Home > Reviews > LAIR – John Debney

LAIR – John Debney

lairGAME ZONE REVIEW

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Lair is a role-playing video game where the player assumes the role of a dragon-riding knight named Rohn Partridge. The player is given a variety of tasks to perform including; defending a certain realm, destroying certain objects, eliminating enemies or creatures, and other mission-based objectives. After each stage of the game, the player has an opportunity to earn gold, silver, or bronze medals, depending on their performance during the level. A rare platinum medal is also available, although unlike the other three medals its requirements are secret. Earning medals assists the player in unlocking combos and behind-the-scenes videos. lair takes place in a world threatened by numerous emerging volcanoes that are destroying the planet’s ecosystem. Two cultures contest; the Mokai, whose lands are arid and depleted of resources, and the Asylians, who live in one of the last remaining verdant areas. Desperate to survive, the Mokai attack and try to seize the granaries of the Asylians. The spiritual leader of the Asylians, called the Diviner, condemns the Mokai as pagans and savages. Thus war begins and the game revolves around the pursuits of Rohn Partridge, an Asylian Sky Guard. His allegiance wavers after the Diviner orders the assassination of the Mokai peace envoy Atta-kai, and he becomes a renegade when his attack on a Mokai ‘armory’ reveals instead a temple housing women and children. He thus assumes the mantle of a warrior for justice as he navigates the conflict and attempts to bring about a lasting peace.

Sony and the game developers decided early that they wanted a true cinematic film-like experience with epic orchestral music to support the games visuals and narrative. Debney was hired based on his canon, which included a number of excellent fantasy and action scores. He relates that he had always been fascinated by his son’s video games, even though his skills at them were should we say less than adequate. He provided Sony with a Trailer that he describes as “Balls to the Wall aggressive, primitive, percussion-driven thing”, which was warmly received and debuted that year at the E3 conference. He resolved to mold his score in the finest traditions of Goldsmith and Poledouris with robust horn fare, pounding percussion and metallic accents. To accomplish this task he brought in two assistants; Kevin Kaska, a past collaborator who would assist him in composing and orchestrating the score, as well as vocalist Lisbeth Scott

Debney wanted to provide a rich and complex orchestral score that was theme driven. As such a multiplicity of fine character and cultural themes were developed and woven into a magnificent tapestry. The primary theme is Rohn’s Theme, a heroic construct with a pastoral sweep, which Debney confides is his homage to Basil Poledouris. Given Rohn’s central role in the narrative, it underpins the score and is rendered in a multiplicity of expressions. The Diviner Theme unfolds with an ominous malevolence, emblematic of its dark namesake whose descent into evil threatens to bring ruin to all. Lodan’s Theme is a brutal marcia belicoso, emblematic of its namesake, Lodan, assassin of Atta-kai. For cultural themes we have the multi-phrasic Mokai Theme, whose erhu carried A Phrase speaks to the mystery of this primitive culture, and its noble and hopeful B Phrase, which speaks to the latent power of a proud people longing to recapture the grandeur of their past. The sumptuous Love (Civilization) Theme, has a dichotomous construct, which unfolds intimately as an expression of the unrealized love between Rohn and a Mokai woman, but also more notably as a transpersonal expression of Mokai civilization. The grim and desolate Darkness Theme juxtaposes the Civilization Theme and is its antithesis. It emotes ruin, destruction, the return to the primitive and the end of all things.

“Lair Main Title” is a multi-thematic powerhouse and score highlight! It opens grandly with heraldic fan fare emoting a heroic Rohn’s Theme. We segue darkly into the Diviner Theme, which is rendered as a horrific marcia dall’inferno that unsettles us with is potent malevolent power. We conclude with a full rendering of both phrases of the Mokai Theme, which culminates in a stunning choral flourish! Bravo! “Breaking the Ice” explodes with a Williamesque militaristic rendering of Rohn’s Theme that drives with extraordinary kinetic power! We shift gears with the complex and ambient “Prologue” where we see a panoramic view of desolate volcanic landscape of an imperiled world. Debney weaves a complex interplay of ethereal textures and a portentous rendering of a foreboding Diviner Theme. Yet hope remains as we conclude with the flickering light of the B Phrase of the Mokai Theme. This is nicely done.

“Love Theme” offers a full and extended expression of the romantic Civilization Theme. The piece begins intimately and slowly builds inexorably to a sumptuous statement, which is severed by dark echoes of all things, Horner’s Danger Motif! This brings us to a score powerhouse! “Diviner Battle” unfolds in Williamesque fashion atop the Diviner Theme with robust and relentless militaristic power.

Kaska delivers one of the best action cues of the album! We come next to the desolate “Darkness Theme”, which emotes ruin and the end of all things. Scott’s exquisite and haunting lyrics fill us with dread, and disquiets the deepest regions of our souls as tolling bells foretell the end of all things. This is writing of the highest order. Bravo! “Firestorm” is a battle cue that opens with a solemn and martial rendering of the B Phrase of the Mokai Theme. At 1:33 we shift dramatically into a marcia belicoso from out which rises Rohn’s Theme. The piece concludes with the Mokai Theme and chorus.

“Diviner’s Theme” offers his theme in all its dark malevolent splendor. When it transforms into a marcia del male we feel the depth of his brutal and tyrannical power. In “Funeral Pyre” Rohn begins to question his loyalties as he sees Atta-kai consumed by flames. His theme is rendered as an elegy thus informing us of his wavering inner state. “Blood River” shifts us back in full battle mode atop a furious interplay of a horn propelled Rohn’s Theme and the Diviner Theme. Kaska’s writing here is just exceptional. In “The Last Straw” erhu and cimbalom offer a sad rendering of Rohn’s Theme, which speaks to his growing sympathy for the Mokai. “Bridge Battle” is another fine action cue that thrusts us back into battle atop a militarized Diviner Theme, which contests with the B Phrase of the Mokai Theme. Brief statements of Rohn’s Theme also join in the struggle producing an exceptional dynamic cue.

“Lair Main Menu” is a fine cue that offers us a plaintive rendering of the B Phrase of the Mokai Theme, which interplays with a restrained Diviner Theme, replete with tolling bells and dark chorus. The plaintive mood continues with “Lost” where a conflicted Rohn contemplates his destiny. Debney provides a plaintive rendering of his theme, which entwines with stark, wordless female voice. “Lodan” is a short but potent cue that features Lodan’s Theme, a brutal marcia belicoso, that is joined in unholy communion with a malevolent Diviner Theme. This brutal militaristic cue offers a potent kinetic power. “Serpent Strait” is one hell of a cue, which explodes with discordant ethnic power, driving forth in a ferocious blood lust. In “Rohn’s Theme” we hear his theme stripped of its bravado, and instead emoted plaintively through Lisbeth Scott’s wailing vocals. This provides a nice contrast and gives our hero greater depth. In “The Search for Food” the Darkness Theme descends as a dark pall upon the land, creating a sense of dread and hopelessness. At 1:43 we segue atop a plaintive duduk into “Campfire Discussion” where the dark narrative is sustained.

“Bridge of the Ancients/The Ice” is a tour de force, which features an aggressive and fully militarized Diviner’s Theme, now unleashed with all its destructive and malevolent fury. The horn play here is exceptional and the interplay with Rohn’s Theme outstanding! Dissonant ethnic horns open “Mokai Camp Attack” which is carried by a militarized rendering of the B Phrase of the Mokai Theme. Strings furioso, antiphonal horns and chorus join to create an astounding synergy, which elevates this magnificent cue. At 3:31 we segue into “Reach Mokai City” atop solo ethnic flute as muted horns inform us of our arrival. Warlike horns propel us into “Defenses Overrun”, which is an astounding battle cue where a trumpet led Rohn’s Theme contests with the Diviner Theme. Kaska’s aggressive and kinetic writing here is just outstanding. In “The Holy City of Mokai” Kaska provides us with an energetic and war-like rendering of the B Phrase of the Mokai Theme. The music is aggressive and fully militarized, drawing a stark contrast to the normally nobler rendering of the theme. “Return to Mokai City, Pt. I” is a score highlight. It opens on erhu from which unfolds the A Phrase of the Mokai Theme. This extended statement and expressive rendering is stirring and profoundly moving.

“Preparing for Battle*/Maelstrom/After Burners” is a dark ternary scenic cue, which opens upon horns nobile and features interplay of Rohn’s Theme and the Diviner Theme, replete with male chorus. “Return to Mokai City, Pt. II” is an astounding score highlight! The cue unfolds as an ethnic powerhouse that features the B Phrase of the Mokai Theme rendered as a militaristic marcia belicoso, which contests with a war like Diviner Theme. The thematic interplay here is of the highest order! “Mokai Theme” is a contemplative cue tinged with sadness. It features an extended rendering of the A Phrase of the Mokai Theme. We open soulfully upon Scott’s wordless vocals, which are taken up in a wondrous duet of piccolo and erhu that stirs the soul. This is really a beautifully crafted cue. “Rohn Is Tricked/Hope” is a ambiance cue with a fragmentary reference of Rohn’s Theme. “Steam Giant” is an entertaining action cue, which features an extended horn line that is kindred to Rohn’s Theme.

“Elegy” is a score gem, and testimony to Debney’s mastery of his craft. He provides a classic Elegy full of pathos, replete with tolling bells, which moves us to the depths of our souls. With the B Phrase of the Mokai Theme serving as its core, this is a cue of uncommon beauty, perfect in construct and imbued with poignant emotive power. Bravo! “Ruins of Mokai” is an ambient cue that features Scott’s intonations of the Darkness Theme entwining with fragments of the Diviner Theme as we view the devastation. Kaska provides homage to Goldsmith in “Final Attack”. We open with militaristic horns atop a string ostinato and the action is propelled al la Goldsmith using his trademark aggressive staccato scoring. “Desert” really provides stirring writing as the Diviner Theme bathes us with its malevolent darkness replete with just exquisite writing for horns. At 1:00 we segue into “The Guardians Decide”, an ambient and tonal cue animated by pensive horns. At 2:09 we conclude with “Prophet Battle”, as evil is on the march atop an ascendant Diviner Theme.

“The Search for Water” opens with a lyrical questing rendering of Rohn’s Theme on strings that is soon joined by woodwinds and finally by horns nobile. Nicely done! We segue abruptly at 1:57 into action mode in “Deadman’s Basin”. Debney provides outstanding interplay of Rohn’s Theme and the Diviner Theme, which contest powerfully and dramatically. This aggressive and kinetic action writing just brings the house down! We now come to the cue “Battle for Asylia” where the score achieves its apogee. This cue is glorious and will echo Debney’s name in video game lore. We open with an aggressive and propulsive rendering of the Diviner Theme. Its brutal domination is rightfully challenged by a counter line of Rohn’s Theme and male chorus, which contest in magnificent battle. At 2:55 Rohn’s Theme begins a stirring, breath-taking ascent upon horns and chorus, which crescendos, culminating in a grand celebratory flourish! O my God I live for cues such as this! Bravo! In “Epilogue” Debney concludes our journey with epic grandeur. We open with Scott’s soulful vocals of Rohn’s Theme, which informs us that victory over evil has been gained. The transfer of his line first to ehru and strings, and then to full orchestra and chorus achieves a profoundly stirring apotheosis that culminates with a fortissimo flourish the likes of which I have rarely heard. These last two cues earn Debney immortality!

“Lair Concert Suite” was recorded live, and has orchestra pit noise as well as audience applause. Debney provides us with a wondrous multi-thematic journey, enriched by a more prominent choral presence. We open with Rohn’s Theme, with female choir. We transition to an extended rendering of the Diviner Theme with all its brutality and malevolence propelled by trombones bellicosoNext comes the A Phrase of the Mokai Theme on solo violin that is joined in celebratory chorus, which culminates grandly! We then launch into the “Diviner Battle” cue in all its horrific power! Its evil is amplified by dark chorus and we climax in malevolent grandeur. Next comes a brief statement of the “Elegy” cue, from which launches the “Battle of Assylia” cue in all its epic glory. We segue tranquilly into “Epilogue”, which brings us to a stirring conclusion. I found the suite’s greater choral presence most welcome, but for me the presentation lacked the vitality and energy of the actual score cues. “Lair Trailer” is the powerhouse Debney used to secure him this assignment. The trailer opens over Sony credits and descends from the clouds as we see armies in brutal hand-to-hand combat. Soon dragon-riders join the battle, both terrestrially and in the skies with aerial fights. Rohn is featured as he slays an opponent and alone takes on the enemy. Debney opens darkly with mechanistic and metallic percussive strikes that are joined by wordless chorus. It is grim, brutal and horn play that is kindred to the Diviner Theme propels the battle. Lastly brief comments on two synth demos; “Lair Battle Variation #1–The Hero” is a rousing choral piece of heroica that inspires! “Rohn Theme–The Quest” offers both a contemplative and heroic renderings of Rohn’s Theme replete with snare drums and chorus.

I must thank John Debney, Dan Goldwasser, La-La Land Records and Sony Computer Entertainment for this magnificent and long coveted 2-CD presentation of Lair. The re-mastered sound quality is superb and the full presentation of the score, astounding! This may be the finest video game score ever written. It is grand, epic, multi-thematic with superb action writing. The infusion of chorus, vocals along with the contest and interplay of themes raises this score to the sublime. Indeed, there is a cinematic quality of this score that allows it to stand head to head with the finest fantasy film scores of our day. This is in my judgment a must have score and I highly recommend it for your collection.

Buy the Lair soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Lair Main Title (2:13)
  • Breaking the Ice (1:32)
  • Prologue (3:24)
  • Love Theme (4:01)
  • Diviner Battle (4:17)
  • Darkness Theme (3:59)
  • Firestorm (3:57)
  • Diviner’s Theme (2:09)
  • Funeral Pyre (0:54)
  • Blood River (3:34)
  • The Last Straw (2:39)
  • Bridge Battle (3:32)
  • Lair Main Menu (2:24)
  • Lost (2:10)
  • Lodan (1:52)
  • Serpent Strait (2:29)
  • Rohn’s Theme (2:07)
  • The Search for Food/Campfire Discussion (3:23)
  • Bridge of the Ancients/The Ice (2:43)
  • Mokai Camp Attack/Reach Mokai City (4:30)
  • Defenses Overrun (2:33)
  • The Holy City of Mokai (2:16)
  • Return to Mokai City, Pt. I (1:51)
  • Preparing for Battle/Maelstrom/After Burners (2:38)
  • Return to Mokai City, Pt. II (3:44)
  • Mokai Theme (2:15)
  • Rohn Is Tricked/Hope (1:03)
  • Steam Giant (1:32)
  • Elegy (3:26)
  • Ruins of Mokai (1:04)
  • Final Attack (2:09)
  • Desert/The Guardians Decide/Prophet Battle (2:59)
  • The Search for Water/Deadman’s Basin (4:59)
  • Battle for Asylia (4:24)
  • Epilogue (3:18)
  • Lair Concert Suite (11:25)
  • Lair Trailer (2:11)
  • Lair Battle Variation #1/The Hero (synth demo) (2:10)
  • Rohn Theme/The Quest (synth demo) (1:47)

Running Time: 115 minutes 27 seconds

La-La Land Records LLLCD-1286 (2007/2014)

Music composed by John Debney. Conducted by Nick Ingman. Orchestrations by Kevin Kaska. Additional music by Kevin Kaska and Lisbeth Scott. Featured musical soloists Jimmy Hoyson and Pedro Eustache. Special vocal performances by Lisbeth Scott and Tanja Tzarovska. Recorded and mixed by Simon Rhodes. Album produced by John Debney and Dan Goldwasser.

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  1. Riley
    June 16, 2014 at 8:00 am

    Great review as usual Craig. Love Debney, wish he scored more movies like he does this video game!

  2. Manilaman
    June 17, 2014 at 11:10 am

    Excellent review, Craig. I bought this very recently as a blind purchase from LaLaLand Records. And it is simply a great listen, particularly if (like me) you have a taste for bold and epic film scoring, done with passion and style. It is Basil Poledouris meets John Williams, with a bit of Jerry Goldsmith on the side. Need I say more?

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