seems more Goldenthal than Shore and is fairly unenjoyable despite the excellent instrumentation. 2:50 ushers in Hedwig's Theme yet again.
And, Desplat's interpretation of Zimmer appears yet again with Broomsticks and Fire, utilizing the brass to an extent that James Newton Howard used extensively in The Last Airbender, down to the four-note pattern of brass notes (this time descending instead of ascending). The choir provides more background, with the strings working to make a more disturbing feel. The track again ends on a false-buildup.
Following is an extension of the opening theme to Statues. Stretching on for two minutes, the powerful piece gives a feeling of impending doom. It still retains a sense of nobility, with the brass carrying on the theme well. The choir backs it up, and the strings elevate it all to massive heights. Calm percussion beats steadily in the background, providing what is possibly one of the best build-ups of all time. Absolutely incredible. The feel of the percussion and the slow beat actually remind hugely of Disc Wars from Tron: Legacy, another wonderful track (without the synth, of course).
This marks the end of the action music for now; from there, the tracks enter impressively dark and slow music. Snape's Demise begins with Hedwig's Theme, a throwback to days of old when Snape was merely a teacher. The instrumentation is wonderful. Sadly, a frustrating buildup enters, but quickly segues into a reprise of Lily's Theme. It feels much more dreamlike, aptly representing the sequence where Harry enters Snape's memories. Unfortunately, it seems as though Snape's Demise can be summarized as "Hedwig's Theme and Lily's Theme put together," which is slightly underwhelming as no original music composed specifically for Snape's demise. Still, it's not a bad track.
Severus and Lily is a disappointing piece. You'd expect more beauty, more melodrama in a piece with such a title. Instead, you wind up with lots of atmospheric stuff that isn't entirely enjoyable. Every now and then you get some nice snippets of Lily's Theme, and some nice instrumentation, but as a whole, the track lacks the gorgeous emotion it should convey. It sticks with Desplat's normal s-tyles, sticking to slow and meandering strings in the lieu of some of his work for Twilight: New Moon. Some of the same type of piano work is even featured. It ends on a good note, but still is disappointing compared to the rest of the greatness of this score.
Harry's Sacrifice is the type of melodrama we were all expecting from Severus and Lily. The theme is basically the second half of The Obliviation from the previous score; consequently, it's beautiful. The more you listen to it, the more you enjoy it. It's a wonderfully noble theme, and you would do well to put more emphasis on it. It ends on Hedwig's Theme, lending a tiny sliver of hope into an otherwise depressing track.
The Resurrection Stone is the best "long track" in the score. Generally, I define a long track as being longer than 4 minutes. It takes the instrumentation for Hedwig's Theme and gives it a rather innocent and beautiful theme to it. As the choir and strings enter, the track becomes better and better. It's beautiful, and it's hard not to love. This is what Desplat can do when he's inspired, and not limited by what's happening on screen. Lily's Theme is included several times, making it the dominant theme to the score as a whole (along with the theme of Courtyard Apocalypse). It ends rather abruptly, but still is a great piece.
Harry Surrenders begins in a rather dark and ambient way, but shortly segues into the first half of The Obliviation. This is a very clever move on the part of Desplat; whereas the previous score began with The Obliviation in order, this score concludes on The Obliviation with the themes reversed. It lends a sort of symmetry to the score, and simply because it was such an intelligent idea, this track lands a 5 star rating.
Procession is a depressing piece with a twisting of Hedwig's Theme and some intriguing filler work. It very aptly fits the scene of a funeral procession, and sounds brilliantly depressing. The sheer emotion conveyed through the piece is remarkable.
Neville the Hero begins in a sinister way that reminds of the Locket theme from the previous score. It picks up, and begins to reprise Courtyard Apocalypse's theme, but in a more heroic manner. The noble theme is filled with beauty, and even throws in some tiny references to the Order of the Phoenix's theme. At about 1:15 or so, a new brass theme kicks in, and the track continues to build up at a stunning pace with truly awe-inspiring orchestral harmony. The use of the brass is wonderful, and though the track concludes in a slightly abrupt manner, it still works. Very well.
Showdown is one impressive action piece. This time, Desplat blends his horror aspects of music into his battle music, making for some pretty darn impressive stuff. Tidbits of the Order's theme are thrown in for good measure, and some of the action feels to The Tunnel return. Sadly, this is a very fragmented piece. There's a lot of brass dissonance to be found, but as a whole, this isn't a bad piece. The orchestral harmony is highly impressive as well, and Desplat reprises some of Hedwig's theme in deep brass for good measure. At the 2:35 mark or so, you get a form of Hedwig's Theme that is transformed into an action track. From there, the track truly picks up with Courtyard Apocalypse's theme appearing yet again in another impressive show. It ends on this wonderful note, concluding a great track.
Voldemort's End is an intense piece. The brilliant theme here is epic and unbroken, allowing for unfragmented appreciation of Desplat's skill at writing music of this caliber. Though the beginning is a rather frustrating false buildup, the track continues into an orchestral presentation of Lily's Theme, albeit heavily modified. The choir, the strings, the brass, everything comes together so wonderfully and allows for the track to conclude in a way that isn't a false buildup, but a real buildup. This is what we've all been waiting for - Voldemort to fall - and Desplat scores the moment incredibly well. A final presentation of Lily's Theme appears just to round off the track, and closes off Voldemort's story with it - ironic, because his battle with Potter began after he killed her.
One may notice that for the final track, A New Beginning, I pegged it at a 5 star/1 star rating. Why 5 star? Well, the piece is beautiful. It's easy to enjoy. The piano and strings go well together. It's a happy piece. It's one of contentedness and peace. And it succeeds in that sense. It's not demanding. It's magical. So what's the problem? A 5 star rating should be obvious.
No. The problem is simple: This is the last track in the entire Harry Potter saga. The whole thing. It's the send-off, the good-bye, the "we loved you… please come again!" And it is underwhelming. It isn't just underwhelming; it's so utterly disappointing it's depressing. Why? Well, there's no major statement of any memorable theme. There's no glorious reprisal of Hedwig's theme in all its glory; no happy reprisal of the Order's theme; there's no true end to it. It's not bad; it's just disappointing.
The Good:
- Awe-inspiring action tracks
- Beauty
- A slap in the face to Zimmer's acolytes
- Lily's Theme is well-written and well-performed
- Storytelling ability is nearly unparalleled
- Emotion conveyed is perfect
- Good references to John Williams' themes
- Courtyard Apocalypse
- The Resurrection Stone
- Battlefield
- Voldemort's End
The Bad:
- Disappointing end
- Inconsistent feel to tracks
- Still not quite enough homage to John Williams
The score ends disappointingly, as discussed previously. But that isn't the only flaw. Another issue is that the tracks are quite inconsistent, especially in the middle of the score, where you have action beat, then calm piece, then action beat, then calm piece, etc. This isn't all that bad; the action beats are great as are the calm pieces, but it'd helped to have composed a suite for the action beats or calm pieces. Despite the rather inconsistent feel to the music, the tracks are still impressive and highly enjoyable. The constant interruptions of Desplat's imaginative and powerful music with differing feels to the music are a definite detraction, but as a whole, the music is incredible.
Also, the homage to John Williams is generally ok, but not amazing. Had Desplat included even more of Hedwig's Theme, the score would've been absolutely perfect. As it is, it comes close, but isn't quite there yet. Of course, 10s don't go only to perfect scores, because they are far too rare.
By the time one has reached the end of this score, they can scarcely believe how far they've come. From the uninteresting but apt brass action of The Tunnel to the impossibly epic Battlefield to the intensely realized sense of impending doom, the emotion and storytelling of this score is the likes of Lord of the Rings. By the end of it, you feel tired, like you've been through a harrowing journey and battle. You feel emotionally weighed down, yet slightly hopeful, because the music is simply that emotionally brilliant. The storytelling is also wonderful; each piece of music fits the moment perfectly, especially once you reach the track Panic in Hogwarts.
In the end, this is one of the best scores of this year. Its drama and emotion are weighty, the themes are glorious, and the storytelling is excellent. It's truly Oscar worthy, or at least Grammy worthy. All its missing is closure to the saga. I sincerely hope that in the film, Hedwig's Theme plays over the end credits. If not, I will cry tears of sadness. But if it does, I will cry tears of joy. What a way that would be to send out the Boy Who Lived.
OVERALL: 10/10