The Walking Dead: Official Television Soundtrack Album Review
Written by Richie Corelli
Released by Lakeshore Records
Composed by Bear McCreary
2017, 74 minutes
Released digitally on October 20th, 2017 | Released on vinyl on October 27th, 2017
It took a few years to catch on, but director George Romero's 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead changed the landscape of horror. While the concept of a reanimated corpse was not new, Romero's film added the details that inadvertently defined the genre of zombie horror. As the decades went on, it flourished. Like the creatures themselves, zombie culture became an infes-tation. The dead overtook all media. Expanding beyond film, zombies started showing up in tel-evision, print fiction, comic books, video games, cartoons, toys, fine art, theater, advertising, fashion, and music.
This was for better and worse. Some of the output from zombie culture was genuinely creative, while some was little more than Romero-clone cash grabs. The Walking Dead is a little of both. The television show, which was spawned from a graphic novel series, began its eighth season in 2017. Along the way, the show has seen its ratings rise and fall, its storylines succeed and fail. The marketing and licensing that went along with the show ranges from predictably standard items, like a Daryl Dixon coffee mug, to completely baffling products, like the officially licensed The Walking Dead Yahtzee set.
Among these items have been a few music releases. They were albums of licensed songs used during specific episodes, various tracks by various artists. Strangely, this marketing blitz never produced a proper release of Bear McCreary's soundtrack for the show. This past October, Lakeshore Records and Sparks & Shadows rectified this.
Emmy winning composer Bear McCreary, who studied under legendary composer Elmer Bern-stein, launched his career by scoring the successful Battlestar Galactica reboot in the mid-2000s. He built his resumé further by composing music for shows like Outlander and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and films like Europa Report, 10 Cloverfield Lane, and The Boy. But his work on The Walking Dead is arguably his most memorable, and definitely his most famous, of his still young career.
It's that opening theme that does it; the fade-in of those frantic strings, the striking and repetitive hook, the tense and building undercurrent, and then that last final note; a death knell that warns television viewers of the gruesome experience that is to follow. "Theme from The Walking Dead" is a song recognized by millions of people around the world. The show has become a phenom-enon. At its peak, The Walking Dead claimed 17.3 million viewers. And the format of the show tends to position "Theme from The Walking Dead" at an ideal moment. Most episodes open with a teaser scene and then they switch to the opening credits – and theme – at the height of emotional drama.
This record, however, goes well beyond that opening song. There are 23 tracks in this compilation, spanning the first seven seasons of the show. The tracklist is a combination of fan favorites and songs that Bear McCreary has a personal affinity to. It's a diverse collection, with some tracks moving on slow, emotional strings, some tracks pushing harder over pounding, dramatic beats, some tracks tingling with colder, dark aesthetics, and some tracks playing softer and more romantic.
The diversity is apparent pretty quickly. Following the opening theme is "Rick's Despair". True to its title, the track is mournful, contemplative. Sad strings caress its lonely ringing tone. The music shifts with the third track, "Glenn's Wheels". McCreary moves from bluegrass-infused rock to swifts cuts of hyper orchestration. The smashing beats are punctuated by dramatic rests. Track 6, "Message to Morgan", is another slower one. The brilliance of this track is how it reprises hints of the melody form the theme and uses the tune in a completely different way. Further down the tracklist is the somber and skeletal "Carl". The song is a piano ballad, simple and pure. It's one of the most heartfelt pieces on the entire album. "The Governor", meanwhile, sneaks in with bottom-heavy and grainy synths. Military beats come in and out, giving this track an industrial edge. "Negan" is all about attitude. It's a low growl of thin electric guitar.
McCreary's compositional range is impressive, but it could work against him. There are a lot of emotive swings to The Walking Dead OST, and a lot of aesthetic changes. It's almost too much. While this variety works when split up and doled out over the course of the show, it could be ex-hausting to listen to in one sitting.
The visuals for The Walking Dead television series are effective. This is especially true of color usage. Shots tend to focus on yellows, browns, umbers, and siennas. They are warm colors that reflect the heat of the characters surroundings, the Georgia landscape. But they are also colors of death. The cover of the record pulls in these same colors for the same result.
Unfortunately, despite the color landscape, the image on the front of the record suffers. The cover is an illustration of Zombie hands poking through two closed doors. On one door, the words DON'T OPEN are spraypainted. On the other, it says DEAD INSIDE. Atop the image is the header in bold print, AMC The Walking Dead Official Television Soundtrack. Across the bottom, in smaller letters reads Music By Bear McCreary. The cover is too word heavy and the image is a little cheesy.
The internal artwork is the opposite. It takes a different approach and is much more successful. It's made up of series of stills from the show. The images chosen are impactful. They give the feel of the show without spoiling any of its mysteries. The pictures are sepia-toned, but desatu-rated to the point of almost being black and white. They have grainy, beaten feel to them. The liner notes are wonderful. Written by Bear McCreary, the notes introduce him in a way the songs do not. They are humble and personal and they provide insight into the man behind the music.
From Harry Belafonte's "Zombie Jamboree" to Faith No More's "Surprise! You're Dead", from Michael Jackson's "Thriller" to The Cranberries' metaphorical "Zombie", the dead have dragged their rattling bones across musical boundaries. Soundtrack work by horror greats like Fabio Frizzi, Marco Beltrami, and Goblin, have all paid zombie respects. Bear McCreary's score for The Walking Dead is a solid entry to add to this list. It's varied and smart and won't leave anyone hungry.