Bear McCreary’s gorgeously orchestrated score for The Rings Of Power pays some stylistic respect to Howard Shore’s iconic scores but is simply stellar just in its own right, with the dramatically hopeful new theme for Galadriel and the thunderously grandiose Númenor motif being particular thematic standouts, as well as the numerous incredible action setpieces dotted througout the album. Howard Shore’s new title theme is a bit nothing though, sadly.
Ah, The Lord Of The Rings. Amongst popular media franchises nowadays, I’d say it’s this and Star Wars that are most closely intertwined with, and indeed most well known for their composed music. Back in the early 2000s, Howard Shore wrote what are quite literally some of the most iconic film scores ever created for Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship Of The Ring, The Two Towers and The Return Of The King, and so to say musical expectations were high when a new Lord Of The Rings television series was announced back in 2017, is putting it very mildly indeed. In the many months leading up to its release, speculation and rumour were high as to what if any role Howard Shore himself might play in the music for the series, until finally in January this year it was formally announced he would indeed be taking part… though only for the title theme. The responsibility for the full score would then fall to composer Bear McCreary, who while no Howard Shore, is in fairness a damned solid composer in his own right, at least in my opinion. My expectations were certainly high after that announcement, I can tell you that! And so, now nearly a full five years after the original announcement from Amazon, the Rings Of Power television series is finally upon us, and the long-awaited soundtrack album is in our hands, so with introductions over with and without further ado – let’s begin.
Howard Shore opens the album, with his one and only track; “Main Title”. Now I should preface before we really get started; for what I assume are legal/rights reasons, none of the Lord Of The Rings or Hobbit themes are used in the Rings Of Power score. It certainly sounds like there are hints toward them at times, and Shore’s style in this main title cue certainly sounds like his LOTR work, but no actual, full themes reprise at all. It’s disappointing of course, but not entirely unexpected as it is an entirely different company working on this new series. Thematic continuity would be great, but alas it seems not to be for this. So, with that terrible disappointment addressed; Main Title begins with a fifteen note thematic introduction, as some rather noble-sounding but also rather melancholic horns introduce Shore’s new main theme for the series. Gentle strings and ethereal vocals then join the brass on stage and the cue properly begins, playing the grandiose main theme loudly and proudly in a style very reminiscent indeed of Shore’s iconic music for the movies, until the cue then ends a few seconds later and… that’s it really. It’s a nice new main theme, but it doesn’t get much of a fleshing out in its ninety second debut here, and due to differing recording times for the score and the main title, it actually doesn’t appear at all in McCreary’s work, so this is the first and last time you’ll be hearing it for the time being. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that they managed to get Shore back for this, but at the same time it’s only one track, and a very short and not particularly memorable one at that. As such, you do kind of wonder what the point was really, other than just to be able to wave the banner of Shore’s name over the music for this series. Then again, that probably was the main point in all honesty.
With Howard Shore now having set the stylistic stage, it’s Bear McCreary’s time to shine. While his compositional style is of course noticeably different to that of Shore’s (and much more McCreary-esque than LOTR-esque overall), he does open with a bang, introducing an absolutely sublime piece of new thematic music; “Galadriel”. As you can probably guess, this is the theme for young Galadriel, as played by Morfyyd Clark in the new series. Light, ethereal-sounding vocals open the piece, in a manner much akin to that of Howard Shore’s material for the Elves from the films (which of course, is rather fitting indeed), with quietly hopeful brass then starting to play Galadriel’s new eleven note motif. It’s an uplifting, gently optimistic piece of music overall, and it’s in the back half of this cue in particular where it really shines, as loud brass turns the theme grand and rather heroic for just over a minute of truly wondrous musical score. All-in, it took just this one cue for his score for The Rings Of Power to convince me that Bear McCreary was absolutely the composer for the job here, and if that doesn’t tell you exactly why “Galadriel” gets the Standout Cue award for this particular soundtrack, I don’t know what would.
For much of the first half of this album McCreary focuses on establishing new themes for his score, with “Khazad-dûm” being next on the list. Unlike Galadriel’s this new motif is much harder-hitting, opening with thundering drums and chanting, deep vocals to accurately represent the proud underground Dwarven kingdom before it fell to ruin. Loud bursts of marching, grandiose brass and increasingly dramatic vocals and percussion drive the pace of this ten note theme throughout its three minute debut here, with a loud crash of cymbals then closing out the thunderously entertaining cue a few seconds later. Light, peaceful woodwinds and gentle string instruments then open “Nori Brandyfoot”, establishing a new theme for the track’s titular Hobbit. While this particular cue does of course share some stylistic similarities to that of Shore’s iconic music for the Hobbits of the Shire, this new piece goes off on a more uplifting, adventurous tangent as well, setting it apart while also making for a very enjoyable piece of thematic music overall. The score then descends somewhat into mystery with “The Stranger”, a theme for a seemingly unknown new character who crashes upon Middle Earth in a meteor in the new series. Gentle strings and moody, semi-ominous but also rather wondrous vocals take up the stylistic role for much of this five minute cue, with the instrumentation getting louder and bolder towards the end until a loud crash of thunderous percussion closes out the piece in as mysterious a musical manner as it began.
Grand, triumphant brass and loudly emphatic vocals then kick off “Númenor”, introducing an aptly bombastic, proud new theme for the titular prosperous kingdom of Men. Thematically this piece stands behind only Galadriel’s as one of the best pieces of new material for The Rings Of Power, so it should come as no surprise that it makes for a grandiosely entertaining four and a half minute experience in its debut track here. The tonal tables are turned however in the subsequent “Sauron”, as dark, moody vocals and rapidly worrisome strings take the stage to play a newly malevolent motif for the early days of the infamous Dark Lord. Overall it’s sadly not quite as a strong a theme as some of the others on this album (being at times almost comically dark and evil-sounding) but it’s an enjoyable piece of music all the same. The rather ethereal, Elven-esque vocals then return in “Valinor”, establishing a motif for the titular Undying Lands with a focus on appropriately heavenly-sounding strings and the aforementioned gently peaceful vocals. The eight minute “In The Beginning” however then takes a bit of a break from thematic establishment to focus on narrative, opening with the heavenly Valinor motif before Galadriel’s theme then pensively steps onto the stage on solemn woodwinds.
From here on the instrumentation then starts to build, with wondrous strings and Elven-esque vocals stirring in the background for a minute or so before grand, noble brass then reprises Galadriel’s theme in a much more hopeful, heroic manner, and action enters the fray. Rapid strings accompany several increasingly dramatic further renditions of Galadriel’s theme, with Sauron’s motif also rising up to meet it in several fragmented, thematic counterattacks. As the piece then starts to draw to a close however Galadriel’s theme fully takes the stage, ending the lengthy action setpiece a few minutes later on a loudly dramatic, semi-triumphant note. Quiet, contemplative strings then open “Elrond Half-elven”, as McCreary returns to the thematic establishment side of the score. Low-pitched brass slowly fades into view as the cue continues, with the full orchestra rising up to meet it until a loudly emphatic crescendo is then reached at just under the three minute mark. Upbeat, somewhat pirate-y sounding strings and hopeful brass are then the stylistic backbone of “Durin IV”, McCreary’s new motif for the Dwarven King of Khazad-dûm. It’s a curiously less dramatically epic theme than the one for the aforementioned Dwarf kingdom itself, but it still retains a noble, rather grand musical element, particularly towards the end of the piece.
“Harfoot Life” then harkens back to the Celtic-esque style of Nori Brandyfoot’s theme from earlier, with light, upbeat strings and gentle percussion evoking a particularly peaceful tone throughout the two and a half minute piece. The music then slows down a tad for the subsequent “Bronwyn And Arondir”, a cue that establishes yet another new theme, this time for the forbidden love between Arondir the Elf and Bronwyn the healer (a human) in the series. As you’d probably expect, this new motif leans heavily on the slower, more romantic side of things, making for a gently optimistic but also rather melancholic-sounding strings-heavy piece overall. “Halbrand” then switches things up yet again as grander, hopeful yet also rather pensive strings take the stage for the first minute or so, with dramatic brass then holding the new motif for the titular character heroically high in the cue’s back half alongside a few subtle notes from Galadriel’s theme. The ethereal Valinor motif then opens “The Boat”, with a few gentle notes from Galadriel’s theme sprinkled inbetween before her theme then simply goes all out with a thunderously heroic, primarily-vocal rendition toward the end of the piece. “Sundering Seas” then continues where this leaves off initially, with Galadriel’s theme playing tensely at first on loud brass before falling defeatedly down towards the end of the track, echoing quietly on solemnly morose vocals. The Harfoot and Stranger motifs then make their first re-appearance in “Nobody Goes Off Trail”, with the former playing lightly and hopefully on whistling woodwinds in the first half, and the latter on ominous strings & vocals throughout the second.
McCreary introduces us to another new theme in “Elendil And Isildur”, a noble and rather heartfelt new motif for the titular father and son. The track starts off quietly and solemnly with slow strings, before then slowly building over the course of its four minute runtime with additional percussion and hopeful brass joining the fray until a loud crescendo is reached just before cue’s end. From here on though, with the primary themes of the score established, the album moves on to utilising them; Galadriel’s theme for example reprises on some very LOTR-esque vocals at the start of “White Leaves”, followed swiftly by the grandiose Númenor motif and new Eldenil And Isildur theme on dramatic, noble brass. Both the Galadriel and Númenor themes then circle back around towards the end of the track for an epic final crescendo. “The Secrets Of The Mountain” then harbours the loudly laborious Khazad-dûm motif on its established thunderous percussion, but it’s “Nolwa Mahtar” where the orchestra then really gets going. Deafeningly dramatic vocals open the piece, before fast-paced percussion and tense strings kick off the action for a powerfully epic, explosive cue overall that’s only weakness is you just wish it was longer. “Nampat” then addresses the other, darker side of the dramatic battle started by the previous cue, with loudly in-your-face, imposing vocals, marchingly malevolent percussion and bursts of emphatically evil-sounding brass occupying the majority of its similarly two minute runtime.
The downtrodden “A Plea To The Rocks” brings the aforementioned musical battle to a dramatically sombre close, with sorrowful, almost funeral-esque vocals taking centre stage throughout the four minute cue. There’s a little treat in store to cheer us up next however, as McCreary gives us an actual song; “This Wandering Day” sung by Megan Richards, one of the Harfoot Hobbits in the series. As you’d probably expect, it’s a lighter, more adventurous piece than previous cues, and coupled with the absolutely fantastic-sounding vocals by Richards, is a pretty sublime track overall. “Scherzo For Violin And Swords” then returns us to the land of action, with funnily enough a violin leading the musical charge backed by additional, enthusiastic strings. It’s a rather classical-sounding piece overall, and the way Galadriel’s theme slowly builds into view on emphatic orchestra right toward the end of the cue is also a fair highlight. The Númenor theme then bursts into view on loudly grandiose brass in “Sailing Into The Dawn”, with the Elendil and Isildur motif also briefly reprising on gently hopeful, additional brass before Galadriel’s theme then arrives rather heroically with the full orchestra at its back, and the Númenor theme then closes the cue out as emphatically as it began.
The battle continues with “Cavalry”, the standout action cue of the score; a burst of aggravated brass opens the piece, with the Númenor motif charging into the fray accompanied by a triumphantly grandiose Galadriel’s theme. From here-on McCreary then simply goes all out with the orchestra, as thunderous percussion, determined vocals and increasingly dramatic brass bursts propel the action forwards throughout the track’s four minute runtime, with the two aforementioned motifs playing sporadically until a loudly imposing crescendo then crashes out the cue. The eight minute “In The Mines” then calms things down a tad, with Durin IV’s optimistic motif keeping the tone rather lighthearted in the first half of the piece with almost mischievous strings, and grandly hopeful in the back half with some salute-worthy brass. “The Mystics” however then turns the tone rather sinister, with creepy, whispering vocals opening the cue and gradually building in pace as the orchestra slowly builds tension in the background. Additional vocals and percussion then bring this build-up to a rapid crescendo at the three minute mark with the Stranger motif revealing itself shortly afterward, playing first quietly and mysteriously on strings, before then building to a loudly dramatic finish on brass a short while later.
The noble theme for Halbrand then briefly plays during the two minute “Perilous Whisperings” before mystery once again engulfs the score through dramatic vocals and worrisome strings at the start of “The Broken Line”. In the back half of this cue however things then start to get rather heated, with a worrisome Galadriel’s theme sounding through on sorrowful strings before additional, much faster strings and deeply dramatic vocals then signal the malevolent arrival of Sauron just before the cue crescendos out. With the score overall now starting to draw to a close, Nori Brandyfoot’s gently hopeful motif reprises in “Wise One”, firstly on slow, calming strings before then becoming grander and more adventurous right at the end as it plays on loud brass and soaring woodwinds. “True Creation Requires Sacrifice” then leans heavily into Shore-esque vocals with Galadriel’s theme playing dramatically and ethereally, before “Where The Shadows Lie” then brings the album to a close on a somewhat mysterious note, with high-pitched vocals, ominous strings and worrisome brass all building to a particularly emphatic crescendo just as the cue draws to a close.
Overall, Bear McCreary’s score for The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power is highly thematic, enjoyably orchestral and happily lengthy, which all together are the essential building blocks for the absolutely wondrous soundtrack experience that the composer has delivered here. McCreary’s work was never going to live up to Howard Shore’s beyond iconic scores for the original films, and frankly it doesn’t, but in all fairness that doesn’t stop it from being pretty damned amazing just in its own right. Being seemingly unable to use any of Shore’s iconic themes, McCreary has opted to simply craft some fantastic ones of his own, with the hopeful, swelling theme for Galadriel and the thunderously grandiose motif for Númenor being absolute highlights, not only in their respective theme cues but also throughout the score (see standout action setpiece “Cavalry” for excellent evidence of this). McCreary has also structured his album here to excellent effect, establishing all of his new themes with their own suite tracks before then throwing them all into the sandbox as the score fully begins, overall making for a solidly enjoyable two and a half hour score, which is no easy feat.
It isn’t all perfect though – while many of McCreary’s new themes are indeed amazing and very memorable, some are sadly a bit less so, with a few blending into each other to the point where they are rather difficult to identify and separate at times, which does dampen the whole “orchestral tapestry” thing a tad. Howard Shore’s brief contribution to The Rings Of Power is also a bit of a disappointment, as a singular and rather forgettable ninety second cue just isn’t enough to make any meaningful impact on the score, no matter how LOTR-y it may sound. Speaking of as well, Bear McCreary does channel a little bit of Shore in his compositional style (particularly in the more Elven moments) but the music here is certainly and identifiably McCreary’s, which I know for sure will please some, and heavily displease others. I for one though am more than happy with it, as the composer does seem to just give it his enthusiastic all here, to some seriously impressive musical results overall which honestly is all we can really ask for. In essence then; if you’re coming here expecting the second coming of Howard Shore’s Lord Of The Rings and all the iconic music that would entail, you are going to be disappointed. If you’re here with just the expectations of a solid fantasy score, a couple of decent themes and a good orchestral time though; you’ll be utterly blown away by how good this is.
Seriously, check out “Galadriel” if you haven’t already. If that doesn’t sell you, nothing here will.
Standout Cues: 2. Galadriel/6. Númenor
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