Yes, you're seeing the header graphic correctly; Howard Shore is the powerhouse behind Soul of the Ultimate Nation's soundtrack. Yes, it's that Howard Shore -- The Lord of the Rings guy (not to mention all of his dozens of other film score projects dating back to 1979). How this smallish MMO was able to attract the likes of Mr. Shore I have no idea, but we're faced with the reality that the game did and this exists.
Other than doing a little double-take when I first found this out, I'm really cool with it. I love it when well-known movie composers dip into video games, such as when Harry Gregson-Williams branched out to do several of the Metal Gear Solid titles. Shore's works are really distinctive and give SUN a sound that's far more "professional" than many of the game's contemporaries.
That said, it's not the best score I've ever heard. It's quite noisy and pulls a little too much from the LotR films. Sometimes composers crib their own works (Harry Potter's music is John William's shameless ripoff of his own Home Alone soundtrack), and that's just how it goes. Let's take a look at an MMO scored by a Hollywood bigshot, shall we?
1. Forest of the Beasts
Shore sure loves his blaring horns and crashing percussion, so get used to hearing this a lot. Forest of the Beasts begins with part of the orchestra swirling around all frantic-like while the aforementioned horns and drums signal invasion and oppression.
I love tracks like this where you can close your eyes and imagine a scene clearly by just listening to the musical cues. When music paints a story, even one you haven't seen, then it's a treasure to be cherished. My only complaint is that I really wanted to hear a triumphant denouement at the end of the track and it never came. Still, this is an excellent piece to start out with.
2. Menace of the Army Wings
If you're familiar with any of the Orc or Uruk-hai scenes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, well, you're in for a strong dose of deja vu with this track. Barring a few notes here and there, this is almost the same tune, right down to the unrelenting drums and dark choral chants. That isn't to say it's horrible; it's all high-quality stuff and worthy of a listen here and there. Hey, even evil needs a good theme!
3. Helron's Castle
If I had to pick a single word to describe this theme, it would be "ominous." I don't know much about Helron's Castle, but I don't think I'd want to spend the night there, is what I'm saying.
It's not much of a standout track in any way, shape, or form. Why did I pick it? Well, I had to get to six, and this was as good a track as any. I think this is what ultimately (har) disappointed me about this soundtrack: It has all of the foreboding motifs that Shore likes to use without much of the happy-go-lucky-excited melodies that really stick with you.
4. Sanctuary of Ether
I'm starting to think that Shore either had the Lord of the Rings musicians on retainer or somehow sneakede in an entire MMO soundtrack between recordings for the film. Anyway, here is the Elves theme from the movie. It's a nice change of pace from the previous two tracks, calm and (sigh) ethereal. Why must I make bad puns today? I'm making myself groan here.
5. The Epitath
Call this a companion piece to Sanctuary of Ether. It has the same dreamlike quality as angelic voices sing you to sleep. Definitely not catchy, but I don't mind a good soothing tune now and then. I'm curious where this track comes into play in the MMO because I think that it could be used to great effect if put at the right spot.
6. The Valley of Dragons
I know I haven't been gushing with enthusiasm for this soundtrack, so I did want to end on an upbeat note. The Valley of Dragons is probably the best part of this score and passes what I call the Whistle Test. The Whistle Test is whether you can easily hum the main melody after hearing the song. There's a simple yet fun little audio hook in here that's portrayed with both a Smurf-like trill and a thundering crash of instruments and percussion.
But hey, that's just my opinion. Have any of you listened to this soundtrack, and if so, what are your favorite tunes?
MMOs aren't just about looks; they also have great soundtracks that often go unnoticed. Heroes don't stand for that! Every Tuesday, Jukebox Heroes will check out a game's soundtrack and feature the best tunes to share and discuss. Your DJ for the hour is Justin Olivetti, and the request line is open!