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Monday, November 16, 2015

Soundtrack Review: #ArrowSeason 3

Season 3's score is filled with brash tactics, sweeping epics, and incredible pay offs.

Review by Matt Cummings

Super heroes and their television drumbeats are undergoing one impressive chrysalis. Ill-content to simply be complimentary to a network's lineup of comedies and procedurals, comic book series have found fertile ground on the small screen with series like Arrow, The Flash, Agents of SHIELD, and others. Composer Blake Neely is helping to forge these soundscapes with big sounds for small packages, drawing the blueprint for the next generation of innovative television soundtracks. With the release of the very good Arrow Season 3, we get all the proof we need that Neely is in full control of that movement.

Produced by La-La Land Records, DC Comic and Warner Bros. Television, the 2-disc set arrives well-apportioned and filled with memorable reminders of why we love Neely's work. Already well-known for blending synthesizers, and violins with sound effects to create a dark, almost urban symphonic sound, he re-establishes the now-classic Arrow theme throughout, adding tribal rhythms, Asian flutes, and stunning choral pieces (To the Death/They Will Kneel) to his gritty, urban rock environment.

Musical moments define our love for a series (see our all-time favorite Star Trek TOS), and although Season 3 was all about Ra's al Ghul, a lot of Neely's soundscapes span the range of styles. A piece like Mean Streets of Hong Kong would be great to pair with a workout or play alongside a video game. But then there's Sara Silenced, a beautiful piano selection about the death of Black Canary. Searching the Monastery/Merlyn Is Back does things a little different (and quite well), but then you're slammed to the side with Like Father, Like Daughter and its impressive rhythmic pulses. In just the first five tracks, you know this isn't going to be an ordinary listening experience.

As I mentioned, Neely fashions a series of Arabic tones and beats, basking in its glory on tracks like the all-too-short Ra's al Ghul (1:17) and one of favorites Storming the Castle. It has an epic movie feel, moving to different beats within the same track. But Neely is also keenly aware to balance things so that no one sound overtakes the others. See It, Remember, A Threat With Incentive, Merlyn Brings News, and the beautifully-constructed The Climb (3:30) are great examples. Each survives on its own but little moments help connect one to another. We see it again later with Forgive Us/Goodbye to Roy and Felicity Pleads With Ra’s.

The tracks seem to follow lock step with Season 3's events, as Arrow faces Ra's al Guhl, teams up with The Flash, and ultimately sacrifices his world to be reborn. But there's also some terrific side stories, such as Atom Flies; here Ray Palmer flies his suit for the first time, and Neely provides an impressive little theme. It was one of my favorite scenes of the season, partially due to the music. Funny how that works.

Once you thrill to Disc 1, it's on to Disc 2. This begins with more music from The Flash vs. Arrow crossover, which saw the two tussle then team up. The two episodes were an important moment in television; Neely's music represented an exclamation point. Memorable tracks include Boomerang in ARGUS, the whimsical Secret Identity Busted, and the Dark Knight-like Disarming the Bombs. There's also a series of Bonus Tracks, as if 44 tracks weren't quite enough (there's actually 58 in total). I really liked Palmer Technologies and Take Your Pick.

Arrow Season 3 proves that Neely is single-handedly leading a revival of the television score. Bringing high energy, big-budget hero music to the small screen, he mixes tender orchestral pieces that should appeal to every comic book nerd and soundtrack aficionado. With Season 4 setting up elements for Legends of Tomorrow, I can't wait to see what Neely has in mind; but for now, pick up this well-priced soundtrack, which is limited to only 3,000 units.



Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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