Eminence Symphony Orchestra have made a name for themselves with their soundtrack-centered live concerts and their contributions to titles like Odin Sphere and Soul Calibur IV. For their first dedicated studio album, "Echoes of War", they've teamed with Blizzard Entertainment to give the publisher's three flagship series the full orchestral treatment.
Given the series' massive popularity it's no surprise to see Warcraft at the forefront of the compilation. Its arrangements suffer no shortage of orchestral and choral bombast, but they stay a little too faithful to genre and only occasionally offer anything unexpected. In fact they're at their most potent when they're at their most subdued, as in the slightly eccentric intro to "Eternity's End" and the wistful cello solos in "Anar'alah Belore".
Disc two's Starcraft arrangements provide a well-timed change in tone from traditional orchestral fantasy to rock-symphonic space opera. "No Matter the Cost" is a hard-rock thrasher in orchestral guise - rock percussion set a contemporary yet dramatic tone, while the orchestra deftly handles rhythm and lead in the most immediately striking track of the album. The most ambitious in scope is the operatic "Eradicate and Evolve", with orchestra, Middle Eastern female vocals, tenor solo, and a bombastic choir all up to the task. Electronic tweaks are added sparingly but to mostly great effect, particularly in its dramatic sci-fi finale.
Starcraft's two standout tracks also demonstrate an internal inconsistency found in many of the album's individual arrangements. The seemingly unstoppable "No Matter the Cost" gets dragged down by a melodramatic piano solo so abrupt and out of out place it sounds as if it were recorded separately, while the otherwise impressive electronic effects in "Eradicate and Evolve" are marred by a couple of cheap stutter and pitch-up effects. The same inconsistency works in a more favorable direction at times. Though Warcraft's "Journey to Kalimdor" and "A Tenuous Pact" are unremarkable for a good part of their duration, they both finish with rousing climaxes that make one reluctant to skip over the tracks entirely. It sounds at times as if the sort of quick-approach, high-impact music heard in Hollywood movie trailers has been scattered liberally about to keep things interesting, but not patterned together into a cohesive whole.
The Diablo suite marks a return to fantasy form, but with a darker tone than the Warcraft suites and with less adherence to traditional orchestration, as evidenced by the progressive rock overtones in "The Eternal Conflict". Ko Otani (of Shadow of the Colossus fame) stars as guest arranger in "Children of the Worldstone" and as composer in the original bonus track "Last Angel". The former demonstrates Otani's aptitude for utilizing sheer orchestral power (with some well-implemented electric guitar to boot), while the latter is cut from the same precise mold as his somber Colossus compositions. Both arrangements prominently feature bizarre, perturbed female vocals which, though passable in the first track, wear very thin in the second.
Both the Eminence Symphony Orchestra and the accompanying chorus never falter in their performances and in quieter moments especially they excel, though the latter could use a few more voices at times. The main problem with the chorus is it's frequently used in places where the orchestra alone would be more effective, and begins to sound trite as a consequence.
Echoes of War doesn't have any truly must-hear works in their entirety (with a couple of questionable content decisions ruling out the closest contenders), but almost every track has at least a segment or two appealing enough to make it worth the listen. Consider the release a trio of mini-albums - not the best for instant gratification, nor necessarily warranting a complete listen through, but good for separate thirty-minute orchestral excursions into sci-fi or fantasy. Fans of Blizzard's music will no doubt appreciate the treatment familiar series themes have received, and I can think of a few series I would love to see Eminence target for their next endeavor.