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Think "The Mummy."
Squared.
Although I wasn't that impressed at first because of the unmistakable similarity of the first 30 seconds to "The Mummy" (which he actually composed after this), once that full choir and French horn theme blasted into the speakers, I was fully convinced that this was one of Goldsmith's best scores of the '90s.  And, 10+ listens later, I still believe that.  In fact, now that "The Mummy" has been compared to its infinitely superior predecessor, I'm tempted to go back and reduce its 9 rating to a 7.  The movie, of course, was a total nightmare to produce, with Michael Crichton (the author of the original "Eaters of the Dead" novel) finally firing the director and taking over himself.  The cinematic result is a decidedly mixed bag, although the sheer scale of this decapitation epic (my invented genre for everything involving barbarians running around killing each other) can be impressive.  And the movie's saving grace, of course, is Jerry "The Man" Goldsmith's score.  This CAN'T be the music of a 70-year-old!  Too fast and furious!  If he keeps writing like this, he'll live to be 150!  Oh, and if you're looking for a complex, authentic ethnic score brewing the two styles of the Arabians and Norse, you're not likely to be impressed, since, although he has 2 different themes for the Arabs and Vikings, they're not exactly the most researched themes - the Arabic one sounds like a longer version of one of The Mummy's main themes and the Viking one goes for the cliched (but still exciting) dark male chorus and heavy percussion.  Add to that about 15 major action setpieces and not a hint of boredom or atonality as well as a lack of synth effects, and you get one of the best hour-long (yes!) listens in recent memory.  Some may grow tired of the continual orchestral and choral onslaught of fortissimo action cues, but just about everyone else should pick this up.  Also, if you haven't bought The Mummy yet, I'd recommend skipping that and getting this.  And since the score was recorded in Europe, where the reuse fees are nearly nonexistent, Varese Sarabande (yes, the same Varese Sarabande that gave us 29 minutes of Scream and Scream 2 combined), goes all-out and includes the majority of the score in a 55 minute release.  And, typical of their Goldsmith releases, this one has a superior booklet, with liner notes by Michael Crichton, as well as stills from both the movie and recording sections.


Track by Track Analysis:
1. Old Bagdad (2:01)
Goldsmith opens his score with an excellent concert arrangement of the two main themes.  The orchestration in the first section is nearly transparent, with uneasy ethnic instruments and a short Ondes Martenot-like whistle effect.  However, the composer continually adds layers of instruments, including ethnic citharas and percussion.  Continuing in this rise of power is a brief introduction of the Mummy-like Arabic theme in clarinets.  This complex soundworld continues to develop, adds a chanting choir, and finally blasts into the main Viking theme on horns.  Besides being the main "glue" of the score, Goldsmith will later extract one of the main action stingers from it.  Surprisingly, this open track seems quite jubilant, almost making fun of the overstuffed turkey of a movie.  But don't get the wrong impression from that sentence, this definitely IS NOT a comedy cue, let alone a comedy score!

2. Exiled (3:41)
The opening of this track features some of the only warmth in the score, playing an offshoot of the Arabic theme on woodwinds with cithara and percussion accompaniment.  However, at about the two minute mark, it shoots into the first of the epic action setpieces, with thundering brass and percussion stingers under a repeating passage of 7 horn notes, which are (surprisingly) in a major key.  In the final section of the cue, Goldsmith quiets the orchestra and melds the main Viking theme into one of the transition motifs, which I don't think is as good as its usual form.

3. Semantics (2:38)
The main reason to listen to this track is for its ending, which I'll get to in a while.  After a subdued opening, the choir and percussion enter over a huge statement of the Viking theme.  Next is a quieter section with the Arabic theme played on a ethnic flute.  Soon, the Arabic theme reaches a thundering crescendo, and gradually increases its orchestration into a fully choral anthem of epic proportions.

4. The Great Hall (5:20)
A quieter, more reflective tone opens this lengthy cue.  Some of the early highlights are a Gregorian chant-like choral section, surrounded by the Arabic theme and a short outburst of the abbreviated Viking theme in woodwinds, as well as more choral theatrics.  Soon, this same theme gets one of its trademark arrangements with tutti trombones and a self-contained choral theme.  The last section continues the abbreviated theme, with this same choral motif.

5. Eaters of the Dead (3:32)
Another of the more quieter tracks on the album, this contains an incredibly surreal soundscape with a ghostly ethnic flute cameo as well as dissonant percussion.  Later, another Medieval chant enters with male chorus, which sounds vaguely like parts of Orff's Carmina Burana (NOT O Fortuna!  Boy, say Carl Orff, and all anyone thinks about is a Duel of the Fates-like charging choral sound).

6. Viking Heads (1:29)
Now we hit a long string of lengthy action cues, all of which are memorable.  Goldsmith bases this one on an even-more abbreviated motif from the Viking theme, with incredibly loud bass drums.

7. The Sword Maker (2:06)
Personally, the next three tracks are the best sections of the entire score.  "The Sword Maker" continues the Viking theme with choral chanting, but more upbeat and positive, almost like a national anthem.  Later, the Arabic theme resurfaces for a while, with a presentation on the cithara.  The last minute here contains some great contrast with this theme and the main theme played side by side.

8. The Horns of Hell (3:25) (Don't you just love these Viking titles?  If you didn't know what the movie was about, there would be no doubt in your mind after reading the track titles.)
As its title would indicate, this begins with fortissimo blasts, alongside one of the main choral themes.  Here, the Viking theme is transformed into an action motif, played by its native French horns, now in their lowest register.  After a short quiet section, racing strings take over for one of the most exhilirating sections of Goldsmith's '90s output, accompanied by both the Arabic and Viking action themes.

9. The Fire Dragon (4:53)
The final member of this trio of action setpieces (although definitely not the last on the album) continues with the super-abbreviated Viking theme, under continually rising strings and bellowing brass.  There's not really much to talk about here - just sit back and enjoy the epic spectacle.  Trust me - it's one of the most frantic and exciting pieces on the album.

10. Honey (2:36)
Returning to quieter surroundings, we now get a recap of the Viking action theme in chorus, with a delicate woodwind accompaniment.  Not really a highlight of the album, but it's a much-needed break from the fantastic action music.

11. The Cave of Death (3:00)
Although not an action cue per se, this contains some of the more exciting music in the score.  It opens with an awesomely unstable impressionistic motif, on which the rest of the cue is based, intercut with dark orchestral rumblings, some with the abbreviated Viking theme.  In the final 30 seconds is a brief section of dissonance.

12. Swing Across (1:49)
Another burst of action.  This is decidedly more ferocious than some of its counterparts, replacing their steady stomping with a furious string chase motif.  The horn fanfare in the last quarter is a highlight, almost sounding like a swashbuckling Korngold theme.

13. Mother Wendol's Cave (4:12)
Here we get the final remotely subdued piece of the score, a prelude to the 13 minute action duo coming next.  Still, it's got some loud sections, mostly with the first section of the Viking theme under trademark Goldsmith high strings.  The dissonant motif from "Cave of Death" also makes a cameo.

14. Underwater Escape (1:36)
A prelude to the intense climax of the score, this action piece's main highlight is an exciting series of diminished string runs.  The Viking theme also appears in its various forms.

15. Valhalla/Viking Victory (10:35)
Wow, 11 straight minutes of Goldsmith action.  Pure nirvana.  It would be impossible to go through and list every highlight here, but just suffice it to say that he takes all the themes and motives and blends them into an unforgettable victory cue.  Although "Valhalla" is quieter, with the short chromatic Viking and Arabic themes put into soaringly melodious arrangements, Goldsmith soon throws at us the most unforgettable statement of the Viking music in the entire work.  The horns get it, and it's thrown under a virtuoso Vivace brass and percussion sequence.  Finally, in the last 4 minutes, the choir resurfaces for a huge victory theme.

16. A Useful Servant (1:18)
Instead of going out with a huge bang, Goldsmith ends the score with a short, tender recap of the first part of the Viking theme, as well as a return of the full Arabic theme.  It ends with more of the victory motif from the previous cue, going out on a full major chord.  I recommend that, like The Mummy, you go back to the first cue for a more satisfying end to the score.

Overall, I don't think it's possible to go wrong with this score.  If you love loud, melodic action music in the vein of The Wind and the Lion, be sure and pick this up.



 
The 13th Warrior: The Final Score
Music Rating 10/10
Packaging/Liner Notes 6/10
Sound Quality 8/10
Length 9/10
Orchestral Performance 10/10


The 13th Warrior is Copyright 1999 by Varese Sarabande.  Review Copyright 1999 by Andrew Drannon.  All Rights Reserved.