LOTRO Legendarium: Reviewing the Mordor soundtrack

Here’s a weird thing to admit: I was actually concerned when I heard that Lord of the Rings Online brought back Chance Thomas to score this year’s Mordor expansion. It’s not that I dislike him or his music; on the contrary, I recognized that Thomas has created a large amount of terrific music for this MMO’s beloved score. And while SSG has done very well with its scoring in house (Gondor in particular), I would normally be ecstatic to see Thomas come back again.

My concern stemmed from the source material. Mordor is evil, through and through, and I knew that this would call for an oppressively dark soundtrack. I felt that no matter who scored it, it wasn’t going to be an eminently listenable album, and I worried that Thomas’ efforts would be hamstrung by this setting.

After receiving an advance copy of the score (which will go on sale digitally November 1st), I found my concern borne out. Mordor’s OST is very competent and does a great job helping to sell the corrupted, death-strewn nation — but it’s not anywhere near as fun to listen to as, say, Thomas’ adventurous Riders of Rohan or his classic Shadows of Angmar work. That said, there are a couple of standout pieces and some very interesting elements going on with these tunes, so let’s go through it track by track to grok this latest chapter in the LOTRO musical archive.

1. Barad-dur

Right from the beginning, the Mordor OST sets a tone of foreboding that sets this score apart from the more positive and uplifting albums that came before. This is evil swirling with hopelessness, with nary a hint of Shire sunshine or Gondor optimism.

2. After the Fall

I notice that many of these tracks contain haunting notes that drift in the background, giving the impression of aural ghosts flitting about. After the Fall begins in a languorous state with plenty of ominous cracks and drums punctuating the mood, but then the track increases in intensity thanks to the choir. It’s the emergence of something dreadful, something that survived.

3. Bring It

This track definitely sounds like a combat piece, jolting out of the gate with intensity and more sweet strains than we’ve gotten so far. I love how the choir and strings help to drive this shorter tune, although much credit should be given to the percussion for doing all of the heavy lifting. It kind of drifts off at the end, possibly suggesting a loop. I wish it was longer.

4. Lhaereth of Seregost

This track alternates between spooky and melodramatic, possibly telling a story — and not a very uplifting one, at that. It has this old timey sound to it, what I often associate with movies and TV shows out of the 1950s and 1960s, when the orchestra had no problem making itself noticed and telegraphic strong emotions.

5. Conquest of the Dark Lands

This is most definitely a combat track, for I have heard it many a time going through the expansion. It’s… pretty intense, sounding vaguely reminiscent of Howard Shore’s Mordor pieces, with plenty of BLAAATTs and choral chanting and honking horns. I won’t lie and say that this is my favorite to listen to on repeat (the game really overuses it, to be honest), but it is memorable and has some interesting energy to it.

6. Lurking in Lhingris

So there’s this very standard soundtrack cue that you’ve probably heard dozens of times without ever thinking much on it, which is a creepy-crawly sound that is almost always accompanied by spiders (or other bugs) skittering all over the place. This is thanks to pizzicato, a technique in which a violinist (or other stringed instrument musician) quickly finger-plucks the instrument instead of using his or her bow. The result? A track like this… or like Lurking in Lhingris.

7. Fate of Ayorzen

This is a short, bombastic piece that is obviously underscoring a specific story moment. It might work fine for that, but to listen to on its own? Let’s just say it’s not something that will ever get a lot of replay on my stereo.


8. The Burning at Talath Urui

Another truly pleasant track, full of silly nothings about flowers and leaping minnows… minnows in HELL, that is. Mordor just isn’t that happy of a place, and a whole zone that’s just been on the receiving end of a volcanic facelift even less so. This piece all but smothers a solitary flute that tries to bring in a moment of beauty. It’s pretty harsh through and through.

9. Coronation of Aragorn

Finally, something that isn’t all clanging and depressing! LOTRO fans might recognize this track as the one that replaced the login theme, but in any case, here we have a stately, optimistic track with plenty of callbacks to previous Chance Thomas tracks. It’s slow and measured, in a way that you would expect for a kingly coronation ceremony. Definitely a standout track from this album.

10. The Black Gate

Reprises of both Gondor and Rohan themes emerge in this climactic moment as the Free Peoples of Middle-earth make a noble stand against the might of Mordor. It begins in a definitely bold stance before gradually giving away to uncertainty and fear.

11. Ugrukhor, Captain of the Pit

Another looped action (boss?) track, Ugrukhor actually does a nice job projecting both a dark and terrible force while still being quite listenable. There’s a pulse to this one, excitement brought in check by the choir and horns.

12. Chant for Sauron

C’mon, with a title like that, you have a good idea of what to expect. It ain’t going to be a kids sing-a-long, that’s for sure. Instead, it’s a noxious and ominous hymn to the big bad. He might be dead, but hearing the voices keen out, “Sauron! Sauron!” is enough to make one’s hairs stand on end.

13. Undoing the Ring of Power

Apart from a hint of the flute (yet again), this track is all serious business. At this point, I may be done with the chanty choir, but for a story scene, this underpins a key moment in ridding Middle-earth of a great evil. Probably should give it a pass.

14. Unleash Terror

OK, this track is about two beats away from being a full-blown Scooby-Doo soundtrack. It’s kind of over-the-top in, again, an old-fashioned sense, and really, I can’t take it very seriously. At least it’s short? That’s damning it with faint praise.

15. Something Evil Rises

I swear I listened to this start to finish three times in a row and ended up with nothing in my notes. Sometimes tracks are like that; they wash in and out of our attention without leaving any impression behind. I’m sure it was evil, though.

16. Ever On

This track came as a complete surprise! It’s a tavern ballad, complete with lyrics and a very enthusiastic soundtrack. I have absolutely no idea where this is supposed to be in the game. The end credits, perhaps? It might be bordering on cheesy, but I really dig the tone and the danceable jig that it covers. At times it sounds like something that would be at home in a 1980s movie, but again, that’s not a black mark in my book.

Every two weeks, the LOTRO Legendarium goes on an adventure (horrid things, those) through the wondrous, terrifying, inspiring, and, well, legendary online world of Middle-earth. Justin has been playing LOTRO since its launch in 2007! If you have a topic for the column, send it to him at justin@massivelyop.com.

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I love the music, Chance. I tend to like darker themes.

I also love the Mordor expansion, the harder start and feeling of progression was great.

I think I may be Evil-Justin.

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While I loved the wroteup and samples, please let me ask the canonical review question: would you recommend buying it?