The Main Title. (music builds in a crescendo) "They called it the greatest discovery in human history. The civilizations of the galaxy call it... (music peaks)Mass Effect." This song serves as the Establishing Character Moment for the series as a whole, in a lot of ways, as main title track, much like the series itself, contains a lot of elements from classic Space Opera sci-fi themes.
It gets played again in a reprise at the end of the game as the Normandy is flying off into the sunset, and again at the end of the second game (but only during the best ending where Everybody Lives during the suicide mission). Yep, it's the Main Theme, alright.
Vigil's theme. It's a sad piece as the virtual intelligence discusses how the Protheans sacrificed everything to Fling a Light into the Future in the vain, faint hope that some species not yet born would have some chance of fighting off the Reapers. It's hard not to feel sorry for Vigil, who has been waiting for 50,000 years for someone to listen to his message, after having to deactivate and euthanize most of the survivors to still have enough power to remain active. It's even sadder in retrospect in that you learn in Mass Effect 2 Vigil shut down shortly after you spoke to it, due to a lack of power.
Epically intertwined is the Collector theme from Mass Effect 2, when you learn that the Collectors are genetically modified Protheans, and their theme is a twisted version of Vigil's theme.
And again in Mass Effect 2 when it plays during Shepard's encounters with old teammates, basically an Epic Hail to the previous game. Especially when Wrex greets Shepard very warmly.
Its use in the main menu shouldn't be downplayed either. A calm yet dramatic tune, being played over an image of a moon orbiting a massive blue planet. It's the perfect way to start the game(and by extension the whole series).
It's used when Liara returns to the Normandy at the end of the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC. It will either make you feel happy for Shepard as it gives a hope spot, or it will reach Tear Jerker levels as it helps highlight how crappy Shepard's life currently is.
This is a follow-up to its use during the reunion on Horizon, which itself was another tear jerking reminder of everything Shepard has been forced to leave behind.
It's used again to great effect when Shepard and co. finally cure the krogan genophage. More so due to the sacrifice that was made to accomplish this. Tears were shed.
While it may not be as spectacular as some other examples, Ilos Battle is a solid piece that practically BECKONS you to rush to stop Saren from reaching the Conduit It highlights a sort of tension, and fuels adrenaline for the final battle.
The theme as the Alliance fleet rushes in to save the Destiny Ascension.
Saren's theme is menacing. Even worse? You hear the theme every time you die, which means that if Shepard dies Saren automatically wins.
An unreleased track: Final Battle. This song plays during the ascent up the side of Citadel Tower, with Sovereign at the top while you battle numerous Geth and Krogan. It goes really well considering everything that's at stake.
The sequel introduces "The End Run", the dramatic track that plays when you and your team run towards the Normandy during the suicide mission. It kicks into gear as you start running (and the Harbinger gives his speech to Shepard), then really ramps up as Shepard is hanging off the ship after jumping towards it. The track then introduces a choir that gets louder and louder as the Normandy escapes the Collector base, and the Harbinger releases the Collector General, finally culminating in the final crescendo as the ship outruns the blastwave and warps back to Alliance space.
The End Run, combined with Suicide Mission, is basically the Good Twin of The Imperial March. It's THAT awesome people.
Bonus points to both of those for pulling off 7/4 time.
The track that plays in the second part of the derelict Reaper. Legion's theme, to be specific.
So, apparently Samara had to compensate for her theme being played only twice in the game by having one of the greatest musical tracks in recent memory. Holy crap. In the last part of her recruitment mission, you'd think you were facing a real challenge, what with the haunting choir and fast-paced orchestral music playing in the background.
"Suicide Mission". The best thing about "Suicide Mission" — hell, all the music post Omega 4 relay — is how fitting it is. And that is saying a lot considering how varyingly the mission can go. If you haven't lost anyone and are kicking Harbinger's ass and defeating Scions and Abominations left and right, it's a triumphant, epic and victorious piece that makes you feel like THE biggest badass. If you're doing less well, are struggling to reach the next segment and have lost team mates, it's melancholic enough to keep you aware of your losses, and dramatic enough to drive you onwards — to survive, to avenge and to complete the mission. By the end of the Reaper Larva match you're either feeling utterly unstoppable or desperate just to survive.
If The Chessmaster could have a theme song, it's unquestionably The Illusive Man. It's the leitmotif of the always-palpable tension whenever he and Shepard talk, every which time this song plays in the game. There's a reason this is one of the tracks that carried over to the third game.
"The Normandy Reborn". This plays (on a slightly higher pitch than the official soundtrack, mind) when the Normandy SR2 is first unveiled. The music, coupled with the scene, secures the Normandy's place at the top of the list of epic science-fiction ships, such as the Millennium Falcon and the Enterprise. It plays again at the end of the game. You'd better check for a pulse if it wasn't racing as this played when the Reaper fleet was revealed.
It's two separate pieces of music - the first is titled "Making Our Escape", the second - "Death from Above". The third ("Infiltration") is missing, but can be found on the composer Sascha Dikiciyan's website.
It's also fitting to the best thief of the galaxy that her theme just screams heist movie.
Like Kasumi, Lair of the Shadow Broker has one of the greatest scores of the series, which contributes a great deal to making it one of the best downloadable contents ever released. It is just amazing for both a an great action packed chase scene across the roofs of Illium, as well as for a frontal assault against a giant fortress floating in the skies of a hellish planet.
Tali's theme. Especially once it starts to kick in at 1:20, and then again at 3:20.
The mysterious tunes in the first part of that video (<40 sec in) that are played during the trial. Between the atmosphere, with all of the vegetation growing inside the ships, to the strange-looking runic writing all over the walls, to this race of people stuck inside of biosuits all their lives, to this music playing, to the whole trial thing, made this one of the most awesome scenes in the game.
There's even a part in the middle of the song (from 2:20) where the main melody of "Uncharted Worlds" is played in a different key. After a while, the same melody then plays 4 times faster. Fitting for a member of a galaxy-wandering race.
Pretty much all of the character themes are pretty awesome, but BioWare really outdid themselves with Kasumi's themes (yes, she hasmorethanone), especially with the haunting woodwind melody in tracks 2 & 3.
That fourth one? If you listen that's actually a rendition of Ave Maria, a fitting piece for a Classy Cat-Burglar to pull a heist from an interstellar crime lord. With an Afrikaans accent.
"The Attack". Everything starts off easy enough...but then comes 1:20. Gives off the perfect "oh, SHIT!" feeling. The first part is a reprise of the first game's "The Normandy" soundtrack. It's then rudely interrupted by this game's "An Unknown Enemy", which usually plays whenever the Collectors attack. It's a very effective reminder that you aren't playing Mass Effect 1 anymore, and that the stakes are so much higher this time around.
The music during the final battle on Horizon is epic.
The music that plays during the combat in the final mission, while your specialist is in the tubes. It's perfect for the circumstance. What makes it worse is that, for some baffling reason, that song ISN'T IN THE OST.
It was released on October 5 2010, in the new album Combat, with the title "Infiltration" (listen to it here). A part of it can also be heard during Tali's recruit mission.
On a related note: The music that plays during the second part of the Collector base, Long Walk, has elements of Samara's theme, Wild Mass Guessing, This means the "canonical" (default, if you don't import your character to ME3) choices for the Collectors' base are Tali and Samara for the first and second parts respectively.
This particular piece also comes up in Legion's loyalty mission when you have to Hold the Line at a particular point of the mission. Must be a Geth-Quarian thing, seeing how this piece shows up within the presence of either races.
While not everyone likes Jacob, many agree that his suite is still one of the best tracks in the game.
When you fight the Collector ship during the suicide mission. Here it is, and skip to about 0:23 in, and go to 1:23. Sorry about the dialogue and extra sounds. No one has distilled the music from the scene yet.
The best part, "Crash Landing" is one of the first appearances of the Suicide Mission Leitmotif, and the first time with a full choir. In short, that track is the moment when the plot goes from "we're so screwed" to "the Collectors are so screwed."
After the Collectors kidnap every other member of the Normandy crew and Joker is standing dejected in the mass effect core room, the piano part plays just once, fading into the silence... Who ever expected that one of the most haunting moments in a game could be a reprise of the music that plays over its menu? (Well, Mass Effect 1 did it first (see "Vigil", above). But then, nobody expected them to deliver twice...)
The riff from "Humans are Disappearing" is used again in The Final Reckoning, which plays if you lose anyone during the Suicide Mission.
The first "real" mission features the Freedom's Progress theme, which has copious amounts of tension-building punctuated by a particular squishy percussion players quickly learn means deep shit of the Collector variety.
Particularly awesome is the simulation of a reaper noise using heavy brass.
And when the soundtrack was released, it became apparent that Mansell didn't write much music for this game. He got credit for two tracks, and Sam Hulick claims that he gave shared credit to Mansell for one track (An End, Once and For All) because it references the Leaving Earth theme.
Remember how awesome Mass Effect 2's launch trailer was? Try Mass Effect 3 with Two Steps From Hell supplying the soundtrack yet again. To make it hit closer to your heart strings, the soundtrack is titled "Protectors of Earth".
The new romance theme, I Was Lost Without You. The title says it all. Bonus points for this being In Universe Awesome Music from Fleet and Flotilla, a Turian/Quarian romance vid, which just makes it so right if you are with an alien love interest, or even if you're not. If you romanced Tali, in the Citadel DLC, she sings along to it!
The music that plays when you fight the Reaper Destroyer on Rannoch illustrates better than any other piece in the trilogy the desperation of fighting a giant fleet of giant machineEldritch Abominations. It starts with a reprise of Sovereign's theme from Mass Effect 1, before transitioning into a perfect blend of Ominous Chanting and Autobots, Rock Out! as Shepard quite literally stands his/her ground against a 200-meter walking tank with a giant laser targeting him/her.
The original track is mostly a somber Dark Reprise, leading into a Scare Chord with the Normandy severely damaged - the extended version shows the galaxy's denizens celebrating their heroic victory over the Reapers, and the music swells into a crescendo as the Normandy emerges from the Crucible's energy blast largely unscathed... Cue Moment Of Awesome. Apology accepted, BioWare.
You wouldn't expect this theme ("A Future for the Krogan") to be a Leitmotif for the krogan, but it is and it's awesome. The game greatly expands on their society and history beyond the fact that they like fighting.
The music that plays while you're in the London FOB. Amazingly somber, conveys a sense of impending doom - quite like the "last hours" music in Majora's Mask.
The same goes for Bad Choices by Shout Out Out Out Out, another great song from Shepard's cabin that, due to the lyrics, might well be Renegade Shepard's personal anthem.
Perhaps the best music in Mass Effect 3 is the music from the previous two games. That's not to say the new music isn't brilliant, but the emotional connections have been built over the past two games and Bioware knows precisely when to use them. A few examples:
"Eden Prime" and "Battle at Eden Prime" are frequently used on several missions.
Some of the Citadel music from the first game is re-used, including "Presidium" and "The Wards", which play in the Presidium Commons and in the refugee camp respectively.
Tali's theme plays occasionally in the missions on Rannoch (except for the geth server mission).
You might even recognize Samara's leitmotif right before she reappears in the Ardat-Yakshi monastery.
"Reflections", the romance music from the second game, plays after Miranda kills her father, for some reason. And yet, it still fits well with the scene, with her feelings of catharsis, relief, and a new and uncertain future.
Not as touching as the rest, but the awesome "Infiltration" battle theme from Mass Effect 2 plays a couple of times in this game, including during the assault on Cerberus's base. This is where you face Jack if you skipped the Grissom Academy mission.
Alternatively, you get this if you sabotage the cure for the genophage and kill Mordin. The title? Betrayal.
Extraction is everything you need in a simple piece of battle music.
I'm Sorry, a beautifully tragic piece that plays if you choose the geth over the quarians.
This piece is a slow version of "Leaving Earth" which is played when Shepard is dreaming about that kid on Earth. It's really depressing most especially when you hear the voices of those who died in the fight.
The theme that plays during the final fight with Kai Leng.
Das Malefitz. Faunts returns to give us the magnificent song for the end credits. Mixed with awesomeness and nostalgia, this song relaxes us and allows us to come to terms with the end of Shepard's journey. On a High EMS ending, it ends on a triumphant major chord instead of a minor one.
Prothean Beacon, which plays in the Temple of Athame, can make you forget the planet is being sacked just outside.
The Choice, the background music accompanying the final playable moment of the game (and the trilogy by extension). Hearing it almost makes you want to run and make your choice, even though Shepard is physically barely capable of doing so.
A Future That Many Will Never See. Featured in the Destroy ending, this song is filled with a majestic and heroic atmosphere. Even when the relays and the Citadel are badly damaged, galactic society will repair them and life will go on.
I Am Alive And I Am Not Alone. Hands-down the Extended Cut's best new track, the music perfectly conveys the palpable sense of hope expressed by EDI in the aftermath of synthesis.
Resolution. Played when the Normandy's crew gather at the memorial wall. This song's bittersweet feel will make you drop Manly Tears and will allow you to come to terms with Shepard's death or ascension.
The reprise of The Normandy Reborn, when Shepard races to the Normandy during the escape of Earth, jumping back into the fray once more to save us. Let's be honest, this theme is not really about the Normandy, this theme is more about the return of The Shepard.
Some of the music from Leviathan DLC are reworkings of previous pieces (a variant of "David" from Overlord plays when talking to Ann back at the lab, for example), but a few of the new pieces are absolutely chilling; the ambient music that plays at the mining facility, and when talking to Leviathan really stand out, although no links available as yet.
What do you get when you slow down Uncharted Worlds by 600x? You get the background music for the squad selection screen and also one of the most haunting pieces in the game, that is unfortunately NOT in the official soundtrack. Peaceful yet only further drives the hopeless feeling that's present through the entire game.
Someone did an 8-bit version of the track 'Uncharted Worlds', that awesome music that plays whenever you check the iconic galaxy map. And yes, it's just as awesome.
Jimmy Hinson, who participated to ME2's soundtrack, just released an album, "Legacy", composed of ME2 musics which weren't selected for the game. Also, this album sports a song named "Shepard of the Galaxy", which is freakin' awesome ! Unbroken link here.