While the big cinematic productions started to move away from the traditionally orchestral sound some at one point, it is the game industry that encouraged this type of scoring. At least, to some extent, for some latest works of this medium seem to be more in tune with contemporary cinema. Michael Giacchino started his career in this field and his Medal of Honor music is still considered to be among his finest. John Debney (with the invaluable assistance of Kevin Kaska) ventured into the same territory with his music for Lair, a largely unsuccessful game from 2007.
It is the music that became the most praised aspect of this project and 7 years after the release it finally receives a physical soundtrack album. The previous iTunes edition contained slightly over an hour of material and was unavailable for purchase outside America. John Debney’s compositions harkens back to the good days of Basil Poledouris (of Conan the Barbarian fame), Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, Miklos Rozsa and other greats. The music, while grounded in Debney’s own personal style, serves almost as a tribute to those gentlemen. On the other hand, it employs a lot of the more modern tools and creates a timeless feel (‘Firestorm’ and its power anthem). Unlike many younger composers, Debney can actually create a satisfying whole out of all these elements and not sound cliched.
The score was recorded in London and the quality playing is simply astonishing, given the apparently short period of time they had to assimilate and perform all the scores. Debney brought back many of his collaborators from The Passion of the Christ for the project. Among them, were Pedro Eustache and his world wind collection, singer Tanja Tzarovska (of double Troy infamy) and, of course, Lisbeth Scott. It is her who wrote lyrics for all the vocal passages.
There are many themes presented in Lair. All the major characters and concepts are given their own material – Diviner, Rohn, Darkness. There are many enjoyable concert-like versions of those ideas sprinkled all over the album and they certainly help the listeners to familiarise themselves with all the crucial ideas. One of the most striking elements of this score is Love theme (on a previous album known as ‘Civilization’). It’s a beautiful string-led piece that reaches some truly epic heights, recalling the splendour of Miklos Rozsa and his Golden Age music. Funnily enough, toward the ends it features James Horner’s infamous four-note motif that sparked so much controversy among film music fandom over decades.
It is the action, however that dominates the most. The first major one is the sensational “Diviner Battle’, one of the better known tracks from Lair. The piece has a slightly John Williams-like flavour. It is no surprise that Kevin Kaska’s worked on the arrangement of many concert pieces from the old master, as well as on his (and Debney’s) reconstruction of Superman score for Varese Sarabande some years. ago. It is also him who wrote another powerhouse cue, ‘Blood River’. At times, the amount of noise generated from the orchestra can really overwhelm the listener. Even Cutthroat Island, a truly relentless action classic on its own, sounds tame in comparison. If that is your thing, look no further – Lair delivers in spades in that department.
Among the extras presented on the latest release is the lengthy suite performed live at the BSO Live Festival in Ubeda. While the sound quality differs significantly from the main recording, it is nevertheless a great summation of all the major ideas into an enjoyable 11-minute powerhouse that serves as a perfect send-off. The trailer music offers a slightly more modern take on the subject and synth demo tracks present the early versions of two cues. None of the bonus elements are particularly exciting, but it’s good to have them.
Some fans have expressed dissatisfaction over the presentation of music itself on this new release. Most of the tracks are presented out of order and there are apparently some notable omissions. It is, however, just a minor inconvenience, given that the music wasn’t commercially available in non-lossy format up to this point. At 115-minutes running time, there is hardly any need for more. The original album programme, as released back in 2007 already offered most of the necessary material in a fairly enjoyable presentation. And given that most of it consists of excessively loud action music anyway, the missing elements are hardly noticeable to anyone but the most ardent of fans.
La-La Land pressed the album in relatively low amount of 2000 units, so grab a copy before they disappear for good. The improved sound quality, typically impressive packaging from Warm Butter Design, as well as two hours of amazing orchestral onslaught, should all do for a recommendation. Exhausting, but often brings a grin to one’s face.
Lair is out now from La-La Land Records