Two trends in film composing power Tyler Bates' soundtrack to 300: the fusion of electronic effects and instrumentation with traditional orchestral instruments, and the use of Eastern-inflected vocals to evoke the ancient world. Fans of Rome and Battlestar Galactica will recognize the latter technique; on 300: Original Soundtrack Recording, Iranian recording artist Azam Ali does the lead vocal honors. 300—based on a popular graphic novel by Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns)—brings the Battle of Thermopylae (that's be 300 Spartans versus the Persian Army, circa 480 BCE) vividly back to life. In the manner of Miller's Sin City collaboration with Robert Rodriguez, 300 finds director Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead) emulating Miller's intense layouts.
Of course, a graphic novel has no soundtrack, giving Bates free reign to create an original soundscape to complement the visuals. Best known for his work on The Devil's Rejects and Dawn of the Dead, Bates furthers his postmodern push to enhance conventional orchestral scoring with the electric energy of rock music. The soundtrack is constructed of 25 relatively short cues. Opening track "To Victory" (2:34) sounds Bates' battle cry, employing a pulsing electric-guitar drive, emphatic percussion, haunting vocals and martial chanting, to searing effect. Quieter tones build during the foreshadow-y "The Agoge" (2:33) and "The Wolf" (2:34), leading into the full-bodied choral extravaganza (punctuated by cymbal crashes) that is "Returns a King" (2:22). "Submission" (2:39) follows an ethereal vocal line into a threatening brass tone.
"The Ephors" (1:39) marches to a clanking beat, then retreats into quiet tension, while "Cursed by Beauty" (1:40) emphasizes ancient, ethnic rhythms behind an Azam vocal. Gentle dramatic underscore defines "What Must a King Do?" (1:02), which shimmers through a soft, slow progression of notes; "Goodbye My Love" (3:22), with its lingering strings and yearning vocal; and "No Sleep Tonight" (2:34), with its quietly unnerving brass, distant sounds, and electronic beat, capped by a string-sting coda. "Tree of the Dead" (2:24) follows a similar tack, with the addition of kettle drum and chorus. "The Hot Gates" (3:00) lives up to its name with sweltering, sultry vocal and electrically distorted percussion and guitar. Echo-y guitar twangs float in and out of the nightmarish "Fight in the Shade" (3:17). "Come and Get Them" (2:05) comes on strong with chanting, cymbal clashes, and martial fanfare, with the similar "No Mercy" (2:23) opening up into an aggressive sprint boosted by percussive fills.
"Immortals Battle" (2:55) layers vocals and fat orchestral beats to create urgency. The thrashing, flanging guitar of "Fever Dream" (2:33) wouldn't seem out of place on a hard-rock album; "Xerxes' Tent" (3:20) answers with the ethnic flavor of Azam's vocals and guitarviol (just what it sounds like: a bowed guitar). The brief "Tonight We Dine in Hell" (1:13) marries sad strings to sad, floating vocals, and "The Council Chamber" (2:35) uses traditional orchestral melody to create anticipation and reflect ancient honor, while "Xerxes' Final Offer" (3:18) uses lower tones to send a dark undercurrent into a passionate crescendo. Worrying brass and thumping percussion begin "A God King Bleeds" (2:18), then the track spills into breathy elegy, leading into "Glory" (1:44) and its low key that builds to an orchestral burst. "Message for the Queen" (2:32) employs a rural-flavored flute sound, resonant strings, and a piercingly clear-voiced Azam solo before the delicate, rising glory of the concluding track, "Remember Us" (3:00).
300: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is a preview—and ultimately will be a nice momento—of what's sure to be a potent cinematic experience. Via CD, fans will be able to take the harsh nobility of the Spartans on the road with them, or to their home rec rooms in the form of the deluxe-version Digipak, packaged with a 16-page booklet and three double-sided trading cards. Gird your loins...300 is coming.