With the music for the HBO mini series Band of Brothers, composer Michael Kamen returns with one of his strongest and best scores in years, up there with the music for The Iron Giant and What Dreams May Come. It's hard not to draw any parallells to John Williams' score for Saving Private Ryan. Both because of the similar settings and eras of the two stories - as they both take place in Europe during World War II, focusing on a group of American soldiers - but also because Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks are two of those responsible for this lavish mini series. Apparently Tom Hanks got the idea while doing research for Spielberg's film, and once again teamed up with Michael Kamen, who he also worked with on the successful From the Earth to the Moon mini series.
So, is it anything like Saving Private Ryan? Well, both yes and no. Yes, because both scores approach the horrors of war pretty much the same way - very seriously, restrained, elegiac and dark. And yes, because the orchestrations are somewhat similar, dominated by slow strings and solemn brass elegies, with worldless choir in a couple of cues. And no, because this is clearly a score composed by Michael Kamen and none other, his style being very prominent and clearly audible throughout the entire CD.
The album opens with the beautiful "Main Theme", which, dominated by strings and full choir, is one of the best cues on the disc. The theme is very lyrical and sad. And sure, there are hints of Williams' "Hymn to the Fallen" in there, but that's a connection that is a little too easy to make and therefore a thought that doesn't last very long. Next up are two great, long suites. This is really the only time in the score the music is allowed to swell and be heroic and exciting. Kamen's typical writing for brass dominates, supported by percussion and excited and ascending ostinato strings, and it's sometimes really close to sounding like something straight out of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, both when it comes to thematic material and orchestral sound. But it's really good. Great stuff. Especially the second suite, which I can imagine being used for some sporting event in the future. The Olympics, for example, since it has a very uplifting and exciting quality to it.
"The Mission Begins" is almost equally grand, with calling horns, pounding timpani and snare drum, albeit walking a slightly darker path, creating a very tensed and serious mood that grows stronger when the fifth cue, "Swamp", takes over the stage. Opening with a lonely flute, with soft, high strings in the background, the heroism and excitement are completely gone as Band of Brothers almost turns into a totally different score, leaving the brass at the door and focusing on the strings, with hints of woodwinds and piano, instead. It's really restrained, introvert and serious, at times ("Parapluie") reminding me of the desperate, heart aching music he created for What Dreams May Come. However, it's also a little boring at times, if we're going to be totally honest, since it has a tendency to get a little repetetive and depressing. But it's beautiful, none the less and it never gets schmaltzy, proving that Kamen is more than capable of writing serious drama scores, even though many claim he isn't.
The score and the CD closes with the almost divine "Band of Brothers Requiem". With full orchestra, choir and vocals by Maire Brennan and Zoe Kamen reprising the main theme, this is a perfect ending to a splendid score that no doubt should put Kamen back on the map of top composers. If he ever left it, that is.
For more soundclips and information about the soundtrack, visit Sony Classical's Band of Brothers site at www.bandofbrotherssoundtrack.com.