Jukebox Heroes: The quieter side of Lord of the Rings Online’s soundtrack

    
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Yes, I’m kind of nuts about the Lord of the Rings Online soundtrack. It could be because I’ve played this MMO more than most any other at this point, but I like to think that it’s also due to a really well-done score that does more for world-building than most soundtracks.

Today, I want to share with you exactly why I love this score: for the quiet moments. There are a select few tracks that are nearly ambient but are also perfectly immersive. I can’t help but get kicked in the feels every time one of these comes on, and I know that for years to come I’ll have fond memories of LOTRO¬† whenever I play them. Let’s get a little mellow and hear the whispers of Middle-earth.

“Home from the Hunt”

I have a particular love for these subdued guitar (theorbo?) tracks in LOTRO. It’s not that they’re necessarily catchy, but they are atmospheric as all get out. They speak to me and tell me of older ways and crackling fires in the dark woods. Home from the Hunt is a good example of these types of tracks. It doesn’t need any embellishment or other instruments; it merely sits back and plays out a wordless story of some sort.

“Journeys Long and Cold”

I’m not 100% sure if this is the actual title or not, and to make this selection even stranger, I think it’s one of the housing themes redone with more layers and elements. No matter; we’re here to listen to tunes, and this one is a lullaby for the senses. It’s a little dreamy, a little serene, and even a little sad. What I can’t seem to reconcile is its use in a house, as it doesn’t have the warmth to be a true housing theme. But I could see this as the soundtrack of a beautiful spot of nature — and the trip through it.

“Fields and Valleys”

Now here is a very strange track when you get down to analyzing it. At first listen, it’s a fairly simple jig. But the more you investigate, the harder it is to imagine any sort of dance taking place to this. It’s faded and features eerie bridges that might be more at home in Silent Hill than Middle-earth. Part of me likes this track, while the other part is unnerved by it.

“Archet”

The soundtrack for the destroyed town of Archet is one of the most moving pieces that I’ve heard in the game. The guitar is beautiful, but it’s offset by the jarring accordion, which I think plays to both the life and death of the hamlet. Like many of the tracks we’re hearing today, it’s fairly laid-back as to accentuate the player’s journey instead of impose itself on it.

“The Gray Havens”

You might be forgiven for thinking that this is some ambient CD that a local spa is playing because it certainly starts off sounding like one. But that relaxing, melodic quality is not necessarily a bad thing, nor are the haunting female vocals and the heavier strings that come into play. If I’m not mistaken, this track is telling the story of the Elves leaving Middle-earth, and thus it has both their beauty and departure written into it.

“Whistle Minstrel”

Most MMO soundtracks seem to operate under the theory that if you have rented an orchestra for a day, then you must make full use of all of it. One thing that I appreciate about LOTRO is that it’s not afraid to let a single instrument have a turn at playing out a track, as in this flute piece. I can’t recall hearing it in-game, but it’s unmistakably a LOTRO track, right down to the touch of an echo that keeps it from being too clean a sound.

MMOs are meant to be heard as well as seen, and chances are that music ties your memories to these games more than you might realize. Every two weeks Jukebox Heroes listens through a game soundtrack and picks out the highlights to share and discuss. And if you like this column, then don’t miss the author’s MMO music podcast, Battle Bards!
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