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Medal of Honor Allied Assault Original Soundtrack :: Review by Simon Elchlepp

Medal of Honor Allied Assault Original Soundtrack Album Title: Medal of Honor Allied Assault Original Soundtrack
Record Label: Electronic Arts
Catalog No.: iTunes
Release Date: August 30, 2005
Purchase: Buy at iTunes


Up until the mid 2000s, most first-person shooter franchises would follow the same path: debut on PC, then at some later stage be ported to a gaming console system. The Medal of Honor series went the other way; after its 1999 debut, the franchise only appeared on home computers in 2002 with its third instalment, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. Another quality work, the game continued the franchise's winning streak with critics and audiences alike and is still quoted as one of the highlights of the Medal of Honor series.

On album, Allied Assault has always been a bit of a black sheep among Michael Giacchino's Medal of Honor scores. This is not so much to do with the quality of his work for the game, but more with the fact that Giacchino didn't write much new music since he was busy creating the score for Medal of Honor: Frontline around the same time. The resulting gap both in the game and on Allied Assault's first score album was filled with tracks from Medal of Honor and Medal of Honor: Underground; this one hour release was only available as part of the Allied Assault Deluxe Edition, and only 17 minutes were new material composed for Allied Assault, making for an unsatisfactory album situation. Fortunately, this issue was rectified in 2005 when EA Games, in addition to digitally released all Medal of Honor scores that previously had only been available on out-of-print CDs, also offered an Allied Assault release that only held Giacchino's new material at a discounted price.


Considering that Giacchino wrote the scores for Allied Assault and Frontline in close succession, it's not surprising that the music on this album resembles what the listener finds on the the latter soundtrack too. In other words, Giacchino applies the increased instrumental and emotional palette of Medal of Honor: Underground and combines it with the large-scale orchestral sounds of the original Medal of Honor. Mind you, Allied Assault doesn't reach the quasi-operatic heights of Frontline, but it still makes for a rich and rousing listening experience that is only held back by its relative brevity.

The convergence of influences from both Medal of Honor and Underground is clearly heard in the score's new main theme, presented first on the aptly titled "Medal Of Honor: Allied Assault (Main Theme)". True, there are several elements that make the new main theme foremost sound like an extension of Medal of Honor's main theme. Firstly, there is its obvious sense of Americana and patriotism, which emerges when the theme is first presented on trumpets. Furthermore, the theme's presentation is tinged with the militaristic edge one has come to expect from such straightforward representations of flag-waving national loyalty — snare drums abound. And equally importantly, the theme's general sense of pride and dignity contrasts with the more romantic overtones of Underground's main theme. However, where Allied Assault diverges from Medal of Honor is in other facets of its main theme, which is also a less stern, more flowing musical thought that is quite a bit more expansive than Medal of Honor's main theme, and thus stylistically moves closer to Underground. This is particularly highlighted when the new main theme is developed after 1:10 during a sumptuous passage for the whole string section that holds a near-Brahmsian sheen. While this new main theme may be less immediately memorable than its counterpart on the series' first game, it's arguably more emotional. And one thing that certainly hasn't changed is the fact that Giacchino still knows how to take a melody and satisfyingly develop it over the course of a composition, presenting it in a number of musical disguises that seamlessly segue into each other.

The two action tracks on Allied Assault, "Schmerzen" and "Tiger Tank", highlight this stylistic convergence further. After Underground's lighter, but more colourful action cues, these tracks see Giacchino returning to the more bombastic sounds of Medal of Honor, without giving up on the expanded timbral breadth. "Schmerzen" makes the connection to Medal of Honor particularly explicit through its quotation of one of the sub-motifs "Stopping the V2 Launch" and, though more subtly, of material from "Attack on Fort Schmerzen". "Schmerzen" does come to resemble "Stopping the V2 Launch" quite a bit through the way that the two tracks' shared sub motif is used to propel each composition to ever more frantic heights. The cue then is another superbly rambunctious action track which in its treatment of its sub motif still introduces subtle differences to how the motif was presented and worked through on "Stopping the V2 Launch". Twice, the main theme interrupts the orchestral frenzy to announce victory and particularly its second rendition at the cue's end against a resolute march backdrop is hugely effective. "Tiger Tank" is built on a sub motif of a more march-like character than "Schmerzen" which allows the piece to build up steam from the moment the motif is first presented — creatively so on timpani. The composition maintains its rhythmic focus throughout its running time, while still intermingling its march momentum with the soaring strains of Allied Assault's main theme. At the same time, Giacchino showcases that he may take inspiration from his action material on Medal of Honor, but refuses to simply regurgitate it. This is aptly demonstrated by touches like the occasional ethnic element that tastefully communicate the mission's Mediterranean setting and the enhanced orchestration — witness the cascades of tolling chimes at 2:50.

As reliably rousing as the new main theme and the action material is, the most interesting music on Allied Assault comes courtesy of its quieter moments. "Sniper Town" on first sight might be more ambient-setting music in the mould of Underground's "Streets of Paris", which was one of the weaker cues on that soundtrack. Here though, Giacchino holds the listener's interest more consistently by cranking up the edgyness and harsh nature of the dissonant string textures that carried "Streets of Paris" previously. Combined with snippets of snapping brass and commandingly resonant snare drums and timpani, the more creative string writing on "Sniper Town" constantly keeps the listener on the edge of her seat through means that might be less subtle than its counterpart, but which are considerably more effective. It helps that the composition's coherency is increased through the piece's reliance on yet another sub motif, a lumbering three-note idea that is first presented by bassoons and double basses in their lowest registers and later is played against the violin dissonances. A brief rendition of the main theme contrasts with the surrounding musical eerieness as effectively as during a similar occurrence on Underground's "Among the Dead".

Stylistically even more interesting is "North Africa", which features Giacchino crafting one of his most folkloristically tinged tracks. While Underground had already included Mediterranean sounds on several occasions, the African hand percussion that opens "North Africa" still comes as a most pleasant surprise. And when integrated as creatively as here, these world music elements make for a fascinating addition to the piece. First, the hand percussion is pitted against dark cello tones that announce this cue to be another stealth track. But it soon becomes apparent that — not least through the composition's stomping sub motif — "North Africa" will oscillate between stealth and march sounds that create a constantly overcast, yet spell-binding mood. Marvellously enough, in Giacchino's hands the African hand percussion lends itself equally well to underscoring determination and cautious advancement through enemy territory. One of the most colourful tracks on Allied Assault, "North Africa" particularly benefits from Giacchino's growing orchestrational skills that on this cue result in intoxicating musical textures.


Without a doubt, it's unfair that Medal of Honor: Allied Assault's score is frequently overlooked in favour of more extensive soundtracks from the Medal of Honor franchise. Giacchino keeps on tweaking his compositional approach to the series' music by marrying influences from both Medal of Honor and Underground — a stirring mixture that would fully blossom on his masterpiece, Medal of Honor: Frontline. Giacchino even expands his orchestral palette and successfully integrates folkloristic elements not heard before on a Medal of Honor score. The action tracks are as rousing as the best on both its predecessors, the quieter material never lets the tension flag, and the new main theme easily rivals previous scores. So while there's only 17 minutes of music to be found on Allied Assault's score release, every moment of its brief running time is highly enjoyable. Only the fact that the fun is over way too soon holds this score back from attaining higher praise.

Overall Score: 8/10