Starship Troopers (Basil Poledouris)


Dutch director Paul Verhoven’s 1997 film Starship Troopers, very loosely based on the Robert Heinlein novel of the same name, combined the director’s trademark satirical wit with a massive budget and marketing campaign, with mixed results. The tongue-in-cheek aspects of the movie flew over many theatergoers’ heads, leading them to mistake its overblown jingoism and ludicrous fascist overtones to be completely sincere,  and Starship Troopers had to settle for cult success, eventually spawning two low-budget direct-to-video sequels. For the film’s score, Verhoven reunited one last time with his perennial collaborator, the late Basil Poledouris, with whom he’d worked on 1985’s Flesh + Blood and 1987’s Robocop.

In general, rather than playing to Starship Troopers‘ sly humor, Poledouris chose to follow his own precedent from Robocop and play things straight, reserving openly parodic music for the periodic over-the-top propaganda broadcasts in the film (much as he had done for the satirical commercials in Robocop). The light parody from those broadcasts is represented on album with the overblown “Fed Net March” at the beginning of the disc and the Elfmanesque coda in “They Will Win.”

In fact, Poledouris was inspired to create his most massive and thematically complex score in over a decade. The centerpiece of the album and of the score is “Klendathu Drop,” a bold, brassy martial piece that’s truly electrifying. The Mobile Infantry theme introduced therein is the theme that Poledouris develops the most in the score, and highly satisfying reprises exist in “The Destruction Of The Roger Young” and “Brainbug.” A charming, optimistic theme for the character of Carmen is introduced in “Asteroid Grazing” and sadly absent from the rest of the score. Finally, the malevolent (or misunderstood) bugs get their own theme as well, a brutal, percussive ostinato that snakes through “Tango Urilla” and is given a full airing in “Bugs!!” Throughout the score, Poledouris weaves his themes into a robust action set pieces, with “Tango Urilla” as perhaps the outstanding example, weaving the bug theme together with layers of brass and strings for one of the most breathless and exciting action cues of the 1990s. It’s really a pity that the similar “Evacuation” cue was left off the Varése album.

The real tragedy of Starship Troopers is that the album release, by Varése Sarabande, is so pitifully short. Due to the labyrinthine studio music system in the late 1990’s before the AFM renegotiated its musical re-use fees, the only legitimate release for the music was one of Varése’s patented “thirty-minute specials,” with a pop song performed by Poledouris’ daughter Zoë tacked on the end (presumably, acquiring the rights to Zoë’s music was not difficult for her father). “Into It” is a dreadful end to the album—Zoë Poledouris’s composition doesn’t fit in with her father’s music at all, and would be better suited to a “music from and inspired by” compilation. A second pop song performed by the younger Poledouris, a cover of David Bowie’s “I Have Not Been To Oxford Town,” remains unreleased.

Thirty minutes is simply not enough for the full breadth of Basil Poledouris’ work. Themes that are woven throughout the score appear only once on album, making the entire effort seem less complex and more fragmented. The spectacular theme for Carmen, for example, is only given a brief cameo in “Asteroid Grazing,” and the motif for Razcek’s Roughnecks isn’t fully aired, appearing for only a few seconds in “Tango Urilla.” Thankfully, the DVD release of the film features a full isolated score with commentary from Poledouris (who doesn’t talk over the music), allowing the score to be heard in its entirety; this DVD, and the many score bootlegs it spawned, are reportedly the primary reason that Starship Troopers hasn’t been reissued as a deluxe limited edition, unlike many of Poledouris’s works.

Both the Varése Sarabande “thirty-minute special” and the DVD release of Starship Troopers are still widely available. Taken together, they comprise Basil Poledouris’ best work for Verhoven and some the most exhilarating sci-fi music ever composed. It’s a real shame that Poledouris never had the chance to write anything in a similar vein again, leaving Starship Troopers as his final magnum opus in the genre. A sequel album for the direct-to-video Starship Troopers 2 is also available from Varése, which includes references to some of Poledouris’ material and, in an ultimate irony, is twice the length of the original release despite having far less interesting material. Starship Troopers 3: Marauder, shot on a shoestring budget, was scored entirely with synths and make no allusions to Poledouris’s themes.

Still, if a thirty-minute sampler of highlights from Basil Poledouris’ most ambitious and thematically complex sci-fi score is enough to sate you, despite the vast number of excellent cues and thematic development missing from the release, the Varése product will suffice. Otherwise, buy the DVD and watch the score streamed to picture with Poledouris’s comments and feel a fresh pang of sadness at a talented musical voice silenced too soon,

In film: * * * * *
On album: * * *
Overall: * * * *

Passport to the Universe (Stephen Endelman)


Film composers often find themselves creating scores for attractions and theme park rides; their experience with matching music to images makes this an ideal choice. This has led to attraction scores from Alan Silvestri (Back to the Future: The Ride), John Debney (The Phantom Manor), Basil Poledouris (Conan: A Sword and Sorcery Spectacular), and even James Horner (Captain EO). Stephen Endelman, while nowhere near as well known as many of the professionals in his field, built himself a solid resume with projects like The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain, Evelyn, and overachieving music for the risible reboot Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li. When the Hayden Planetarium in the American Museum of Natural History began work on a new show, Endelman was commissioned to write an original score to accompany it, a score that, unlike many of the aforementioned ones, received a full CD release..

Passport to the Universe consisted entirely of deep-space images and narration by Tom Hanks, allowing Endelman almost unlimited freedom to compose as he saw fit. As the composer writes in the liner notes, this seemed the perfect opportunity to “create a piece of music that would fuse both acoustic instrumentation and ambient soundscapes,” an idea that he had toyed with for some time. Due to this decision, the show’s sound effects are included directly into the score, at times given equal prominence with the orchestra, despite the oft-repeated fact that there is no sound in outer space for lack of a medium to travel through.

Endelman’s work skews strongly toward the ambient soundscape end of the musical spectrum he describes in the notes–while there is an orchestra, it is used as a sound effect in the show’s overall audio design. Aside from brief outbursts, most notably in “Cosmic Address,” the score is largely atonal, shying away from melody in favor of dense layers of background noise. At times, such as in “Black Hole Plunge,” the combination of orchestra and sound effects becomes so brutal and atonal that the music is difficult to listen to–seemingly random brass outbursts, church bell peals, and a low choir compete with wind sound effects to overwhelm the listener with noise.

Many of the other tracks, while admittedly less intense, suffer from a similar problem: since there is little melodic material, the lengthy passages of sound effects and low-key music are dull and plodding. One has to imagine that Endelman embraced the commission as an opportunity to write non-melodic music and experiment with aleatoric, atonal, musique concrète. As exciting a possibility as that may have been in the abstract, it results in something that only fans of John Cage or Krzysztof Penderecki at their most atonal could enjoy. Appreciate, perhaps, given the proper academic background and vocabulary, but not enjoy.

Therefore, as a piece of sound design and accompaniment to the planetarium show, Passport to the Universe is a success. But as a listenable piece of music, especially when divorced from the powerful on-screen images that accompanied the planetarium show, it fails utterly. One can’t help but feel that an approach that divided the sound design and music, isolating the effects from the score, would have been better. The album represents a wasted opportunity–rather than providing a powerful accompaniment to the cosmos, Endelman’s Passport underwhelms. A missed opportunity, recommendable only if forty minutes of minimalistic, ambient music complimented by sound effects is a listening experience you could appreciate.


Les Miserables (Basil Poledouris)


In the flurry of attention swirling about the musical version of Les Misérables by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Victor Hugo’s original novel seems to have been lost in the fray; many who have been introduced to the tale in its musical form may not even know of the book’s existence. Nevertheless, the tale was adapted for the big screen in 1998 as a straight drama, with Bille August in the director’s chair and Basil Poledouris in the recording booth. The film would prove to be their only collaboration, and one of Poledouris’ final high-profile projects before his death in 2006.

Fans of the composer hoping for a return of the bold period stylings displayed in Conan the Barbarian and Flesh + Blood will be disappointed; Poledouris’ score takes the novel’s dark and heavy subject matter to heart and provides a restrained, tragic atmosphere. While certainly listenable, the sheer volume of unrelentingly morose music on disc can become tiresome, as Poledouris keeps the score’s volume, tone and instrument set largely consistent; this is further aggravated by the terrible situation of the album itself (see below).

Only in portions of the final two tracks does Poledouris abandon his restrained, dour, and elegiac approach. “Paris” begins with a lovely, delicate theme for Cosette, which resurfaces later in the cue but is sadly absent from the rest of the score and lacks a full concert presentation. Whirling, joyous period music makes an appearance in the same track, tied to the city of Paris; again, this lovely melody isn’t further developed. The beginning of the final track, “The Barricades,” provides a momentary outburst of full orchestra before returning to more subdued music.

In film music circles, Poledouris’ Les Misérables is infamous for its butchered contents; the track times listed on the packaging are grossly wrong, adding almost twenty minutes to the running time. Furthermore, the disc eschews individual cues in favor of four long suites that are not indexed to tracks, meaning that much of the best music is buried in the middle of suites and difficult to access at will. The individual track names appended in parentheses are worthless for determining the suites’ contents, since each features far more than the four internal divisions assigned it. As a result of this dreadful situation, a bootleg album has been seen in circulation, with the lengthy cues broken up and properly labeled and paired with additional tracks (ironically bringing the album to its advertised length of 60 minutes).

The result of this dreadful presentation, coupled with the depressing lack of variation in much of the score, makes it difficult to recommend. But patient fans of Poledouris will no doubt be drawn to the music’s livelier parts, and the album isn’t terribly difficult to find. In a poignant finale to their collaboration, Poledouris dedicated the album to orchestrator Grieg McRitchie, who died shortly after the two worked on Starship Troopers. If you’re willing to sift through a poorly-presented album and a great volume of depressingly morose score for some truly lovely Poledouris music, this Les Misérables may be for you. Otherwise, you are better off waiting for the inevitable boutique label to come along and fix Hollywood/Mandalay’s mess.

Score: * * *
Album: *
Overall: * *

Lassie (Basil Poledouris)


There was a fever of a sort going around Hollywood in the early 1990’s: dozens of old TV shows were unearthed and turned into major motion pictures in one of the industry’s more overt displays of bankrupt creativity, not unlike the “reboot” fever of the 2010s. Lassie, produced in 1994, came as the movement was at its height, yet surprisingly failed to find much of an audience. It’s since become a curiosity that’s chiefly of interest to score fans, since Basil Poledouris provided the film with one of his most obscure scores.

With Conan and Blue Lagoon on his resume the composer may not have been the knee-jerk choice for a children’s movie, but Poledouris no doubt landed the job as a result of his involvement with the massively popular Free Willy the year before. The two scores could not be more different, though: while Willy added electronics to an orchestra, Lassie is wholly orchestral, brimming with full-force Americana rather than contemporary electronics and a much closer cousin to Poledouris’s Quigley Down Under or Lonesome Dove.

The album begins strongly with “Main Title,” a full concert presentation of the main theme. Swirling strings, noble brass, and mournful woodwinds are deftly combined; the music sounds like it could serve as the powerful opening to a nature documentary. The Lassie theme is performed boldly several other times, most notably in the latter half of the album, with a powerful performance in “Lassie Saves Matt” and a slower reprise in “Reunion/Return.”

Lassie’s other cues are equally strong, often incorporating parts of the main theme in more subdued or playful arrangements, and always remaining true to the Americana sound established in the opening. The orchestrations are especially lush, with racing strings often serving as a counterpart to the brass blasts of the main theme. The entire score is painted in very broad strokes with full long-lined melodic development and none of the mickey-mousing or self-consciously cute music that infests so many modern children’s films, an approach used with great success by composers like James Horner and Jerry Goldsmith in their finest children’s scores.

The score album, which runs a little under forty minutes, was released by the short lived Sony Wonder boutique label at the time of the film’s debut and has since become rather hard to find. Fans of Poledouris and Americana are urged to seek it out, especially if they enjoy the late composer’s other scores for children’s movies, and would enjoy a broad Americana style in that context.

* * * *

The Hunt for Red October (Basil Poledouris)


The novel that catapulted the late Tom Clancy into the international spotlight, The Hunt for Red October was a shoo-in for a major motion picture adaptation, attracting such A-list talent as director John McTiernan of Die Hard fame and actor Sean Connery. The film became one of the first action blockbusters of the 1990’s, and went on to become a staple on TV, while spawning a loose series of Jack Ryanverse sequels that continued with multiple reboots into the 2010s The film saw the only collaboration between McTiernan and the late Basil Poledouris, the production of one of Poledouris’ signature scores, and the composer’s most financially successful project.

The album opens with a Russian-language hymn, written by Poledouris, that immediately establishes a Slavic soundscape with its energetic performance. The hymn is reprised in “Nuclear Scam,” and a similar Russian-language choral vocal appears in “Ancestral Aid.” Wordless vocals are also an important part of several other cues, notably “Red Route I,” where they lend a sense of power and majesty to the music. There are slower cues as well; some, like “Red Route I,” use the chorus to build up a sense of majesty and wonder, giving effects shots the titular sub dramatic heft. “Two Wives,” which was sadly omitted from the finished picture in favor of tracked-in music from an earlier Poledouris score, is more traditionally orchestral, with a warm, melancholy woodwind melody reminiscent of some Golden Age scores.

Aside from the choral aspect of the album, Poledouris employs a combination of electronics (mostly in the form of “pulses” or “clangs”) and orchestra that builds on his earlier experimentation on projects like Cherry 2000. The electronic accoutrements give the orchestra a hard, hi-tech edge perfect for Clancy’s techno-thriller world, and help create a sense of drive and urgency in the action set pieces. The aforementioned “Nuclear Scam” is an excellent example of this, a powerhouse action cue that combines a full orchestra and choir with synthesized pulses, and the climactic “Kaboom!” ratchets up the electronics still further, producing a pulse-pounding musical cocktail for the climactic sub fight.

These “pulse” and “clang” effects help to unify the two halves of the score as well; after Poledouris had recorded the most important cues with a full orchestra and choir, the music budget was slashed to help make late reshooting possible. This left the composer and his team with only enough funds to complete the score electronically, and forcing them to be creative with previously recorded material where that could not be done. By cannily mixing together three cues and fading the choir in and out of the mix, for instance, Poledouris was able to craft an end credit cue so convincingly that many people thought it had been newly recorded. It’s to his credit, and his team’s, that the score hangs together as well as it does.

As with Poledouris’ later Starship Troopers, for many years the biggest drawback to The Hunt for Red October score on album was its brief running time, just a hair over thirty minutes on the original MCA release. This omitted fan-favorite material like the end credits suite and the first half of “Kaboom!” as well as many shorter cues, some from the orchestral recording sessions and others from the later synthesizer-only work. Bootlegs with atrocious sound proliferated until 2013, when Intrada released a limited edition with the complete score in film order. The longer work is mostly superior, though in a few places (“Red Route I” being the most obvious) synth clangs from the film mix are included that were absent on the original disc. Luckily, the album mixes are also presented as bonus tracks.

Amazingly, considering its sometimes rushed and chaotic composition process, Red October remains the finest Ryanverse score so far, easily topping later efforts by James Horner, Jerry Goldsmith, and Patrick Doyle. It’s a tribute to the heart that the late Poledouris, an active sportsman and sailer, put into his nautical scores, though it is a little depressing to think that he would never score another film as critically or commercially successful before his death from cancer in 2006. If Basil Poledouris’ experiments in combining electronics and orchestra in projects like Robocop or Cherry 2000 have ever intrigued you, seek out Red October on either the Intrada or MCA disc to experience his most impressive and action-packed development of those ideas.

* * * * *

Free Willy 2 (Basil Poledouris)


Free Willy was a breakout success in its initial release, and a sequel was therefore inevitable. Released in 1995, Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home was a modest success, despite ditching Keiko the whale in favor of animatronics, and paved the way for a third film later in the decade. The late composer Basil Poledouris signed on for the sequel, as did pop star Michael Jackson, but the resulting album was far weaker than the original.

While each of the first two Free Willy scores were padded with pop tunes designed to sell CD’s, Free Willy 2 represents a nightmare for all film score enthusiasts: a good score barely represented on album and buried by songs. Only ten minutes of Poledouris’ score made it onto the album, sandwiched between Michael Jackson songs (once again referred to as “Theme from Free Willy 2” on the packaging) and “bonus tracks” that did not appear in the film. None of the songs fit in well with the overall spirit of the film or Poledouris’ score, and by 1995 even Jackson was not much of a draw, his “Childhood” song seeming especially awkward in light of the troubled star’s legal difficulties between the release of the original film and its sequel.

Poledouris acquits himself well with limited album space, returning to and expanding upon his approach to the first film. “Main Titles” reintroduces the main theme from the first film, punctuated by sprightly flourishes and tasteful use of electronic accents and percussion. The theme is lighter and more charming than in the first installment, and performed by an impressive-sounding orchestral ensemble. “Whale Swim” features more electronics, including the undulating electronic notes found in the first score, combined with another robust orchestral performance and solo guitar. The track also reintroduces the secondary theme from Free Willy, delightfully punctuated with woodblocks. The final track, “Reunion,” is the most subdued of the three, and features no electronics of note, just lovely orchestral writing and a triumphant fanfare at the end. As always, Poledouris’s passion for the sea in his personal life bleeds wonderfully through into his music.

So, as a score fan, should you seek out Free Willy 2, despite its wretched album situation? If you’re looking for an introduction to the series and its themes, Free Willy is certainly superior to its sequel as an album. But if you’ve heard and enjoyed the first score, Free Willy 2 serves as an enjoyable expansion, if you can find the disc in a bargain bin for 50 cents; Poledouris’ tracks would make an excellent addition to any collection CD. Ironically, even if every note of Poledouris’ music from both Free Willy albums, and the entirety of Cliff Eidelman’s Free Willy 3 were placed on a single CD, there would still be space left.

Ultimately, only buy Free Willy 2 if If you think ten minutes of outstanding Poledouris material are worth sifting an album padded with pop garbage. Hopefully, someday an enterprising label like Intrada or La La Land will give the music from these films the release they deserve.

* *

Free Willy (Basil Poledouris)


Released in 1993, Free Willy proved an enormous hit, becoming firmly entombed in mid-1990’s pop culture and making an international superstar of Keiko the whale. The film’s musical personality, both on album and in the film, was split between composer Basil Poledouris and erstwhile entertainer Michael Jackson, with Poledouris contributing the score and Jackson performing a pop ballad.

The pop music padding in Free Willy is rather unfortunate; the album’s producers chose to load it with songs unrelated to and not appearing in the film (a practice that was worryingly common in the mid-1990s). These tunes really have very little to do with anything other than promoting artists signed the the record label at the time, and offer little to anyone who is not an established fan of the group in question. The album producers also recruited Michal Jackson to the project, at a time when the King of Pop was awkwardly transitioning from superstar to tabloid fodder. Jackson’s “Will You Be There” receives top billing; rather disgustingly, the song is labeled “Theme from Free Willy,” and its printed title dwarfs Poledouris’ on the album cover.

Of course, the true “Theme from Free Willy” was composed by Poledouris, and thirty minutes of his music are present on the album. The late Poledouris was always most in his element when scoring the sea, and he responded with a thoughtful and exuberant effort. Mindful of the film’s contemporary setting and the expectations of music supervisors, the composer adopted a scoring approach that seamlessly melds synthesizers and an orchestra. At times, notably in the first and last score cues, Poledouris uses an electronic pulse to underscore tense situations, reminiscent of his work on The Hunt for Red October. More often, though, the electronics serve to lend percussive rhythm to the music, or to generate a feeling of calm through the use of undulating synthesizer notes.

Poledouris’ grand main theme bookends the score portion of the album with sustained, slightly moody performances. It’s impressive music with a nautical twist, and even in its less serious incarnations, is hugely impressive. A much lighter secondary theme appears in “The Gifts,” “Friends Montage” and “Audition,” a sprightly tune performed by woodwinds with electronic rhythm instruments behind. It’s charming music, much more affecting and effective than the cloying Jackson song, and effectively underscores the light and happy scenes in the movie with a contemporary flair.

The incidental music is surprisingly effective even when it’s not tied to either theme, with an impressive variety of strong scoring in the final track alone. The aforementioned October pulse melds with menacing strings to create tension, but the real highlight may just be the finale. Poledouris builds up orchestral steam before unleashing a triumphant fanfare at the end of the “Farewell Suite,” beautifully punctuating Willy’s escape with bold brass and a synth choir.

Even though the predominance of pop material and the brief running time of the score are definite drawbacks, Free Willy remains a highly recommended purchase for all score fans. Thirty minutes of top-notch Poledouris material featuring excellent integration of electronics and orchestra is worth buying even as part of an album laden with pop songs….just be sure to program your CD player to tracks 6-11, or buy the score tracks digitally.

* * * *

Big Wednesday (Basil Poledouris)


Friends and fans of the late, great Basil Poledouris know how much of a watersports fan the composer was; it’s therefore fitting that his first major Hollywood score would be for a surfing movie, albeit one that tries to examine the sport with more gravitas than one would expect. Director John Milius was an old college friend of Poledouris’, and Big Wednesday would become the first of many collaborations for the pair. It was also the first major pairing of Poledouris and orchestrator Grieg McRitchie, who until his death in 1997 would contribute to virtually all of Poledouris’ subsequent scores.

The score is impressively varied, with many of Poledouris’ stylistic hallmarks well in evidence. The majority of the music is surprisingly lush and romantic, at times Barry-esque in its approach, at other times almost elegiac. Poignant cues like “Jack Surfs Alone” abound, and none of the clichés that are or have been associated with surfing or beach movies are in evidence.

In fact, there are several robust action tracks for balance, most notably the muscular “Big Wednesday Montage” and “Matt’s Rite of Passage,” which strongly predict Poledouris’ later style. It’s not difficult to find the seeds of Conan, Robocop, or Starship Troopers in these tracks, though this is if anything a strength. It’s impressive to see so many strong ideas together in a debut score, and indicative of the composer’s raw talent and thorough personal engagement with the material.

Additionaly, Poledouris did pen original songs for Big Wednesday; something rather unusual in his discography. “Crumple Car” is perhaps the most stereotypical element of the album, with a light, breezy singer and ukelele accompaniment, but it’s still lightweight fun. “Song of the Three Friends” is much more in keeping with the overall spirit of the score, and is in fact attached to an instrumental cue.

Film Score Monthly released Big Wednesday as a part of its “Silver Age Classics” series, limited to 3000 copies available through a variety of online retailers; copies were still available at the original $20 issue price for years, in stark contrast to other Poledouris limited editions like Flesh + Blood or Intrada’s complete Robocop. The liner notes are up to FSM’s usual standard of excellence, featuring detailed background information and a track-by-track analysis. The album is highly recommended to Poledouris fans in particular, though film score aficionados in general are urged to seek it out as well. If you’re a Basil Poledouris fan and would like to hear his impressive debut score for a major film, nothing should stop you.

* * * *

Age of Conan: Hyperborean Adventures (Knut Avenstroup Haugen)


2008’s MMORPG Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures was scored by a relative newcomer, Norwegian Knut Avenstroup Haugen, who found himself with big shoes to fill — artists as diverse and respected as Basil Poledouris and Ennio Morricone have tackled Robert E. Howard’s barbarian milieu with highly-acclaimed music. The composer researched music from all over the world in preparation, and the resulting score heavily features the human voice, that most ancient of instruments. This double disc stand-alone soundtrack is commercially available and there is also a single disc soundtrack available with the Collector’s Edition version of the game.

Haugen skillfully uses his ensemble to create an intimate but suitable ancient sound for the more subtle tracks. Pieces like “Sands of Forgetfulness” and “Damp Barachan Nights” exemplify this more restrained style, which has a restrained, melodramatic beauty. Singer Helene Bøksle lends her voice to several more songs in this vein, including the powerful “Nighttime Journey” which rumbles forward in a style reminiscent of Jerry Goldsmith.  Bøksle, who is one of the album’s definite highlights, anchors many of the finest pieces with haunting, wordless vocals.

Not all the quieter music is up to this high standard, however. The latter parts of the album are dominated by a duduk-led Egyptian style, which isn’t as enjoyable as what preceded it. It can be shrill, even stereotypical, at times, and is generally lacking Bøksle’s voice and the earlier themes’ subtle touch.

As music for barbarians, the album contains its share of powerhouse action pieces, many of which seem to be inspired by Poledouris’ music for the 1982’s Conan film. Haugen unleashes massive, triumphant fanfares in “Vista from Mount Crom” and “Echoes of Atlantis,” the latter of which features stunning choral work much like Alan Silvestri’s The Abyss. These pieces, likely composed for cinematics, are some of Haugen’s strongest.

The battle music is suitably apocalyptic with prominent percussion and choral accompaniment. From “Awakening” to the back to back “Stygia – Cimmeria – Aquilonia” run at the end of the album, the action music is rarely anything other than thunderous. While a strength, this is also something of a drawback; the music can be literally overbearing and exhausting at times.

The bonus disc exclusive to the commercially available soundtrack is a mix of styles. Much of the disc is dedicated to the epic combat suites most would expect from such a game. However, the first three tracks are actually rock performances by heavy metal band Turbonegro and are therefore a jarring stylistic shift. Some audiences are likely to enjoy these themes, but they are not compatible with Haugen’s own scores.

Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures is a rewarding listen for people who enjoy massive orchestral and choral works, and it is liberally sprinkled with references to masters of symphonic barbarianism. But it can be a bit of a slog at times, when the relentless battle themes or Egyptian atmosphere become too overbearing. Still, the music is an impressive debut for Haugen, who assembled a crystal-clear recording of live players. Hopefully he will have more opportunities within the industry with such a massive effort behind him.

* * * *