The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Howard Shore

" 4 Discs to rule us all "

Written by Thomas Glorieux - Review of the collector's edition

When it was announced that complete editions would be released of the LOTR saga, one name stood out as the most interesting one of the three, namely The Return of the King. The epic finale, the magical conclusion, the final battle between good and evil, the moment when finally everybody showed what they were made of. It is the conclusion that captured all our hearts and made it a legendary never to forget experience, both visually and musically. And so this album felt more interesting and better because the music was about to show all that through notes, motifs, themes, finales. However one CD wasn't able to capture that, one soundtrack couldn't deliver this arsenal of climaxes due to the simple fact most of the music still needed to be recorded, or expanded. And so favorite moments of some were lost, only to resurface on the edition that would tear down Sauron once and for all.

Consisting of 4 CD's instead of 3, The Return of the King is a mammoth edition covering all the right bonuses of the previous two. The entire music of the expanded editions, the score on a separate DVD audio for your ultimate listening pleasure and a booklet covering too much info and detail to swallow all at once. It is how complete editions should treat their fans. And of course musically Howard Shore gives you his last answer to all you fans out there, to all you people that thought he wasn't able to give this epic tale this epic answer. I admit that I was one of them, but now I am a believer that Howard Shore has written the finest music for a trilogy since Star Wars and one John Williams.

Interestingly, we open with a calmer footnote than The Two Towers began. In "Roots and Beginnings" a variation on Sauron's theme is duly noted, followed closely by suspenseful music (when Smeagul murders his friend for the ring). However a sad absentee during this moment is the absorbing vocal music for the change of Gollum. This was such a spine tingling effect in the movie that it is sad we don't discover it here.

"The Road to Isengard" presents us with a fraction of the fellowship theme, but more importantly with a horn stating the Minas Tirith theme. The grace alone of these 2 themes together is a gift for your ears. The sinister Uruk-Hai sound stating Saruman's presence in "The Foot of Orthanc", the solo hardinger fiddle stating the theme of Rohan in "Return to Edoras", Eowyn's theme in "The Chalice Passed", the seductive Gollum theme in "Gollum's Villainy" and the reprise of Eowyn's theme in "Eowyn's Dream", Howard Shore states all the characters through motifs and feel.

The same for the seductive usage of Sauron's theme in "The Palantir". But the score truly becomes alive when we move to Minas Tirith. The soaring beauty of Shadowfax's theme in "Flight from Edoras" is as graceful as it was in The Two Towers. And what about the nobility and love during "The Grace of Undómiel"? The solo vocal for Arwen, the forming of the sword, the statement of that powerful Minas Tirith theme, it all glides through your veins like pure blood. But wait, there is more!

"A Coronal of Silver and Gold" is a mind boggler of seduction, emotion and mental strength. When the choir joins the trip you're into a world dominated by Howard Shore. The scary music of the Wraiths and Nazgul are just the tip of the iceberg, and when "The Lighting of the Beacons" begins to form, you'll experience the wonder and heroism of a singular theme put into motion by the mere tool of fire.

For CD 2, we don't have to wait long for another knock out momentum. In "Osgiliath Invaded" the dark threatening build up is heightened by the presence of the Orks. This in contrast with the fellowship and Minas Tirith statements representing the defending army of Faramir. This battle continues until the vocal wonder joins the fight, culminating into one emotional roller coaster ride.

The mood after that becomes quite sinister and heavy, covered in a pool of suspense during a ring theme statement in "The Stairs of Cirith Ungol". The emotional sorrow of "The Sacrifice of Faramir" is heightened by the use of light choir, a noble statement of the Minas Tirith theme and the appropriate song of Pippin.

"The Parting of Sam and Frodo" is a scene full of heartbreak, showing the puppeteer at work with Gollum's theme and the hobbit theme. A variation of the Rohan theme in "Marshalling at Dunharrow", the heroism of the forming of the sword during "Andúril / Flame of the West", Eowyn's violin theme during "The Passing of the Grey Company", ..., even in the so called lighter tracks Shore continues to bring forth depth and detail so easily you can get lost in them.

And Shore knows how to sum up the heroism, even for a brief time with the Rohan theme in "Master Meriadoc, Swordthain". Intertwined between all this heroism is "The Paths of the Dead", showing a lot of eerie music growing to a climax. But that climax is for "The Siege of Gondor" because here is where Shore shows you how every musical encore is molded together. A burdensome Minas Tirith statement, evil choir, a marching encore growing on the rhythm of the Uruk-Hai music, Shore delivers what needs to be brought of threatening action music.

And yet it is not the pinnacle moment of this disc's brilliance. Because "Shelob's Lair" is simply so much better. This is probably one of the most brilliant tracks ever written. Sinister pace and powerful intelligence show you fear in a melodic design, bringing Shelob's appetite and Frodo's fear to life.

The second part surrounding Shelob comes during "Shelob the Great". It's lightly more heroic in tone, especially during the great fellowship theme statements (watch out for those amazing horns). Considering now the heroes are trying to do the impossible, the music is also beginning to sound a lot more heroic. Because the battle is about to begin, leaving room for the hardinger fiddle to unleash the necessary pace during "The Battle of the Pelenor Fields". The vocal shining over a choral growing mass during "The Pyre of Denethor" is amazing as well.

The aggressive "Dernhelm in Battle" and the first sign of the grey haven's theme in "A Far Green Country" are the foreboding of another excellent track, namely "Shieldmaiden of Rohan". Here outstanding fanfares and choral moments join the show, including a frantic middle and heroic ending. The sorrowful soft "The Passing of Théoden" is a spiritual goodbye to a great king, expanded through "The House of Healing", sung by Arwen. The Mount Doom mood dwells over the ending of "The Tower of Cirith Ungol" and the bleak scary music of the Uruk-Hai theme during "The Land of Shadow" show us that our heroes have crossed the point of no return. And this is shown through the music, as Shore pulls out all the stops.

During "The Mouth of Sauron" a marching percussion tempo of the Minas Tirith theme unleashes the Fellowship theme in full force. A flute let's your emotion soar until choir picks up that emotion, using the Grey Haven's theme to send you to LOTR heaven. This track is simply put magnificent.

But of course one track will have sprung into the minds when they saw it on the tracklisting. And my god have we awaited it. "For Frodo" is the pinnacle of Shore's journey. From the moment we heard the Fellowship theme for the first time, we wanted it to receive the best version at the end of the battle. And Shore understood this all too well because what was missing has now been corrected. The final battle holds the Fellowship theme with assistance of choir and boy oh boy does it sell this disc's finale.

Cd 4 opens with suspenseful strings showing it hasn't ended quite yet. In "Mount Doom" Sauron's theme is lurking around the corner and this is interwoven magnificently in the ring theme, bringing forth 2 motifs into 1. The choir then unleashes the end of mankind and hope, .... until "The Crack of Doom" resurrects itself with a variation with choir of the Grey Haven's theme and a most stunning choral variation of Sauron's theme. I can't possibly begin to express how Shore could paint so much difference in such a violent theme and make it resolute. And watch out for that choral finale, ready to blow you away.

Luckily, the end of the story is a soft one. As it would be considering evil has been defeated for now. The soft Grey Haven's theme whispers during "The Eagles" through the assistance of the angelic singing of Renée Fleming, "The Fellowship Reunited" brings forth the soft happy versions of the Hobbits and Fellowship theme, the tranquil beauty of the Hobbits and Grey Haven's theme is noted during "The Journey to the Grey Havens" and a proper resolution with the song and themes is for "Days of the Ring".

In the end, you can't possibly begin to understand how much work went into the LOTR saga. The director's vision, the actor's understanding, the detail of weaponry, the wizardry of the special effects, the emotion of the music, ... Everything surrounding LOTR is top notch and now all 3 scores have seen their release worthy of that quality. The Fellowship of the Ring proved to deliver some smaller but gorgeous moments, The Two Towers threw more dark and heroic highlights on the fire and The Return of the King gave us a Fellowship theme with choir. In mere understanding the saga has now been completed with music that is above 99% of what's being written today. If a saga can bring us so many themes, so many highlights and a composer's unique voice, you will begin to understand that LOTR will live on forever, in Middle Earth and in your heart.


Disk One: 57.36
1. Roots and Beginnings (6.31)
2. Journey to the Crossroads (2.17)
3. The Road to Isengard (2.18)
4. The Foot of Orthanc (4.45)
5. Return to Edoras (1.51)
6. The Chalice Passed (1.51)
7. The Green Dragon * (0.35)
8. Gollum's Villainy (2.10)
9. Éowyn's Dream (1.24)
10. The Palantir (3.10)
11. Flight from Edoras (2.18) Excellent track
12. The Grace of Undómiel + (6.21) Excellent track
13. The Eyes of the White Tower (4.34)
14. A Coronal of Silver and Gold (8.27) Excellent track
15. The Lighting of the Beacons (9.03) Excellent track

Disk Two: 66.09
1. Osgiliath Invaded ++ (8.47) Excellent track
2. The Stairs of Cirith Ungol (2.41)
3. Allegiance to Denethor (3.20)
4. The Sacrifice of Faramir ** (4.08) Excellent track
5. The Parting of Sam and Frodo (4.04)
6. Marshalling at Dunharrow (4.57)
7. Andúril / Flame of the West (3.28)
8. The Passing of the Grey Company (4.12)
9. Dwimoberg / The Haunted Mountain (2.26)
10. Master Meriadoc, Swordthain (1.40) Excellent track
11. The Paths of the Dead (6.22)
12. The Siege of Gondor (9.01) Excellent track
13. Shelob's Lair (8.53) Excellent track
14. Merry's Simple Courage (2.09)

Disk Three: 59.51
1. Grond ~ The Hammer of the Underworld (1.33)
2. Shelob the Great (5.13) Excellent track
3. The Tomb of the Stewards (3.58)
4. The Battle of the Pelennor Fields (4.10) Excellent track
5. The Pyre of Denethor (2.59) Excellent track
6. The Mûmakil (0.57)
7. Dernhelm in Battle (2.06)
8. "A Far Green Country" (1.28)
9. Shieldmaiden of Rohan (5.07) Excellent track
10. The Passing of Théoden (2.16)
11. The House of Healing +++ (2.58) Excellent track
12. The Tower of Cirith Ungol (4.41)
13. The Last Debate *** (4.21)
14. The Land of Shadow (6.30)
15. The Mouth of Sauron ++++ (8.15) Excellent track
16. "For Frodo" ++ (3.17) Excellent track

Disk Four: 46.02
1. Mount Doom + (4.09) Excellent track
2. The Crack of Doom (4.02) Excellent track
3. The Eagles + (2.24)
4. The Fellowship Reunited ++++ / **** / + (12.18) Excellent track
5. The Journey to the Grey Havens ++++ (7.35)
6. Elanor ++++ (1.28)
7. Days of the Ring ***** (11.10) Excellent track
8. Bilbo's Song + (2.57)

* featuring Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan
** featuring "The Edge of Night" performed by Billy Boyd
*** featuring "Asëa Aranion", performed by Sissel
**** featuring Viggo Mortensen
***** featuring "Into the West", performed by Annie Lenox
+ featuring Renée Fleming
++ featuring Ben Del Maestro
+++ featuring Liv Tyler
++++ featuring Sir James Galway
(click to rate this score)  
(total of 57 votes - average 4.75/5)

Released by

Reprise Records 091207-300 (regular release 2006)

Conducted & Orchestrated by

Howard Shore

Performed by

The London Philharmonic Orchestra, The London Voices & The London Oratory School Schola