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Medal of Honor Frontline Original Soundtrack :: Review by Simon Elchlepp

Album Title Catalog No.
Medal of Honor Frontline Original Soundtrack Recording 4021920
Medal of Honor Frontline Original Soundtrack iTunes


By the time Medal of Honor: Frontline came rolling in, the Medal of Honor franchise had reached its zenith. Only months before Frontline's 2002 release, the series had successfully expanded to PCs with Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. Being the first Medal of Honor on sixth-generation consoles, Frontline was met with feverish anticipation. Fortunately, it managed to live up to expectations, garnering rave reviews and selling more than six million copies worldwide. Until this day, it remains the best selling Medal of Honor title and is fondly remembered by fans of the franchise.

By 2002, Michael Giacchino's work as a composer had become synonymous with the Medal of Honor franchise. After Giacchino had firmly put his sonic imprint on the series, there was no doubt that he would be brought again on board for Frontline, which would return the focus on Lt. Jimmy Patterson, Medal of Honor's protagonist. Giacchino's involvement would be essential to tying Medal of Honor and Frontline together on a musical level. Working again with the Northwest Sinfonia, Giacchino went on to write his longest Medal of Honor score to date. Different from the score releases of Medal of Honor and Medal of Honor: Underground, the album for Frontline wasn't made available through Amazon, but only through EA Games' online gaming store. As with its predecessors, this physical release would soon go out of print, only to be succeeded by a digital release in 2005. And as on previous Medal of Honor soundtracks, the physical release would contain a mostly superfluous bonus track at the end that the digital release was missing.


The fact that Frontline centred again on the adventures of Jimmy Patterson meant that there would have to be strong musical parallels between the scores for Medal of Honor and Frontline. At the same time, Giacchino's more introspective score for Underground had shown his will to stretch the musical boundaries of the Medal of Honor series and Frontline would continue this trend. Certainly, thematic material from Medal of Honor permeates Frontline's soundtrack and the music is still clearly identifiable as that of a war-themed action game. But there are also important new elements which give Frontline's score its individual character. While Medal of Honor was a celebration of gung-ho heroism and Underground marked a more thoughtful entry into the franchise, Frontline adds a strong sense of emotionality and sorrow that is far removed from Medal of Honor's upbeat sensibilities. And while Allied Assault had already announced Frontline's mix of Medal of Honor's explosive action sound and Underground's more expansive strains, it's this feeling of loss that sets Frontline apart from Allied Assault as well. The result is Giacchino's most developed and mature score for the franchise yet.

The score's "new" main theme demonstrates how Frontline presents familiar musical ideas in a new shape. As per usual for Giacchino's Medal of Honor scores, the main theme is introduced on the album's first track, here called "Operation Market Garden". This theme turns out to be the immortal main theme from Medal of Honor. However, Giacchino has tweaked the theme to give it a more serious sheen that is supposed to mirror Patterson's maturation between the earlier events in the original title and those in Frontline. And not only that, but the main theme is presented in a very different mood then on Medal of Honor. Here, it is first presented by a solo boy soprano against a deep string drone and piercing violin chords in an almost spiritual atmosphere that will return several times throughout the soundtrack. Only later is the theme performed by every patriot's favourite instrument, the trumpets. But even after these have stated the main theme, the track appears almost hesitant to start, as if unable to muster up the will to carry on. As on previous Medal of Honor opening tracks, the main theme is presented in various disguises throughout the piece. But on "Operation Market Garden", these highly emotional and captivating variations are presented as doleful passages for solo instruments such as oboe and violin. The sense of tragedy and gravitas is further heightened through the sounds of a full choir (as opposed to Underground's boy choir). And when the track finally reaches out to the light at the end through an optimistic rendition of the main theme, the composition's enormous emotional pull has become obvious and the soundtrack has started to weave its spell upon the listener.

In its new incarnation, the main theme's greater sense of bereavement results in more effective musical when the theme is quoted throughout the score. Particularly when set against the antagonistic sounds of a frenzied battle tune, the main theme's more emotive nature forms an instantly ear-catching counterpoint. This shift away from Medal of Honor's heroic attitude is easily explained through the fact that the events in Frontline are set during Operation Market Garden, a large-scale Allied airborne attack on the Third Reich's Western front after D-Day. The attack was ultimately unsuccessful and failed to achieve its goal of ending the war in 1944. Giacchino responds to this downbeat subject matter and makes the most of it by turning his accompanying music into a showcase of how much his talents have grown. First of all, he composes a number of subdued tracks that reject both the optimism of Medal of Honor and the colourful romanticism of Underground. But while "Border Town" might sound dreary during its first half, closer inspection reveals how effective its minimalist melodic elements and tense string atmosphere are. And the addition of menacing march elements in the track's second half effectively builds tension before a spirited rendition of the main theme counters the increasing feeling of dismay. "Nijmegen Bridge" takes these emotional contrasts one step further to represent the feelings of the Allied soldiers who had to hold Nijmegen Bridge against the approaching Nazi forces, while waiting in vain for desperately needed reinforcements to arrive. The track's opening is built around a pleading, weary string motif, full of anxiety and premonition. The mood is lifted to a degree when the main theme returns on solo trumpet to provide a glimpse of hope, if not victory though — dissonant violin tremoli that attack the theme at 1:47 never let the listener forget that a happy ending is by no means ensured. In its contrasting elements, "Nijmegen Bridge" is a fascinating and multi-faceted insight into the psyche of the game's characters and does wonders in fleshing them out as three-dimensional characters.

When Giacchino deploys the theatricality that the boy soprano of "Operation Market Garden" had displayed to express the pervasive feeling of agony, it propels the score into the realm of the operatic. Not surprisingly, Giacchino particularly relies on vocal forces to achieve this effect on "After the Drop" and "Arnhem". And it's likely that listeners will come to associate Frontline's score first and foremost with these two pieces — certainly because they're fantastic compositions, but also because in their strikingly melodramatic nature, they wear their heart on their sleeves more than almost any other soundtrack cue in recent memory does. Starting out again with a boy soprano solo, this time against a sparse woodwind accompaniment, "After the Drop" initially sounds peaceful, albeit not in a comforting way. Instead, the vocal solo and the full-bodied string adagio that sets in later are a haunting commemoration of the lives that have been lost. The piece is an impassionate plea for peace and has a gravely anthemic quality that breaks new territory not only for the Medal of Honor franchise, but for war-themed video games in general. It's the full choir that carries these pieces to their emotional heights, but "Arnhem" manages to crank up the intensity even more to absolutely heart-rending effect. Based on a gently rocking, almost lullaby-like four-note motif that makes the music's mournful demeanour all the more touching, "Arnhem" is a stunning creation that will leave all but the most hardened listeners moved to tears. The opening boy soprano solo, accompanied by a string dirge, segues into a massive choral outburst that injects the composition with a most stirring feeling of defiance against all odds. The choir isn't 100% precise at 2:36 and 3:33, and the piece is hardly subtle, but its emotional impact is so overwhelming that this hardly matters. The grandiose nature of the whole soundtrack and these two cues in particular are served perfectly by an orchestral sound that's more dynamic and resonant than on previous Medal of Honor scores, due to being recorded in a Seattle cathedral.

Giacchino's increasing musical maturity and his compositional confidence are also mirrored in his approach to writing the score's action music, which takes over on the album's second half. On both Medal of Honor and Underground, Giacchino's compositions could mostly be comfortably separated into action cues and mood-building pieces. Sure, there was the occasional overlap, but in no way to the degree that these two musical categories are blurred on Frontline. Nowhere is this better demonstrated on "The Rowhouses", which reprises the brutal tank motif from Medal of Honor. One wouldn't guess this from the track's beginning though: after some snappy march elements, an almost jolly section for a jaunty oboe motif comes bouncing along. Only at 2:20 do timpani and cymbal crashes lead into the reprise of the tank material and it sounds more massive in sound than ever before, enhanced by beautifully recorded anvil strikes. Set against this spectacular orchestral onslaught, the main theme is stretched to its limits on brass and can hardly hold its own against the panzer motif's force. Equally, "Clipping Their Wings" is more multi-faceted in mood and orchestration than many earlier Medal of Honor cues. It opens with a beguiling viola solo that is followed by an emotional string passage, before building into a boisterous march that until then is by far the most patriotic composition.

This more pronounced change in dynamics and moods within a composition mean that the cues on Frontline are less immediate than their rambunctious counterparts on Medal of Honor, which hit the ground running at full speed. But this development means there's also a more pronounced dramatic pull and release that makes the occasions when the music goes into fortissimo territory all the more exciting. On Frontline, there are easily more things to discover during repeat listens and more musical layers to peel away than on previous Medal of Honor scores. And it should come as no surprise that Giacchino is skilled enough to shape his compositions so that they always sustain interest, no matter how loud or thickly orchestrated the music might be or not. Not only is there not one filler to be found on this score — more than that, not a single minute is wasted. Never before has Giacchino written such perfectly self-contained compositions like "The Halftrack Chase" that play like musical mini-dramas which run the complete gamut of orchestral colours. The score's greater musical variety is also the result of the cues' enhanced orchestrations — be it the aforementioned choral forces and anvil strikes, or the woodwind flourishes at the beginning of "Shipyard of Lorient" and the music box at 1:58 into "Manor House Rally" — all of them perfectly integrated into the compositions' flow. Particularly the woodwind get to play a bigger role during Frontline's action material than on either Medal of Honor or Underground. The greater mix of ambiances within the compositions also results in a better album flow, since the music no longer swings back and forth between the two extremes of full-on battle music and subdued understatement. Instead, it's a kaleidoscopic, yet coherent tapestry of sounds and atmospheres.

On Medal of Honor, it had clearly been the Nazi theme that dominated the score with its brute force. On Frontline, it's interestingly the main theme that is heard most often, despite the fact that the game is based on a military attack that ended in defeat for the Allied troops that are represented by this theme. Then again, this seeming contradiction is mitigated somewhat by the fact that the theme and its many renditions aren't statements of victorious breakthroughs and instead form a more shaded counterpoint to the darkness and frenzy surrounding it. In any case, the once mighty Nazi theme plays only a minor role on Frontline. It does make occurrences on "Manor House Rally", "Thuringer Wald Express" and "Sturmgeist's Armored Train", but these are brief and are interspersed to create thematic ties between this soundtrack and Medal of Honor rather than to actually shape the music. In its place is a new theme for the game's antagonist, SS baron Rudolf von Sturmgeist. Keeping in line with the music's increasingly varied overall nature, Sturmgeist's theme is a lot more malleable than Medal of Honor's harsh Nazi fanfare. The theme makes its first appearance on "Kleveburg", where it's presented as an ominous, rather slithery melody on woodwind, creating a sense of unease through its pronounced chromaticism. For most of the soundtrack, it still takes second place to the main theme and the sub-motifs many of the tracks are based on. But the closer the player gets to hunting down Sturmgeist, the more often do we hear his distinct theme. "Thuringer Wald Express" states the melody on almost whiny brass that make it sound more conniving than menacing. But even in this particular rendition, the theme is still ear-catching and imbued with a greater sense of personality than the more rigid Nazi theme. "Sturmgeist's Armored Train" then fully capitalises on the theme's mad scientist sensibilities and features it on choir, its hysterical over-the-top bombast absolutely delicious. The track also answers the question many of Giacchino's fans would have been asking since Medal of Honor: what would happen if the composer added a full choir to his already rousing action tracks? The answer is simple: the music would be just as awe-inspiring as one could hope for.

The album's penultimate track, "Escaping Gotha", then does a fantastic job at incorporating all of the score's three primary themes and combines them with another sub-motif that's exclusive to this piece into one formidable seven-minute epic. Opening with the album's most frantic violin material, "Escaping Gotha" flows perfectly and reworks its themes in impressive fashion without ever losing focus. This amazingly dense web of thematic and orchestral layers is capped off towards the end by a slowed down rendition of Sturmgeists' theme on choir, finally rising to truly imposing heights when pitted against snare drums and a relentless, descending violin figure. The resulting wall of sound is even more grandiose than on "Sturmgeist's Armored Train" and so the following recapitulation of the main theme, finally heard on unadulteratedly triumphant trumpets, feels all the more cathartic. This time, victory was hard earned, but nonetheless has arrived at last. As on Medal of Honor, the album's closing bonus track is well composed, but stylistically too much at odds with the preceding material. The rich pastoral orchestral sound of "The Songless Nightingale" and its melody for male choir are attractive and reminiscent of dignified romantic British choral music. But after seventy minutes of high drama, these idyllic strains can't help but feel out of place.


There's no denying that Medal of Honor and Medal of Honor: Underground had set the bar for Giacchino's following Medal of Honor scores very high. It's with immense pleasure then that the listener realises that Giacchino has surpassed even these superb previous works of his. Adding an unmistakable air of tragedy to the proceedings while refining his orchestral approach, Giacchino creates what is no doubt the most operatic and emotional of all Medal of Honor scores. "After The Drop" and "Arnhem", with their dramatic vocal elements and heart-breaking melodies, will be reason enough for many score fans to pick this album up. But more than that, Giacchino's increasing compositional sophistication allows him to write an album chock full of fully-realised compositions that are perfectly developed. Thematically, Medal of Honor: Frontline impresses as well, with a clever tweaking of the original Medal of Honor theme and a characterful, versatile new theme for the game's villain. That fact that both themes appear in more varied and colourful shapes throughout the score than the equivalent themes on previous Medal of Honor soundtracks demonstrates the striking richness of Frontline's score. Its theatricality might be too much for some, but for most listeners, Medal of Honor: Frontline will be an instant classic.

Overall Score: 10/10