It is difficult to rate music inspired by Middle-Earth post-Shore. Howard Shore, the composer for the Lord of the Rings films, created the perfect musical backdrop for the Middle-Earth setting. It is nearly impossible to compare anything to it. However, this collection of songs by David Arkenstone was released before the Lord of the Rings films were released (in 2001, which is the same year that Fellowship was released), and so, as it came first, it doesn’t have to try to live up to Shore’s standard.
Since it came first, I am actually that much more impressed. Arkenstone had to use his own imagination to picture the setting for each location in his mind’s eye, based on the descriptions from the novels, then put suitable music to them, which is no small feat considering the depth of Tolkien’s descriptions. He couldn’t rely on the images created by Peter Jackson or any other filmmaker for inspiration.
You know what? Arkenstone’s music, as it turns out, seems to be pretty similar to that of Howard Shore, Chance Thomas (composer for The Lord of the Rings Online video game), and James Hannigan (composer for another video game, Aragorn’s Quest). How is the music similar? How does it stand apart?
1. Prelude: Hobbits from the Shire. Howard Shore also has a “prelude”, The Prophecy, but his is deeper, darker, more menacing, whereas, while it is still deep and dark, “Prelude” is also more majestic, and then quickly evolves into a typical Hobbit-jig style of music, complete with tambourines and flutes.
2. The Road to Rivendell. The title does not concern the arrival in Rivendell, but the road to it, and it certainly does sound like a journey. It starts out very calmly, as if preparing to leave, then goes into an exciting jig style of music again. Rather than indicating an arrival, it simply fades out.
3. The Quest. Very majestic, with a slower tempo, encompassing the grand nature of a quest as a whole.
4. Moria. Deep, dark, menacing, minor, reminiscent of the long dark that is Moria. About halfway through, a higher harp-like theme comes in for a little variety. I almost get the feeling of dwarves marching in very somber, honorable, prideful fashion throughout.
5. Lothlorien. Harps, flute, very light and airy. Very peaceful and blissful. Very calming. Then, a lower, slower, more majestic, prouder theme. High again, then faster with more percussion and a more clearly defined beat, perhaps to indicate that elves are not all matter and no mirth. They know when to show majesty and pride, but also when a more jovial nature is needed.
6. Galadriel’s Mirror. This scene is one of the most intense and almost creepy scenes from the movie, but this song takes a different approach. This music also has a sense of creepiness, but it’s not loud or intense.
7. Riders of Rohan. This song does have a certain feel to it, that of riding horses into the distance, into battle, perhaps into the unknown. It is also majestic, but it includes some typical fiddle/string interludes. It has a strong beat, with an edge of mystery.
8. The Palantir. Very minor, very mysterious. All of the Arkenstone’s songs have a very New Age feel to them, which is not surprising, as David Arkenstone is considered a New Age artist. However, none of them get very intense like Howard Shore’s themes.
9. Arwen and Aragorn. As this song concerns one of the greatest love stories ever written, it would make sense for the song to have a light, peaceful, upbeat feel to it.
10. To Isengard. This theme starts out more intense than the others, because it is about going to war. It has a driving, marching force to it, with lighter interludes. It doesn’t seem to feature any “music from the enemy”, if you will, which would sound very minor, creepy, deep, dark, loud, or despairing. This song is very uplifting, inspiring, and pressing forward with a sense of urgency.
11. In the Land of Shadow. Here is the so-far-missing “music from the enemy”. It is creepy, minor, deep, and in a sense, despairing, like you’ve made it into the land of shadow, but now you’ve lost your courage and can’t seem to find any way out. I actually prefer that there are not more songs like this one, because even with Shore’s “dark themes”, I tend to skip over them. They are great when setting the scene for a film or video game, but I prefer not to listen to them for enjoyment in the comfort of my home office while I work.
12. The Field of Cormallen. This sounds very much like a victory or even coronation theme. It features trumpet (and other brass) fanfare throughout, but especially in the beginning, to indicate, perhaps, a newly crowned king, and the dawn of a new era, free from darkness.
13. The Grey Havens. This is actually my favorite theme from the entire album. I can very easily picture, in my mind’s eye, white ships sailing off into the distance while I listen to this track. It is a very dramatic and climactic theme, and a wonderful way to end an already wonderful album.
All in all, I think this album is worth a listen. Please check out David Arkenstone’s official website for more details about him and his music.