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Medal of Honor 10th Anniversary Soundtrack :: Review by Simon Elchlepp

Medal of Honor 10th Anniversary Soundtrack Album Title: Medal of Honor 10th Anniversary Soundtrack
Record Label: Electronic Arts
Catalog No.: Promotional
Release Date: September 22, 2008
Purchase: Buy at eBay


To commemorate the tenth anniversary of one of its flagship franchises, EA released the Medal of Honor: 10th Anniversary games bundle in 2008, despite the fact that the series' first game Medal of Honor had been released in 1999. The compilation brought together all Medal of Honor titles that had found their way onto PCs: Allied Assault, its two expansion packs Spearhead and Breakthrough, Pacific Assault, and Airborne. One of the many extras that came with the bundle was a soundtrack CD, compiling music from various Medal of Honor games.


One might expect that Medal of Honor: 10th Anniversary's soundtrack CD holds music from the titles that are actually part of the games bundle, and one would be wrong in doing so. Instead, the album exclusively focuses on Giacchino's works for the franchise, ignoring Pacific Assault — or anything Christopher Lennertz wrote for the series — altogether. This approach is certainly valid, but it also exposes the album's most glaring deficiency. If someone designed 10th Anniversary's score album as a commemoration of Giacchino's hugely popular Medal of Honor music, why would they leave the original Medal of Honor score off the CD? Instead, the release 'only' features pieces from Medal of Honor: Underground, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Medal of Honor: Frontline, and Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. This unfortunate occurrence is even more frustrating considering that the release has the best track selection of all three Medal of Honor compilation albums and actually could have been the album that sums up Giacchino's pioneering work for the franchise and functions as an introduction to the franchise for newcomers.

Despite these objections, the music featured on this release is outstanding. The selections from Underground impressively demonstrate Giacchino's versatility and are in no way a simple rehash of Medal of Honor. While there are still offers pulse-pounding action cues, at the same time the soundtrack adds a swash of new moods and colours, with a number of haunting compositions that display Giacchino's talent at crafting more introspective and atmospheric pieces which always maintain the listener's interest. These traits are best highlighted by Underground's main title "May 10th, 1940 (Main Theme)". The cue introduces Underground's main theme in both its iterations, which in an ingenious twist grow from the same musical cell and represent protagonist Manon Batiste's patriotism and her more intimate feelings as a soldier facing overwhelming enemy forces. After the furore of Medal of Honor's returning Nazi theme has subsided, a lyrical horn melody is heard against harp accompaniment. Soon, the horn is joined by an accordion, which is not exactly an original way of alluding to the game's Paris setting, but it gets the job done without sounding overly hackneyed. These luscious orchestral sounds prepare the listener well for the proud and romantic strains of main theme variation "A", which is heard on violins. The composition turns even more colourful when the delicate voices of the boys choir chime in. The piece closes with a rendition of the main theme's "B" variation on solo cello, another instrumentational choice that sets the score for Underground apart from its predecessor.

The package also has the good grace to include "Panzer Blockade", which is Undergrond's thematically most impressive track. It briefly alludes to the menacing, lumbering material from Medal of Honor's "Panzer Attack" before developing its own aggressive four-note brass motif to represent the steel beasts. "Panzer Blockade" also showcases how the different variations of the main theme, together with Manon's resolute "resolve motif" also presented on "May 10th, 1940 (Main Theme)", can build a gripping dramatic arc within a composition and give insight into the mind and emotions of the game's protagonist. After a yearning quotation of the "B" variation on solo trumpet against a hammering orchestral backdrop, the music segues into the resolve motif on swelling strings that keep on building. Despite being mercilessly attacked by other instrumental groups, the motif finally erupts into a rendition of the "A" variation, showing how Manon has overcome her fears and found her will to fight the overwhelming enemy forces. Giacchino's lighter touch with his action tracks is exemplified by the third selection "Escape from Casablanca", which is effectively a scherzo. Tinged with Mediterranean touches in the percussion section and through some characteristic string chord progressions, "Escape from Casablanca" is constructed around a bouncy motif that, even when quoted on brass, is rather energetic than imposing. It's an excellent addition to the compilation.

Featured at the start of the album, Allied Assault's music sees Giacchino combining the increased instrumental and emotional palette of Medal of Honor: Underground with the large-scale orchestral sounds of the original Medal of Honor. Giacchino even expands his orchestral palette and successfully integrates folkloristic elements not heard before on a Medal of Honor score. 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. However, where Allied Assault diverges from the original is in the fact that the theme a less stern, more flowing musical thought which is quite a bit more expansive than the original main theme. This is particularly highlighted when the new main theme is developed after 1:10 in a sumptuous passage for the whole string section that holds a near-Brahmsian sheen. The other selection, "Schmerzen" highlights this stylistic convergence further. After Underground's lighter, but more colourful action cue, this track sees Giacchino returning to the more bombastic sounds of Medal of Honor, without giving up on the expanded timbral breadth. The cue then is another superbly rambunctious action track. Twice, the new 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.

Medal of Honor: Frontline has become many soundtrack fans' favourite Medal of Honor score, and for good reason, as it surpasses even Giacchino's superb previous works for the franchise. Adding an unmistakable air of tragedy to the proceedings while refining his orchestral approach, Giacchino creates what is no doubt the most operatic and emotional of all Medal of Honor scores. This shift toward more serious tones is instantly palpable on "Operation Market Garden", which presents a new variation of the original Medal of Honor main theme. But this time, the theme has been tweaked to take on a more grave sheen that is supposed to mirror protagonist Jimmy Patterson's maturation between the earlier events in Medal of Honor and those in Frontline. The sense of tragedy and gravitas is further heightened through the sounds of a full choir. And when the track finally reaches out to the light at the end through an optimistic rendition of the main theme, the compositions's enormous emotional pull has become obvious. Another respectable selection, "After the Drop" is even more moving in its strikingly melodramatic nature. Starting out with a boy soprano solo against a sparse woodwind accompaniment, it initially sounds peaceful, albeit not in a comforting way. Instead, the vocal solo and the full-bodied string adagio that sets in later are a haunting commemoration of the lives that have been lost. The piece is an impassionate plea for peace and has a gravely anthemic quality that breaks new territory not only for the Medal of Honor franchise, but for war-themed video games in general.

Giacchino's increasing musical maturity and his compositional confidence are also mirrored in his approach to penning the score's action music. On both Medal of Honor and Underground, Giacchino's compositions could mostly be comfortably separated into action cues and mood-building pieces. These musical categories are blurred on Frontline and nowhere is this better demonstrated on "The Rowhouses", which reprises the brutal tank motif from Medal of Honor. One wouldn't guess this from the track's beginning though: after some snappy march elements, an almost jolly section for a jaunty oboe motif comes bouncing along. Only at 2:20 do timpani and cymbal crashes lead into the reprise of the tank material and it sounds more massive in sound than ever before, enhanced by beautifully recorded anvil strikes. Set against this spectacular orchestral onslaught, the main theme is stretched to its limits on brass and can hardly hold its own against the panzer motif's force. While the album certainly gets Frontline's mixture of spectacular action sounds and grand-scale tragedy right, one might fault 10th Anniversary's track selection for featuring the devious theme for the game's bad guy, SS baron Rudolf von Sturmgeist, on only one track, "Escaping Gotha". But what a track it is. It does a fantastic job at incorporating all of the score's primary themes and combines them with a rhythmic sub-motif that's exclusive to this piece into one formidable seven-minute epic.

The selections from Medal of Honor: Airborne are quite far removed from the previous soundtrack's grandiose approach, which might alienate some listeners. They display Giacchino's evolution as a composer over five years and present a rougher, edgier tone that brims with energy, but which will be a bit short on attractive melodies for some, particularly after Frontline's lyrical strains. Nevertheless, the selections from Medal of Honor 10th Anniversary Soundtrack include two battle cues that are stylistic throwbacks to the original Medal of Honor. Both "Das Flakturn" and "Taking Out the Sighting Tower" return to the original game's technique of building a cue's structure and development around one rhythmic figure, which increases the compositions' coherency. "Das Flakturn" is particularly noteworthy for its use of triple time, which imbues the track with an unlikely, but wholly effective dance-like lilt that energises the piece and at the same time holds the composition together. The album also solves the problem of the original score's divisive thematic content by presenting its main theme in one of its most pleasing shapes on "Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (Main Theme)". Here, like on all opening tracks of Giacchino's Medal of Honor scores, the main theme is subjected to a number of fluidly interwoven variations. And "Unblocking Utah" slowly builds over pulsating strings and an expansive horn melody, before the uplifting piece segues into an unexpectedly triumphant rendition of the original Medal of Honor main theme, which turns out to be just as stirring as when first heard ten (well, nine) years ago.


As all Medal of Honor compilation albums, the Medal of Honor 10th Anniversary Soundtrack suffers from the simple fact that it contains not one bit of new material. However, as far as these compilations go, it doubtlessly features the best selection of music from the scores it chooses to incorporate. Underground's lighter strains and thematic intricacies are well preserved, as well as Frontline's impressive mix of emotional outbursts and magnificent battle tracks. And Airborne's music shines as well, due to the album's focus on that soundtrack's stronger moments. The release could make a valid claim to be indeed a "Best of Michael Giacchino's Medal of Honor soundtrack" if it weren't for the frustrating circumstance that not a single piece from the original Medal of Honor is included. And the value of this compilation is further diminished by the fact that it's not a stand-alone release, but only available as a bonus CD of a game bundle. As with the other Medal of Honor compilations albums then, just get the original soundtracks or box set.

Overall Score: 6/10