Thursday, March 03, 2016

The Score of the Game

We're now less than two months away from the premiere of the sixth season of Game of Thrones. And as always between seasons, a soundtrack album has been released of the score composed by Ramin Djawadi for the previous season. Though this season 5 soundtrack certainly has its highlights, I'd say that overall, I've been less impressed with it than previous Game of Thrones releases.

For one thing, this collection includes several tracks (more than usual) that feel really reliant on the show's accompanying visuals. Tracks like "Jaws of the Viper," "Kneel for No Man," and "Before the Gods" are full of moody atmosphere, but their slow and sustained chords, without any perceptible meter, doesn't amount to much when isolated from the show itself. Perhaps they'd be good for a quiet meditation, were the notes not deliberately unsettling and dissonant to fit their absent subject matter.

There also aren't many instances of truly new themes on this album. There's an unsettling ostinato to represent the "House of Black and White" -- though it doesn't appear until halfway through the long track. A mournful cello takes the lead on "I Dreamt I Was Old," though it's not a melody you'd be able to hum after hearing it.

Still, there are some clever alterations to already established themes. The "Rains of Castamere" melody, for example, is used to powerful and unnerving effect in "Mother's Mercy" and "Atonement." The backing strings of the main title pop up occasionally to great effect: cutting against the booming 12/8 rhythm of "Blood of the Dragon," opening the tense "Hardhome, Pt. 2" in desperate double time, or hummed by a male soloist in the final track, "Throne for the Game."

But for me, there are really only three stand out tracks on the album. "Hardhome, Pt. 1" is tense action cue that makes great use of strings -- inexorably clicking in col legno percussion, screeching in sharp and sudden stabs, or skittering nervously like insects. "High Sparrow" embodies the titular character with the perfect use of a male choir; the melody sounds like something that was meant to be earnest and adoring, but that came out all twisted and sinister. Then there's "Son of the Harpy," another excellent use of choir. Harsh whispers, translated into one of the show's fictional languages, hiss and spit venom until thunderous drums start up and all hell breaks loose.

Unless you're a completist of Game of Thrones scores (which I guess at this point, I am), I can't recommend picking up this entire album just for three solid tracks. (Well, the "Main Titles" is on there too, but it comes on every album. It seems like by now, they could cut it in favor of a little more new music.) I'd give the season 5 soundtrack a C+ overall. If you're not an iTunes or Amazon type of cherry picker, you might as well skip it -- unless you're desperate to reconnect to the show and simply can't wait two more months.

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