Soundtrack Review – The Rings of Power (season 1)

The legendarium of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth begins with music in the Ainulindalë, and songs and poems fill his entire mythos. It is fitting that the first substantial release of material from the new Amazon series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is the soundtrack. Scored by Bear McCreary (with the main title theme by Howard Shore), this is a spectacular and substantial album, featuring 37 songs and running 2 hours, 29 minutes. Read below for my full review. ***MINOR SPECULATIVE SPOILERS***

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Since I don’t usually review music on my blog, let me start with a little background on how I’m approaching this. I love soundtracks and I listen to a large number of fantasy-themed ones. I also love Tolkien. I have read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings more times than I can remember. I have read The Silmarillion multiple times, as well as Unfinished Tales, parts of The History of Middle Earth, The Atlas of Middle Earth, and more, and my copy of The Languages of Tolkien’s Middle Earth is in danger of falling apart.

This isn’t all of them. Note the four copies of The Lord of the Rings (two for reading, my red leather-bound precious, and one (gray) special edition signed by one of the Tolkien family. Gandalf guards them all.

I saw the Peter Jackson movies in the theater oh… dozens of times. They have their problems, but it was also amazing to see something of that scope on a screen for the first time. I can’t begin to guess at how many times I’ve listened to the Howard Shore scores. I’ve been listening to those even this week as I re-read the appendices to The Lord of the Rings and start again on The Silmarillion.

I’m also a classically trained flutist (albeit rather out of practice) and almost added a major in music to my college days. I’ve played solo, with band, with orchestra, and with small ensembles. I’ve even played a concert of soundtrack music. However, I know zero music theory so I’m not going to talk about any of that technical stuff.

Now on to the review….

I’ve listened to the entire thing twice now and I’ll repeat what I already mentioned in the intro: this is a spectacular soundtrack. If the rest of the show lives up to the music, I’ll be extremely happy. Bear McCreary captures exactly the right tone and atmosphere for what I imagine the story of The Rings of Power will entail.

My only criticism of the score is that I was a little underwhelmed by Howard Shore’s contribution of the main theme. It didn’t stand out, but perhaps this is because the other themes on the individual tracks are so strong.

The instrumentation is similar to what Howard Shore used – orchestra with vocal accompaniment. Some tracks feature heavier percussion and in one place (end of the Sauron track) the rhythm is the same one that I associate with Shore’s Uruk-hai music.

Other familiar themes are hinted at in a few select places. Chords and chanting reminiscent of a certain balrog feature near the end of In the Mines, while the final track, Where the Shadow Lie, evokes the sinister tones of Gollum’s Song from The Two Towers.

Bagpipes feature in a few places but are not intrusive (I like bagpipes anyway). And you’ll hear of singing in many of Tolkien’s languages.

You can find the full list of tracks here. I’m going to comment my favorites (slight spoilers):

Absolute favorites:

  • Númenor – the theme fits the gorgeous visuals of the island kingdom that I’ve already seen in the trailers. This is one of the best hooks on the soundtrack.
  • In the Beginning – this track starts calmly but is one of the longest ones, running 7:49. Just before the halfway point, it builds to a dramatic orchestral and choral crescendo, followed by the soaring strains of the Galadriel theme and a war march that accelerates and then finishes on sad notes. There are rumors that this accompanies a prologue depicting the corruption of Morgoth and the destruction of the two trees. There might even be something about Finrod’s demise in there.
  • This Wandering Day – this is a vocal track, presumably sung by Elanor “Nori” Brandyfoot and is wonderful. I had a hard time picking out my favorite lines, but I chose some below. This also references the well-known “not all those who wander are lost” quote.

“Of drink I have little, and food I have less,

My strength tells me no, but the path demands yes,

My legs are so short and the way is so long,

I’ve no rest nor comfort, no comfort but song.”

Other favorites:

  • Galadriel – I almost put this one in my absolute favorites, but I think her theme is stronger when it appears on other tracks (like Cavalry below).
  • Khazad-dûm – perfect for what I imagine Moria looked like in its prime.
  • Harfoot Life – I imagine this is one of the themes for the not-quite-hobbit Harfoots.
  • White Leaves – perhaps this will accompany a Numenor scene and a certain white tree? This is a very pretty piece that finishes with a dazzling fanfare.
  • A Plea to the Rocks – when the vocals start, this just screams tragedy to me. Haunting and gorgeous. This was reminiscent of the music from The Fellowship of the Ring when the fellowship is regrouping after escaping Moria and seeing Gandalf fall to the Balrog.
  • Scherzo for Violin and Swords – how fun is this title?
  • Sailing into the Dawn – I don’t know what’s happening here, but this starts with the Numenor theme and is 4 minutes of something epic.
  • Cavalry – this is another action-filled track, presumably with… cavalry in it. The strings drive it forward relentlessly and Galadriel’s theme swirls over the top.

Amazon is also offering two bonus tracks (Find the Light; The Promised King) through Prime music which I also have heard. I didn’t think these added anything special beyond the main tracks.

I hope this gets you as excited to see The Rings of Power as I am. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be seeing the first two episodes in New York in a few days.

Have you listened to the soundtrack yet? What are your favorite tracks? Let me know in the comments (above).

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