The final chapter of BioWare's epic space trilogy Mass Effect shook things in the music department. Series' music lead Jack Wall left the series for undisclosed reasons and was replaced by a five-person ensemble team. Prolific film composer Clint Mansell created the main theme for the soundtrack, while series' regular Sam Hulick and three composers for the series' downloadable content returned to create the rest. Coordinated by BioWare's audio directors, the team offered a mixture of continuity and change throughout the soundtrack. Though much of the Mass Effect 3's soundtrack stays faithful to the series' founding sound, it has a more modern cinematic feel overall and a much more dramatic emphasis. Electronic Arts released a digital soundtrack for the title. It was initially available to those who purchased the collector's edition of the game, complete with two bonus tracks, and was later released for wider audiences.
Contrary to the hype and to the disappointment of his fans, Clint Mansell produced a mere two minutes of music for the soundtrack. His one cue entitled "Leaving Earth" is nevertheless likely to be remembered, since it sets the scene for Mass Effect 3 so beautifully. Its basis is minimalistic, a progression of four chords on solo piano. Upon this pensive backing, a succession of divergent figures make their entry: an ephemeral three note descant once again on piano, some loud interjections from Inception-styled brass, and, eventually, a much more elaborate and gushing passage led by strings. The forces come together to capture all the aspects of the Mass Effect 3 experience: personal yet alien, dreamy yet dark, understated yet dramatic. Most of the stylistic ideas featured here are revisited elsewhere on the soundtrack by the other composers in some shape or form. In addition, the theme is reflected on in full during the finale, "An End, Once and For All"; here, Sam Hulick presents a melancholy piano improvisation of the melody that develops towards a shocking and sudden finish. While brief in length, such cues are so deep and emotional that they're certainly worthy of bringing the saga towards its climax.
The team preserve the emotional intensity of the leading tracks throughout the soundtrack. Compared to previous series' scores, Christopher Lennertz leans closer to Hollywood convention with militaristic cinematic cues such as "A Future for the Krogan" and "Stand Strong, Stand Together". But even such cues are taken beyond the ordinary thanks to their engaging melodies and magical touches. He was particularly wise to bring Lisbeth Scott into the production her gliding voice provides a centrepiece to such cues and brings so much humanity to the character Eve. Cris Velasco and Sascha Dikiciyan meanwhile contribute much more ambient material to the soundtrack such as "Prothean Beacon", "The Ardat Yakshi", and "Defeat". While less striking, such cues are just as rewarding thanks to the subtle touches and melodic dabs that bring depth to the music. With their rich implementation and detailed development, such cues take the series' electro-acoustic underscoring to a new level. Hulick's trio of string-based cues featured towards the end of the soundtrack are far less intricate, but take a sincere and striking approach: dramatic phrasing and passionate performances are at the heart of these ones. While the approaches are the artists are diverse, each has their place in the final experience.
Despite the shifts in sound, the team are still keen to preserve the elements that made the series' earlier soundtracks so popular. Hulick's "Mars", in particular, bridges the gap between Wall's retro-styled electro-acoustic ambience of Mass Effect with Lennertz's dark orchestral anthems of Mass Effect 3. He blends vintage synths with modern orchestral samples extremely convincingly. What's more, while there are plenty of twists and turns during its five minute cinematic, the final result is wholesome and there isn't a dull moment. The heroic passage at the 3:07 mark is particularly good. It's also easy to tell that Dikiciyan and Velasco were big fans of the original games and, what's more, other great retro space scores. The imaginative synthy soundscapes of the aforementioned "Prothean Beacon", for instance, evoke memories of Blade Runner. Hybridising pulsating electronic beats with epic brass segments, material such as "Rannoch" is clearly inspired by a much more recent, but equally fantastic, sci-fi score: Tron Legacy. By combining their respective expertises Dikiciyan an experienced DJ and audiophile, Velasco a classically-trained orchestrator and underscorer their collaborations are stunning both compositionally and technically.
Rounding off the Mass Effect 3 are plenty of action cues. Bringing Velasco's orchestration to the forefront, cues such as "I'm Sorry" and "The Scientists" combine metred, muscular bass rhythms with grand, brassy timbres. They're nothing novel stylistically, but they're nevertheless entertaining and effective both in and out of context. Accompanying one of the most gigantic action sequences in the game, "Reaper Chase" sounds especially impressive; while the soundtrack generally takes a subtle approach to underscoring, this track is deliciously overstated with its epic choral chants and sweeping strings suspensions. Lennertz's experience as an orchestral composer also pays off in "Surkesh" and "The View of Palaven"; the action-packed climaxes of such compositions are sensitively prepared and gloriously executed. The album closes with "Das Malevitz", a groovy instrumental track licensed from the latest album of space rock band Faunts; it fits reasonably well with the score's soundtrack, though a brand new track may have been more inspiring. Those who purchased the collector's edition can also enjoy two bonus tracks, Lennertz's fraught orchestration "Betrayal" and Dikiciyan/Velasco's imaginative tribute "Creation".
Electronic Arts ended up using Jack Wall's departure as an opportunity. They brought in a major headlining composer, enhanced the diversity with an ensemble team, and coordinated a revised approach to the series' scoring. The result is a much more dramatic and refined soundtrack overall than predecessors. Not everyone enjoyed the changes and, indeed, some continue to yearn for the more melodically driven approaches of Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2. However, score buffs should find this release worthy of their time and it rivals even great sci-fi film scores. Overall, Mass Effect 3's soundtrack manages to pay respect to the series' foundations while taking strides to bring the trilogy to a spectacular finale. Highly recommended.