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RIFT: Harmony of the Planes by Inon Zur (Review)

posted Jan 2, 2013, 6:43 PM by christian@filmmusicmedia.com

Inon Zur is one of my favorite video game music composers. Honestly, I’ve been a huge fan of his for much longer than I’ve been aware. Around nine years ago I first heard his work on Champions of Norrath, followed soon after by Champions: Return to Arms and Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows. He’s continued since then to become one of the video game industry’s most respected artists, with such titles to his credit as the Fallout and Dragon Age series, and my personal favorite of his, the score for Lord of the Rings: War In the North. Zur’s score for RIFT: Harmony of the Planes, though somewhat of a compilation of tracks culled from the RIFT game and its expansions, is still an excellent example of the quality of work we’ve come to expect from Zur.

Since RIFT’s score isn’t complete in this 17-track release, it’s difficult to locate a unifying theme or recurrence of thematic material therein. However, sounds reminiscent of Zur’s legacy works present themselves often, as do those of similar industry scores, perhaps based upon nothing aside from a similarly epic and fantasy-style structure and sound. Leadoff track “RIFT Title Theme,” for example, immediately displays elements of Pinar Toprak’s title theme from Ninety-Nine Nights, including twinkling keys, orchestral flair, and female vocals aside a burgeoning coalescence of instrumentation. Tracks like “Silverwood” and “Freemarch” fondly recall the respective calm and calamitous moments of Lord of the Rings: War In the North, as do numerous others; part of the excitement of the score is how Zur shifts between these two juxtaposing elements so frequently and smoothly. Some of the tracks’ slower moments accompany flowing nostalgia, containing motes of Champions: Return to Arms and simultaneously such titles as Joe Lyford’s overlooked Gauntlet: Dark Legacy, albeit with much more orchestral aplomb and film-like structure. “Iron Pine Peak” wouldn’t sound at all out of place on Jesper Kyd’s awesome Darksiders 2 score, integrating piano, roaming and wonderful flute passages, and background female vocals just barely bubbling to the surface amid the track’s excitement-filled peaks and windswept, forlorn valleys.

Another one of RIFT’s most prevalent elements is that of the percussion. It’s used often and without respite during the more heart-pounding sequences, not unpleasantly so, and often paces the more tranquil pieces with more of a tribal or ethnic feel. This utilization of percussive forays isn’t unexpected of Zur, as Lord of the Rings: War In the North illustrated, and frequently brings to mind Dynamedion’s score for Sacred 2: Fallen Angel given more color and teeming with life. “Gloamwood” contains small bursts of bass-driven percussion and vocal interplay, “Scarlet Gorge” plays on the success of War In the North, oozing cautious and flitting drums with male choral vocals and bass horns, and “Moonshade Highlands,” though beginning with muted tones of strings and horns, soon introduces militaristic percussion as its intent grows to a tumultuous cacophony before closing on the same drifting notes on which it started.

Overall, in spite of the numerous reminders the score prompted to my ears, Zur has created a work with its own identity here, but maybe as a result of not having included the complete RIFT catalog in this assembly of tracks, said identity likely will not translate to long-term memory or emotional resonance once RIFT is over. Inon Zur’s RIFT: Harmony of the Planes is well worth checking out for a fan of any of the aforementioned works, and certainly recommended to fans of Zur’s past compositions, serving as a fine companion piece to his wonderful Lord of the Rings: War In the North score. However, it’s difficult to see this album becoming a success in its own right, given that it only contains a handful of what RIFT may have to offer, but that being said, it’s a great addition to the Zur catalog.