Monday, February 12, 2018

This article originally appeared on Laser Time, November 24, 2015.  This is my original, unaltered version.

7 Soundtracks inspired by books



We live in a world filled with countless soundtracks available to us: soundtracks based on movies, TV shows, video games, and Broadway musicals. But soundtracks based on books? Those things with words written on paper? Well, those are rare indeed. Here is a list of six soundtracks that nail the difficult task of translating books into music. As for the seventh entry, well... you'll see.

“Music Inspired by The Life and Times of Scrooge”
by Tuomas Holopainen
Based on: “The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck” by Don Rosa

Tuomas Holopainen is the keyboardist and lead songwriter for the Finnish metal band Nightwish, and though that juggernoght of a band has constantly kept him busy, he had long wanted to produce an album based on the Scrooge McDuck comic – a book he claims as his favorite story of all time. The album, released in 2014, is not a metal album in the style of Nightwish, but more of a traditional orchestral score, with some vocals. The music is tremendous. An epic tale of sweeping melodies that puts even the most grand Hollywood movie score to shame.

“Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire”
by Joel McNeely
Based on: “Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire” by Steve Perry

In 1996, Lucasfilm launched a hugely successful Star Wars expanded universe story called Shadows of the Empire. Set between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, the book was only the beginning. The project also spawned a series of action figures, a Nintendo 64 video game, a comic by Dark Horse, and its very own soundtrack. Joel McNeely was personally selected by John Williams to take on the project. McNeely may not be a household name, but he's definitely no slouch and is a very accomplished composer in his own right.

The music score is outstanding. The production quality is right up there with an proper Star Wars film soundtrack. There are elements of classic Star Wars themes, but the score is largely original, and yet it fits in perfectly to the Star Wars universe. This soundtrack sounds like it belongs to an early 80s sci-fi adventure that was never made.

“Nightfall in Middle Earth”
by Blind Guardian
Based on: “The Silmarillion” by J. R. R. Tolkien

Blind Guardian is a German band widely considered to be the king of the genre called Power Metal – a style of metal that is highly melodic with a larger than life style of epic, bombastic music. Many European metal bands feature fantasy themes, but Blind Guardian's 1998 album is the only one of its kind: a full length concept album based entirely on a book that is neck-deep in Tolkien mythology. Blind Guardian's massive, wall of sound approach to music comes roaring to life on this album, punctuated by the band's incredibly technical musicianship and lead singer Hansi Kürsch's insane, harmony drenched vocals.

“Fear and Bullets”
by Trust Obey
Base on: “The Crow” by James O'barr

Trust Obey's Fear and Bullets was released in 1994 as a companion piece to a special edition of James O'Barr's classic graphic novel, and timed to ride the wave of publicity based on the movie's release that same year. Trust Obey was the brainchild of artist and musician John Bergin, friend of James O'Barr.

Fear and Bullets is a harsh, dark, industrial gothic take on O'Barr's highly stylized tale of revenge. Though it is not directly related to the movie, the album works as a companion to it as well as the book. Trust Obey later signed onto Trent Reznor's record label and only produced one other album, but it wouldn't be John Bergin's last appearance on this list.

"Traitor General”
by John Bergin
Based on: “Traitor General” by Dan Abnett

Based in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, Traitor General was part of a fifteen(!) book series called Gaunt's Ghosts. I can't begin to make heads or tails of Warhammer, but I can tell you that this album seems to be crazy obscure, as I couldn't find a single listing for it on Amazon or eBay (though the entire album is on Youtube). I can also tell you that this music is a perfect fit for the Warhammer brand: dark, brooding, intense, and uncompromising.

Out of the roughly 10,000 books set in the Warhammer expanded universe, why they made a soundtrack based on this one book, god only knows, but it is worth checking out.

“The Dark Saga”
by Iced Earth
Based on: “Spawn” by Todd McFarlane

Iced Earth is arguably second only to Blind Guardian for Power Metal royalty. Both bands were hugely instrumental in popularizing the genre in the 90s. Iced Earth, however, always had more of a thrash metal edge to their music, which is fitting when it comes to this album. The Dark Saga is a retelling of the classic Spawn story in a way that only makes sense: through dark, brutal, heavy metal.

This album isn't Iced Earth's best work, but it is a showcase for what they are very good at: these guys love concept albums, and Spawn is a perfect fit into their style, which always leaned more towards sci-fi than fantasy.

“Space Jazz”
by L. Ron Hubbard and others
Based on: “Battlefield Earth” by L. Ron Hubbard

You are not going insane. Yes, it's true: You just read the words “Space Jazz, based on Battlefield Earth.” Released in 1982, along with the book, Space Jazz was touted as the first ever soundtrack for a book. L. Ron Hubbard is credited as the composer, but it is believed that his project partners did most of the real work. If you're into jazz, you might recognize some of the guest performers like Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke. It is surprisingly hard to track down audio clips from this oddity; there are only a couple tracks you can find on YouTube, and, well, it's jazz all right.

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