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SOUL OF THE ULTIMATE NATION
Epic LOTR-style music for computer game
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2006 Sony BMG Korea Inc.; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
Howard Shore fans didn't have much to be cheerful about in 2005, with the last-minute rejection of his eagerly-anticipated King Kong being a massive disappointment to many. Without much publicity, though, Shore did find time to write and record this massive orchestral and choral score for the Korean video game Soul of the Ultimate Nation. Allow me to get the jokes out of the way at this juncture: since it's Korean, surely it should be Seoul of the Ultimate Nation? And, is it just me, or does Soul of the Ultimate Nation not sound more like the name of a white supremacist group in South Africa than it does that of a Korean video game?
That's enough jokes for now, though. There's certainly not much cheer to be found in the music which is extremely serious, dramatic stuff. There's not much point me beating around the bush: to all intents and purposes, this is Lord of the Rings, part four. I've no idea what the game is actually about, but the CD tray features a map of an imaginary place that, shall we say, bears a more-than-passing resemblance to a certain other imaginary place; and the booklet is full of pictures of characters who are probably not called orcs, trolls, hobbits and elves but which are likely to make most observers think of those characters. Shore makes little attempt to disguise the music's roots - of course, there are no themes from his epic music for Peter Jackson's movies, but stylistically, Soul of the Ultimate Nation undeniably picks up where The Return of the King left off.
It would be easy to think that because Shore had a year each on the Rings movies but (presumably) rather less time on this, the music would as a result be less well-developed, but that simply isn't the case - perhaps it's a result of him apparently being allowed the luxury of conceiving it almost more as a tone poem than something which has to adhere to strict dramatic hits. There are several cues, most of which are between two and three minutes long, but each is a perfectly self-contained piece of music, with the composer presumably free to go where he wanted, within loose guidelines.
The brilliant, thunderous action music is familiar, as is the lyrical theme "Tides of Hope" which resembles the end title song from Return of the King, but Shore does introduce some interesting new ideas as well, notably the surprisingly lyrical use of the theremin, used to carry the melodic line in a way I can't recall having heard before, sounding almost like a wordless female vocalist sometimes. Vocalists do pop up in some tracks, with the throaty vocals of "Empire Geist" being particularly impressive, and contrasting instantly with the heavenly female chorus of "The Epitaph" which follows.
I don't want to give the impression that this is just a rehash, because it isn't - all the melodic material is brand new. But the stylistic similarities with Shore's best-known compositions really are so strong that is is perfectly reasonable to say that a listener's reaction to Soul of the Ultimate Nation will be virtually identical to that listener's reaction to The Lord of the Rings. The most major difference is that more lighthearted music - which was thin on the ground in LOTR admittedly, but at least present from time-to-time - is completely absent here, which can mean that at over an hour long, the album becomes a bit of an endurance test as it nears its conclusion. Sadly, the horrible, turgid recording style of the LOTR scores is carried over here as well, which makes listening just that bit less pleasant. It doesn't quite have the scope of the Rings scores, but this is a top-notch effort from Shore. It's presently only available as an import from Korea, but presumably will get a more widespread release at some stage.