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Game Music

Digging For Musical Gems: Mines of Moria Music (Review)

Digging For Musical Gems: Mines of Moria Music (Review)

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There have been a fair amount of soundtracks printed for The Lord of the Rings Online (both Shadows of Angmar and the Mines of Moria expansion), but none of them have been available for purchase separately from the game. Like many PC game soundtracks, they come bundled with limited edition packaging of some sort.

Recently, a “Lord of the Rings Online Collector’s Edition” was released with a bonus artbook and music CD. The CD contains 17 tracks, and is the most complete version of a Mines of Moria soundtrack released (another one exists, but as a “Bonus Soundtrack” it is basically a reissue of the Shadows of Angmar soundtrack with a few tracks from Moria tacked on to the end).

The Mines of Moria music, composed by Chance Thomas (whose work includes Quest For Glory V, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, and others) and Stephen DiGregorio, is strong enough to rival the film score. In some ways, this music is superior to the film score, in that one can listen to it over and over without getting bored. This is, of course, the distinguishing trait between film score and game music: the ability to repeat many times without annoying the listener.

What will you find after the jump? Why, our full review of course!

In the CD’s track list, you will find some familiar names and phrases from the LotR books and films. Can you pick them all out?

(# Title / Artist)
01 The Hollin Gate / Chance Thomas
02 Moria (A Journey in the Dark) / Chance Thomas
03 Drums in the Deep / Chance Thomas
04 Khazad Dum / Chance Thomas
05 In the Darkness Bind Them / Stephen DiGregorio
06 Mines of Mithril / Stephen DiGregorio
07 The Golden Wood / Chance Thomas
08 Archers of the Galadhrim / Chance Thomas
09 They Are Coming / Stephen DiGregorio
10 Durin’s Day / Stephen DiGregorio
11 The Falls of Nimrodel / Chance Thomas
12 Runes of Fire / Stephen DiGregorio
13 We Cannot Get Out / Stephen DiGregorio
14 The Black Pit / Stephen DiGregorio
15 Flame of Udun / Chance Thomas
16 The Shadow Lies Upon His Tomb / Stephen DiGregorio
17 Epilogue (The Final Doom) / Chance Thomas

Just reading over the tracklist should get you in a strong Tolkien-esque state of mind. Are you there? Good. Let’s talk about the music now.

Full orchestra, as well as smaller chamber-music groups, were used to record some of this score. From the clamor of drums and brass to the serenity of flutes and sweeping strings, my initial impression of this album was “this is a film score.” But as I mentioned above, the soundtrack serves better for a game than for a film. Why? Because the music can handle being repeated without leaving the listener unsatisfied. These pieces aren’t set to specific moments within a film, and as such, Thomas and DiGregorio were able to write fully-developed music for each and every track, instead little one-minute clips of music that have abrupt starts and ends.

Let’s use my favorite track from the album as a case study. Track 15, “Flame of Udun,” is simply brilliant. It opens with two syncopated parts: one in the low brass section, and the other in percussion. The dynamic intensity, as well as the melody, builds over the first minute. Then, at the end of the first minute, an all-male choir joins the mix, though their part is a simple rhythm (one chord change per measure). Strings and winds join by 1:30, and then a true melody starts coming through the strings. It’s almost a song you could dance to, though you know it is meant more for war than for dance. Suddenly, everything changes! At the 2 minute mark, the high brass takes the melody, the tempo changes, and a whole new set of percussion shows up to be the backbone of the piece. The male vocalists return, but now they chant words instead of singing non-lyrically. By the three minute mark, we’re listening to something that sounds akin to the more memorable parts of “One-Winged Angel,” though in a style that is decidedly not Uematsu. Finally, some women join the chanting choir, and near the four minute mark, a sharp pause marks the end of the chanting, but the percussion and brass come back to reclaim their territory. There is no real resolution to this piece: the end recapitulates the beginning, lending toward the game music necessity that is repetition.

There are plenty of songs on this album built in a similar fashion, but there are also some great relaxing pieces. “The Golden Wood” is a beautiful piece, and it is great music for relaxation. In the context of the soundtrack, and in the game, it serves best as a short reprieve between the swift and steady movements of battle and dungeon exploration. One wouldn’t expect much beauty in the Mines of Moria (you remember what happened there, don’t you?). But in The Golden Wood, the Elven forest found not too far away from Moria, there is a chance for respite.

It is truly a shame that these soundtracks are only being packaged with the game. Some people simply don’t want to dedicate themselves to an MMORPG. But among all the music written for Tolkien’s story, why isn’t this wonderful music available for separate purchase? I can only hope that will change in the near future. This disc, over an hour of music, would certainly be an attractive addition to any Tolkien fan’s musical library.

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