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LABEL Sparks & Shadows
RUNNING TIME 157 minutes
Bear McCreary is working his ass off. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, you probably won’t be for much longer. He’s currently scoring The Walking Dead, Da Vinci’s Demons (for which he won an Emmy), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Black Sails (Starz’s upcoming Treasure Island prequel series), and a couple of film projects, to boot. I first heard his music while watching Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and soon learned that his scoring career had been jump started by The Sci-Fi Channel’s acclaimed reboot of Battlestar Galactica. His frequent use of Middle Eastern instruments, richly orchestrated strings, rock influences, and taiko-style percussion lent the series a distinct flavor. McCreary then went on to score Caprica (the BSG prequel series) and much of Eureka. It came as no surprise that The Sci-Fi Channel (now rebranded as Syfy) called upon McCreary to score their latest attempt at an original cross-platform franchise, Defiance.
Defiance is unabashedly sci-fi, set in the future, where humans on a re-terraformed Earth are making an effort to live in peace with multiple alien races (most of whom look eerily like humans with funny noses and foreheads). Defiance is the brainchild of Rockne S. O’Bannon (creator of Alien Nation, Seaquest DSV, and Farscape), screenwriter Kevin Murphy, and screenwriter Michael Taylor (Star Trek Voyager & Deep Space Nine, Caprica). The show is an obvious mash-up, proudly displaying steampunk and Firefly-esque space western influences, not to mention a few choice ideas from the developers’ previous shows.
Defiance was quite a gamble: launch a bold, original, expensive, sci-fi show AND a complex tie-in MMORPG just weeks apart. For the most part, Syfy’s gamble appears to have paid off. I must confess that I’ve not seen the show or played Trion Worlds’ game. The game hasn’t gotten great reviews, but a second season of the show has been ordered by Syfy, so I guess Defiance fans have a reason to cheer. That aside, let’s talk about the music.
This deluxe edition soundtrack consists of two discs: the first contains songs and score from the show, the second contains music from the game. The music from the show is a mix of score, original songs written as diegetic music in the show, and (oddly enough) a cover of an 80’s pop hit. McCreary’s trademarks are all present: lush string arrangements, middle eastern instruments, pounding rhythms, and a lack of brass (trumpets, horns, trombones, etc.), but Defiance is much more outwardly electronic than a lot of his other work. Much of the tribal drums that became so characteristic of BSG have been replaced or augmented with hard-hitting, distorted drum machines. McCreary’s punchy, glitched-out drum work is very reminiscent of Celldweller, whose driving rock-dubstep is used in a ton of trailers. There’s also a distinct dubstep influence to the sonic palette of Defiance. In addition to the drums, there’s plenty of pulsing synth bass and distorted, wailing synth accents, but it never goes into full Skrillex territory.
Any good show needs a good main theme, and Defiance has a really good one. Similar to his main title theme from The Walking Dead, Defiance’s theme features a thrumming, arpeggiated string motif. It’s catchy, and very easily identifiable. The theme is featured prominently throughout the soundtrack, appearing in six different tracks on the first disc alone. The first disc in the set is a mixed bag: the score tracks are great, but the more traditionally structured songs written to appear in the show are mostly silly and repetitive. One such example is Flirting with Disaster, which is five minutes and thirty-six seconds of repetitive and inane lyrics over steel-string acoustic guitar and intermittent wub-wub stuff. Several of the songs for the show even feature lyrics in Defiance’s alien languages. Terraform My Heart is a weird, Peter Gabriel scented pop-funk tune with verses sung in Irathient, which to my untrained ear sounds pretty freakin’ silly. Not all of the songs should be skipped, though: Baby Blue is a cute little jazz tune, featuring Bear’s brother Brendan McCreary on vocals, accompanied by a tasteful jazz trio. Bear’s wife, Raya Yarbrough, sings a pretty damn solid cover of Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time. Both Brendan and Raya are featured several more times on the album.
Disc Two, the music from the video game, is much more consistent in terms of quality, but that consistency is somewhat damning because most of the tracks sound a bit too similar. Most of these twenty-two tracks are battle music, featuring the same pounding electronic drums from the show, chugging distorted guitar, and aggressive synths. McCreary’s use of Middle Eastern instruments seems heavier in the game soundtrack, which adds some interesting variety. Instruments like the duduk (a clarinet-like instrument) and santoor (a type of hammered dulcimer) make a few welcome appearances on this disc. There’s even some interesting shades of space western in the track Ninety-Niners when a mandolin and a scorching fiddle solo show up.
The music of Defiance clearly shows McCreary’s strongest asset: the ability to craft an identifiable signature sound for a franchise. It shares some obvious similarities with BSG, but the more apparent use of electronic elements sets it apart. If you’re a fan of Defiance or the composer, I’d suggest picking this up if you haven’t already bought the albums when they were released separately. Let it be noted, however, that the original release of the game soundtrack contains two additional tracks. I’m not sure why they were cut from this deluxe edition. For the true completists, those two tracks (Sausalito, The Volge) are available on the iTunes Music Store.
- Before the Votans
- Welcome to Defiance
- Baby Blue
- Lost to the River
- Kalagyi Anaila Kaziri
- Votan Romance
- Theme from Defiance (Extended Version)
Out of a Possible 5 Stars