Friday, 20 June 2014

Game of Thrones: Season 4 Score Review

Check it out... if the previous scores in the series impressed you with their emphasis on thematic material, impressive scope, and range of instrumentation.

Skip it... if you crave a medieval-epic kind of score, with a great amount of strong, involved action music, for that is what Djawadi has avoided with this and all three prior scores.

"Djawadi has delivered the biggest Thrones score the North has ever seen"

With the immense popularity the title has garnered since it's somewhat rough beginnings in 2011, it's no wonder the Game of Thrones scores, composed by Ramin Djawadi, are often considered some of the most anticipated television scores yearly. With such a beautifully filmed, acted, and written Season as Season 4, which only concluded this week, the score has been hotly anticipated, and with it's release on Spotify, fans of the series and it's music are rejoicing. With a broad quantity of new themes, Season 4 is possibly the most expansive score out of the 4 that have been released as of so far. The first score was an underrated subtle approach to the kind of television show which would generally encourage a very explosive, action-packed tone, and so, despite it's initial underwhelming impression, the score grew on me to a point at which it's a respectable inclusion into the Game of Thrones scoring canon. Season 2 is possibly my favourite television score of all time, thanks to the inclusion of multiple new themes, greater scope, and the continued, intelligent restraint that Djawadi sports throughout these scores. Season 3 serves as the emotional peak of the series, elaborating on most of the themes introduced in Season 2, before delivering some of the most impressive action music in the history of the franchise. Season 4 comes into a point at which the music is currently on the rise in terms of quality, and where fan's expectations are incredulously high; so high that it seems quite unreasonable. Nonetheless, I delved into this latest inclusion to the series, and without further ado, I provide my analyse and deconstruction of the score.

I must first warn all those reading; I will be looking into individual cues and themes in abundance during this review, more often than usual, seeing as I'm such an avid fan of the television show and music. There will no doubt be references to a number of Season 4 scenes and episodes, which will serve as spoilers for those whom haven't seen the entirety of this year's number of episodes. You have been warned; don't read on if you haven't completed the most recent Season, and intend to. With that out of the way, I must say, Season 4 is possibly the best score in this franchise. Despite my continued belief that Season 2 is the most thematically aware, even after listening to this year's score, I can't help but admit that this installment is much more of an emotionally satisfying endeavor than any Game of Thrones score come before. And that is not exactly too great of a surprise in retrospect; Season 4 constantly had me reaching for the tissues to wipe tears away, whether it be because of a sudden death for a favourite character, or from a departure I wish didn't need to occur. Listening to this score had me reliving deaths and departures, fights and weddings all throughout, and so thanks to Djawadi's composition and editing, the emotional impact was outstanding. For a non-Thrones fan, this score may seem nothing better or worse than the previous installments in the series, considering the lack of emotional significance these scores provide. This may have been the case with The Vikings, though I doubt that. The music that Trevor Morris birthed was utterly disgusting, unlike Djawadi's efforts here. Fans will no doubt appreciate that score more on an emotive level than I, since I have not taken to watching The Vikings. It's just how it is. Yet still, a non-Thrones fan should still appreciate the glorious scope and instrumentation that Djawadi has implemented for this score and those come before. This album may not be the most intellectual or fast-paced of scores released in such a genre as the fantasy-epic, though Djawadi's attention to thematic variation, and his great quantity of engrossing, fun, or otherwise beautiful melodies make up for these down comings, and allow you to immerse yourself in the world of Westeros for an hour. 

My main gripe with this score is not necessarily what's in the release, but more so what isn't. As a huge fan of the character of Oberyn Martell, who was brought to the screen in a delightful display of colour and personality, I was most looking forward to exploring his themes and influences more directly than I could on the television show. From what I could hear within his individual scenes, the Dornish material consisted of rustic guitar, and a Western vibe. It was an exciting prospect to see such a culture as Dorne come into the picture in the musical sense; we have not explored such vast and utterly different material since the first Season. But alas, friends, the long awaited Dornish material was left off the score completely! So any fans of Oberyn whom were excited for his inclusion in this album will be thoroughly disappointed, I have no doubt. I most certainly was! And whilst yes, Dornish material will have to be included within the 5th Season score, and that is an exciting prospect, I'm still quite sad that Oberyn Martell shall never find his way onto a Game of Thrones score, composed by Ramin Djawadi. Spoiler! Moving into a more positive direction, this score is thematic heaven. Crossovers between regional and character related themes are in high demand here, thanks to the number of confrontations between various characters within the Season. The Night's Watch sheds it's high pitched synth vibe, and instead opts for a more Winterfell-related sound, Daenerys gets a few new themes thanks to her taking of Meereen, and Bran gets a whole 4 minutes to dedicated to his story! The entire board is changing for a whole number of characters; many stories are moving in completely unexpected directions, and so the music does not reflect the previous Seasons as much as would be expected. Instead, Season 4 opts to set up new directions for certain characters, and so therefore, we have a number of new and exciting sounds hitting us. 

First and foremost within this album is the unexpected emphasis on Northern material. The North's sound has, in previous Seasons, been reflected with violins and cellos most commonly; the Winterfell theme from Season 2, one of the best cues in this entire series of scores, is a perfect example of this instrumentation. And despite the lack of time spent with the Night's Watch this Season, the score does rectify the absence of Jon Snow by providing a glorious amount of Northern-related music. Watchers on the Wall, Thenns, Biggest Fire the North Has Ever Seen, The North Remembers, Let's Kill Some Crows, Craster's Keep and The Real North all are dedicated solely to the Night's Watch's plight this Season. Whilst the Night's Watch theme is focused primarily on the string section, percussion has seeped through for what seems like the first time, thanks to their confrontations with the Wildlings. More specifically, the Thenns. The Thenns have their theme this year, and it is unyielding in the way of aggressive percussion. Brutal, unforgiving, and quite a lot of fun to listen to, Djawadi's theme for the Thenns was both done well in the context of the show, and in this album format. The emotional peaks in relation to the Wall are showcased within the cues The North Remembers, as well as The Real North. Both explore more subtle and quiet regions of the Wall-based story, such as Jon's talks with Sam, and the relationship between Ygritte and Jon. The Real North is titled as to a reference to the final episode, where Tormund wishes for Ygritte to be burned North of the Wall, and so Jon provides such a send off for his lover. It's a tragic, beautiful cue for the couple that loved each other until the end. Further North from the Wall, we encounter Bran, who seems to have his first proper themes and battle cues since Season 2. Bran's material is arguably some of the best on the album, sporting both the eerie, unsettling strings of the North, as well as some impressive battle music, which stands as some of the most extensive and dazzling material on the entire album. These 2 Bran cues include The Three-Eyed Raven, and He is Lost; a reference to Jojen's death in the final episode of the Season. Solid Bran work is always a good sign for a Game of Thrones score!

Not so much fitting into any category is the cue Oathkeeper, which, from the title's impression, gives off that this will be a Jaime/Brienne theme. In fact, you'd be quite wrong; this is actually the cue that plays during the intense and brutal confrontation between The Hound and Brienne. The cues heavy bass backdrop reminds me adamantly of the Thenn theme, and the percussion used supports such a comparison. Despite it's strong and hostile nature, the cue is still fairly restrained. Again, Djawadi doesn't push the envelop in the area of battle music, keeping the music toned down, despite the fact that he is scoring an incredibly pivotal scene. It's part of the identity of these scores, and Djawadi maintains it, despite the great amount of battle cues during this installment, especially in comparison with the prior efforts in the series. Seeing that we're currently in the Vale, we should explore the Sansa and Littlefinger cue, in Take Charge of Your Life. The cue starts off with that now familiar Winterfell theme, though quickly takes on a sinister tone, reflecting Littlefinger's influence on Sansa, and her eventual changes into a manipulating and somewhat cunning woman. The Lannister-like instrumentation is a great twist on Sansa's theme for the Season, though reasonably accurate; not only because of the involvement that Littlefinger has had with her this year, but also the fact that she's now more so thinking like a Lannister. 

The King's Landing portion of the score, undertaken within some of the best cues on the album, is very much like previous years efforts, thanks to the heavy use of the Rains of Castamere theme, that whilst overused, is still enjoyable with enough variation on Djawadi's part. The Northern vibe briefly seeps through to the capital in a few specific cues, most notably Two Swords, the cue which opened up the entire Season back in episode 1. As Tywin forges the 2 new Valyrian Steel swords from Ned's great sword Ice, an ominous Winterfell theme plays over the scene, before being engulfed in the now instantly recognisable Lannister theme. One of the better cues on the album, First of His Name, reintroduces us to one of my favourite themes of the series in general, that was disappointingly left off the Season 3 score; the King's Landing theme. No, not the Lannister theme, but the actual King's Landing theme that we first heard in The King's Arrival, back in Season 1, which was elaborated upon in Season 2 with The Throne Is Mine. It makes a surprise return in Tommen's crowning piece, with more emphasis on the female choral section than anywhere else within the album. It's as if Djawadi is symbolizing the purity that Tommen brings to the capital with the beginning of his reign. Some ole' fashioned brass reigns in this idea of purity; a glorious cue from beginning to around half way, and then... by the Gods... I recognise that... is that the track representing Oberyn's demise?! I believe I was incorrect in assuming the Red Viper got no time in the sun! Though I'm still adamant that Oberyn should have got his theme showcased, this, for the time being, shall serve as well as anything. Moving on, You Are No Son of Mine is another slow Lannister cue, starting off with different string work than that which usually accompanies the Rains of Castamere. The main theme kicks in at around the 1:40 minute marking, and it all sounds very much Dany like; reminiscent of Dany's Finale theme from Season 1, I'd go as far to say. The inclusion of a female chorus only heightens this comparison. The cue stands as arguably the strongest on the album, thanks to it's strange variety, and choral height. And then we are presented with the theme to the strange relationship between Jaime and Cersei in I Only See What Matters, which stands as a beautiful cue, despite what the title quote is referencing. 

Finally, the Daenerys and Eastern material. Daenerys' themes are more often than not the crowning point in these score, to my dismay, considering my hate for the character's overrated status. Season 1's Finale was beautiful, Season 3's Dracarys and Mhysa were both energetic and powerful, and Season 4 boasts some of Dany's most prominent, and emotional material yet. Continuing with the tradition of making use of various Eastern string and woodwind instruments, Breaker of Chains is a slow, heartbreaking piece, which stands out as the most impressive of Daenerys' new themes. The Meereen theme is fleshed out with some Eastern influences once again; the duduk returns to the fray with a vengeance, fleshing out this otherwise uneventful cue. Most surprisingly in all this Eastern material is the inclusion of the theme to the insignificant romance between Missandei and Grey Worm, which I rather enjoy. The Western violin returns, with duduk accompaniment, and proves for a brief yet pretty theme to a brief and pretty side plot. And then comes the final edition to Daenerys' portion of the score, Forgive Me, the theme to Jorah, some could say. It feels and sounds like a slower and less heroic version of the Mhysa theme, replacing the chorus seen in that mentioned piece with strings that serve as the heart and soul of the cue. With Daenerys' portion of the score completed, what else remains? 2 more cues; The Children first. This cue is technically an Arya theme, as it's what plays when she leaves Westeros at the end of the Season, and it leaves us on the same high that most of the Game of Thrones score finales leave us with, part Season 2. Sounds Daenerys-like, and more like the Mhysa that we received last year than Forgive Me. It's a triumphant conclusion to a near perfect album. 

As with every year since Season 2, an indie rock group has collaborated with Djawadi to bring another one of Martin's folk songs from the books to life... except this time, we're getting another version of the now infamous Rains of Castamere. Season 2 brought us the version sung by the band The National, that I rather enjoy for it's minimalist approach. Here, though, the Icelandic rock band Sigur Ros performs the song, with all their trademark atmospheric music, which simply brings chills to your body. If you haven't checked out any of Sigur Ros' work, I very much recommend you do; they are artistic geniuses, under appreciated by those I know. Their rendition of the song works with the rest of the score's tone, though I do have to ridicule it's placement on the album; why straight after the Main Theme? A triumphant, yet slightly underwhelming beginning, and then suddenly we're thrown into a dark and atmospheric song, undertaking a tone which completely contradicts the previous cues established tone. Who is putting together this album? Djawadi? Whomever it is, get someone else to do it! Nonetheless, a harrowing and impressive version of the Rains of Castamere, that begs repeat listens constantly!

Physical copies of the score are available on the first of July, and I very much recommend pre-ordering the score from Amazon or Intrada immediately. If the Game of Thrones score have made for pleasant times during prior installments, then Season 4 should stand as one of your favourites in the series. Dark, large and diverse, this is one of the most impressive medieval television scores to have ever been released. It's as thematically expansive as is to be expected of this series, and does not in any way tarnish the title that it is attached to. Despite the lack of various thematic material that I was interested at exploring in depth, Season 4 meets as many expectations as required to boast of an incredibly high rating. Is this stronger than Season 2? Perhaps not. Though, nonetheless, this will make for a pleasant, 1 hour listening session. Prepare for tears, Game of Thrones fans; strong are the feels in this installment into the franchise. You can order Game of Thrones: Season 4 on Intrada here, or Amazon here



Track Listing

1.Main Titles1:43
2.The Rains Of Castamere (Sigur Rós)2:42
3.Breaker Of Chains4:05
4.Watchers On The Wall2:11
5.I'm Sorry For Today2:09
8.First Of His Name3:52
9.The Biggest Fire The North Has Ever Seen1:56
10.Three Eyed Raven3:58
11.Two Swords1:49
13.You Are No Son Of Mine4:29
14.The North Remembers2:33
15.Let's Kill Some Crows3:36
16.Craster's Keep2:06
17.The Real North2:03
18.Forgive Me2:31
19.He Is Lost3:37
20.I Only See What Matters1:25
21.Take Charge Of Your Life2:05
22.The Children2:41
Total Album Time:60:38

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