Mass Effect’s music is largely atmospheric, mostly there to set a mood rather than to draw attention to itself. In that, I have to say that Jack Wall has succeeded pretty admirably. The overall feel of the soundtrack is…‘spacey’, for lack of a better word. The sonorities are dark, featuring shimmers that feel like the distant glow of nebulae and brooding, ominous synth swells, but also some more mechanical rhythms, especially when combat or the Reapers are involved. The “Mass Effect Theme”, which plays during the introductory cinematic to the game, showcases this perfectly, as it progresses from a pulsating background ambience to a more driving, heroic theme that just makes you want to salute. Parts of the ME Theme also find their way into other sections of the soundtrack, such as the twinkling, fluctuating “Uncharted Worlds”, which plays on the Galaxy Map and features as an undercurrent in the majestic, slightly eerie theme of the Citadel. The ME Theme is also developed and revamped in “Spectre Induction”, which illustrates the corresponding occasion with a swelling crescendo, or the appropriately-named “The End (Reprise)”, which plays during the final scene of the game, with its grandiose, conclusive sonorities. These are only a few examples, mind you: if you listen closely, you’ll be able to hear echoes of the Theme in a few other tracks.
Another recurrent theme is Saren’s, a rather repetitive, hammering affair, which, coincidentally also serves as the “Game Over” or “Critical Mission Failure” music. However, it reappears in more palatable versions in every track associated with Virmire, notably the brassy, yet menacing “Breeding Ground”, which serves as the planet’s theme, and the decidedly groovy “Virmire Ride”. You’ll also hear it in all the combat themes associated with Saren, notably “Exit”, which mixes anxious piano strains with more bombastic swells.
Every other storyline planet also has its own theme, which is generally reprised as a battle score. Not all are successful: “Liara’s World” is twangy and insinuating, “Ilos” sounds like someone playing a mouth harp over a generic moody background noise, and “Feros” is all but inchoate, even though its furtive, creeping notes are actually quite fitting to its namesake planet. On the other hand, its reprise, named “Protecting the Colony” builds them into a coherent melody, which sounds like a rising wave. Noveria’s eponymous theme sounds like a driving snowstorm and also fits its planet to a tee, while its reprise, “The Secret Labs” gives it a nicely techy beat. Noveria features another noteworthy combat tune, “Fatal Confrontation”, which accompanies the showdown with Matriarch Benezia and is a darkly insistent mix of strings and trumpets.
My two favourite tracks are probably the soaring, aerial “Vigil”, which accompanies a key storyline scene, and the haunting, cryptically named “M4 Part 2”, which plays over the end credits and is the only actual song on the soundtrack, courtesy of a band heretofore unknown to me called Faunts. On the other hand, you have far less successful endeavours, such as “Eden Prime”, which resembles crickets chirping, or “The Wards”, which just sounds like some beeping superimposed over a drunken synth-line.