Death Note Original Soundtrack – Review

Album Title: Death Note Original Soundtrack
Anime Title: Death Note
Artist: Hideki Taniuchi, Yoshihisa Hirano, Nightmare
Catalog Number: VPCG-84851
Release Type: Soundtrack
Release Date: December 21, 2006
Purchase at: CDJapan, Play-Asia

Review: Death Note is not an anime known for its cheerful attitude or its positive outlook on the human condition. Following that line of thinking, if you’ve ever wanted to know what it feels like to have your soul crushed by music, look no further than Death Note’s soundtrack.

A curious amalgamation of electronica rock and orchestral pieces, it nonetheless beautifully depicts the slow descent of a brilliant young mind into the abyss of power-obsessed madness. A two-man job between relative unknowns Yoshihisa Hirano and Hideki Taniuchi, the album is predictably divided into two main sections, one for each composer (the opener and closer aside). Overall, the OST is filled with exceptional orchestration and brilliant texturing on Hirano’s part and a surprising level of rhythmic sophistication on Taniuchi’s. Though each section is tonally and thematically a tad homogeneous, the result is a soundtrack that brims with moody energy and dark complexity which ultimately is a resounding success as both an effective OST and a work that can stand on its own.

I’ll begin chronologically with Taniuchi’s contributions, which comprise tracks 1 through 18. On the whole, these songs are moody, expertly scored, and wouldn’t sound out of place on an American rock album from a professional label. With instrumentation ranging from lightly overdriven guitar to piano to synthesizer voices to heavy distortion guitar, the tracks are as well-crafted for setting atmosphere as they are for pleasure listening due to the thoughtful intricacy put into each one. Especially notable in this regard is “L’s Theme,” which is one of the boldest experimentations in time and meter I’ve ever seen in any type of music, ever. Written in the unheard of meter of 25/16 (I dare you to try to tap your foot to it), I was at first baffled when I sat down to really listen to it and then had a musical nerd-gasm at Taniuchi’s bald-faced subversion of all traditional conventions of rhythm when I finally figured it out. It seems a lot of thought went into crafting a song that defined L’s complex character, and I’d say Taniuchi succeeded soundly. Like his song, L is a character that you can’t quite figure out at first glance. He’s not random; you know there is a method to his madness and an arcane logic behind his actions. You just don’t know what those are, or just quite how he ticks.

“Light’s Theme” is also a carefully assembled character study. The song is triumphant, but, at the same time, it is a lamentation, an elegy for a promising young man corrupted by power whose idealism and ambition twisted him into committing acts of unspeakable evil. The song is prodigious from a songwriting standpoint as well, featuring an impressive three-guitar climax and an ending that seems to ask “Who knows?,” as Light’s final fate is yet to be decided.

Tracks 19-28 is where Yoshihisa Hirano gets to flex his Julliard-trained musical muscles. This set is made up of the notorious orchestral pieces with the Latin choral chanting that became famously associated with Death Note. Not only does this fit perfectly with the show’s pseudo-religious overtones, it also provides an appropriately “epic” backdrop for the tense intellectual cat-and-mouse game that Light and L play throughout the first half. The orchestration is simply superb, with brass glissandos and percussion flourishes used to great effect. “Kyrie” will bring you goose bumps every time, with the ominous dronings of “ky-ri-eeeee….,” the piercing chimes, and weeping tremolo violin creating an atmosphere that will make your hair stand on end. Especially impressive is “Domine Kira,” translating roughly to “Pastor Kira” or “Clergyman Kira.” The deftness of the orchestration here impresses deeply, with rapidly-sequenced glissandos in the strings and horns punctuated by percussion crashes and fierce choral exclamations of “Kira!” It vividly portrays a character’s worsening condition as events are quickly spiraling out of control. The use of audaciously brassy bellows as in “Theology of Death” and luscious string chorales like “Light Lights up Light” is simply masterful throughout this section. They must be heard to be believed.

The final tracks on this disc are the first opener and closer from the series in their edited form, “the WORLD” and “Alumina,” respectively. Their inclusion feels like an afterthought and doesn’t leave much of an impression, mostly because we got to hear these songs in the exact same edited state in the series multiple times. The vocalist still sounds like he’s singing through clenched teeth while chewing gum, and his constant vibrato is stifling if not simply tiresome. They are both excellent in their own right but feel out of place, especially after being edited down to 90-second bite-sized bits. It’s a shame some petty record label bureaucracy kept them from including the full versions.

Overall, the album is great fun and will bring a knowing smile to your face when familiar themes spark a sudden recollection of scenes from the series. Unlike many OSTs, these tracks have surprising depth, waiting for those who are brave enough to dive past the murky surface, and will reward those who stick around long enough to appreciate what’s there.

I can’t help but feel that this album is a sort of music nerd’s feast. If you are an anime fan who enjoys music, consider this OST excellent. If you are an anime fan that is also a music nerd, consider it a masterpiece.

I happen to be the latter.

Rating: Masterpiece


A huge jazz nerd and unabashed fan of alternative rock, I joined Anime Instrumentality in December 2010. I tend to get very passionate when it comes to music and try my best to understand how it works. An enormous fan of The Pillows, among my favorite anime composers include Ko Otani and Yoko Kanno. My tastes in anime vary wildly, but I try to be as thoughtful about my viewing as I am about my listening. I play the saxophone.

21 thoughts on “Death Note Original Soundtrack – Review

  • January 10, 2011 at 1:39 am

    Now I must just be an anime fan who enjoys music, because I don’t consider this a masterpiece at all. A very good, great even, OST, but hardly a masterpiece. Can’t have too many complaints at all about Taniuchi’s meticulous electronic compositions. I think the guy does outstanding work, and I predict most people who have sat down and listened closely to the music of Akagi and Kaiji would likely agree. But Hirano’s stuff, c’mon. You don’t think it’s just a tad overwrought, overdramatic. With all the crescendos and crashing percussion and intense chanting, it becomes a little overwhelming and difficult to take seriously after a while. Personally I think Taniuchi’s stuff fit the cat-and-mouse aspect of Death Note much better than Hirano’s stuff, which was all like “all hail Light’s power and majesty and look at how epic this show is”. In fact, the difference between the two composers pretty much matches my opinion of the show overall… the stuff that tended to be backed up by Taniuchi’s music was the stuff I liked about Death Note, but the scenes with Hirano’s music just focused my attention on how hard this show was trying to be an epic.

    • March 16, 2021 at 5:02 am

      But the show IS epic. And I’m not saying it’s epic in a fanboy way, I mean it’s epic in scale and it tackles deep and profound psychological issues and a grand fight of ideologies and concepts. You can’t expect the music to be any less than that.

  • January 10, 2011 at 9:46 am

    One of my many backlogged OSTs since it aired. The only piece I put in my instrumental best playlist was L’s Theme, and I can say safely that from what I heard of others back then and what I remember about them, this may be a good OST but not a masterpiece IMHO.

    Still each person has various tastes, so to each his own. But L’s Theme truly was, in and of itself as a music piece, a masterpiece. As you put it, it brought forth L’s character, but it also very much fitted the scenes in which it was ultimately used, particularly episode 3 where L started doubting the police and Light explained his actions to Ryuk at the same time in the episode. That sealed that particular piece for me.

  • January 10, 2011 at 11:34 am

    Ah, I knew not everyone would agree with me on this one.

    @Sorrow-kun and Panther
    What you say about Hirano’s compositions does have some truth to it, but I nonetheless stand on my rating. Note that our ratings system does not entail “perfection” for a “masterpiece” rating, but you probably knew that already. I gave this album the rating I did because it went just beyond that “excellent” barrier for me. Like I said, both composers’ tracks were pretty homogeneous, but there’s just so much “there” for you to enjoy and discover if you really decide to dig in to these songs, especially on Hirano’s side of things. Keep in mind that these songs are only from the first half of Death Note, the half I actually enjoyed. If you feel that the show was trying too hard to be an epic, I guess you have more of a problem with the show than the OST.

  • January 10, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    I always enjoy a good Kyrie, but it seems this one was composed with an ironic twist. kyrie eleison translates to “Lord have mercy”, and usually accompanied with a heavenly or majestic tone quality to it. This track displays a great deal of dark traits to it, almost as praying mercy to God while uneasiness if one’s prayer is made through or even at all. Whether or not the composer had this in mind when writing, that’s up for discussion. I’ll give the composer the benefit of the doubt that they wrote a genius track, rather then believing it was just by chance.

    Unless you know anything about the Ordinary of a Mass or at least some Latin with Religious text, you’ll probably miss that Domine is “O, Lord” in Latin. According to wiki, I guess Kira is just, “…the typical Japanese pronunciation of the English word Killer”. So that track would translate roughly into “O, Killer Lord” or “O, Lord Killer”. I’m going with the prior instead of Lord Killer, because it seems appropriate that Light be given that title seeing he doesn’t kill Lords but humans (I assume only humans, never watched the show). Regardless, this is a tidbit about that track title.

    I’m not sure why, but when I hear “Theology of Death”, I get a Jesper Kyd vibe from his work on Robotech Invasion, specifically track 10: . Perhaps dynamics or mood.

    I have not heard the whole soundtrack or watched the anime, so I can’t say much, but so far it’s rather interesting. Fun review.

    • January 10, 2011 at 9:53 pm

      I’m trying to remember whether this was the Death Note album that featured a piece that was really inspired by Orff’s “O Fortuna.” It makes total sense in context, but I do find that trope (can music have its tropes) a bit overused sometimes.

      The character who assumes the role of Kira does have some megalomaniacal tendencies and he has no qualms about the extent of his ambition to use that Death Note to reign as a just God overseeing the world. Given that context, what you’re saying makes quite a bit of sense except it’s more of a display of his ambition and goal of becoming a God. Fitting!

  • January 10, 2011 at 10:32 pm

    “A curious amalgamation of electronica rock and orchestral pieces, it nonetheless beautifully depicts the slow descent of a brilliant young mind into the abyss of power-obsessed madness. ”

    Is it weird to say I’m kind of in love with this sentence? lol.

    I won’t deny that this OST isn’t amazing, but I can’t call this a masterpiece because as awesome as these songs are, they’re too creepy for me to constantly listen to them and keep them in my playlist.
    I do love L’s Theme and Zetsubou Billy though (the only metalcore song I can bear).

  • January 10, 2011 at 11:15 pm

    That’s some very interesting additional info on “Kyrie”! Adds a lot of meaning to the song, thanks. Ditto for “Domine Kira”. I did know “dom” or some derivative thereof had something to do with God (A.D. means Anno Domini “In the year of our Lord” or something like that), but didn’t think it through as deep as you did, good work. And definitely check out Death Note, a highlight series of the past decade.

    Music can definitely have its tropes

    I’m glad you like my writing, heh. I suppose listening to these tracks is kind of like looking at a painting like Munch’s “The Scream” or Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory.” People know it’s very good but can’t really stand looking at it for too long because it’s too dreary and oblique, while others stare at it for hours and pick out every little nuance they can without breaking a sweat. I like to think I fall somewhere in the middle 😉

  • January 11, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    I’m one of the latter–definitely a masterpiece. The Death Note OST is one of my absolute favourites–I think I spent a few days listening to that and nothing else when I first found it. L’s Theme is definitely one of the most amazing things I’ve ever heard. I’m also a really big fan of the Death Note Theme…I also kept expecting it to turn into Carmina Burana at some point along the way.

    Considering the anime was absolutely wonderful on its own (in terms of storytelling and plot and execution, not so much in terms of my favourite character dying), the music was an excellent addition.

  • January 12, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    Amazing OST. There’s also the second and third OST which include Near’s theme (similar to L’s theme) and the second OP/EDs.

    The release date for this first OST is incorrect. The Death Note anime started airing in Fall 2006 and the album was released in December:

    My favorite song from the OSTs, among many, is THIS:

  • January 12, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    @Ms. Sterling
    Yeah, it’s a pretty stellar track list. Not too familiar with the piece you mention, but I’ll take your word for it!

    Yeah, this review was, as you can tell, only on the first disc collection. I’ll review the others in the future is I get the chance, that is, if I feel like it >.>

    And thanks for the heads up on the date, I’ll fix it ASAP.

    EDIT: Fix’d. Thanks again, Kev.

  • January 13, 2011 at 1:08 am

    I really like L’s theme and the first OP, but I’m not particularly wow-ed by the other tracks. Just an anime fan who likes music.

  • April 10, 2011 at 5:33 am

    Give this OST some love guys.
    It has the kind of music that you hide it from everyone, that you can’t show to others because it just sticks to your emotions and never let’s you go.The music is dark and creepy, pure talent and raw feelings.
    You just can’t find this kind of introverted music.
    Definitely Masterpiece for me.

  • October 10, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    L’s theme sounds just like something out of the exorcist movie
    Kyrie reminds me of Escaflowne and Halo combined

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  • June 9, 2013 at 7:38 am

    Wouldn’t it be a bit easier to read L’s theme as one set of 13/16 and another of 12/16, as they are obviously two repeating cycles? Reading it as one 25/16 feels a bit overcomplicating.
    But yeah, Death Note had an great soundtrack, but got at times a bit too repetitive to call a masterpiece, at least standing on it’s own. It definitely did it’s trick in terms of setting the mood and so on.

  • February 15, 2014 at 5:03 am

    L’s theme begins in 27/8 (or alternating 13/8+14/8). Not 25, and not 16th notes.

  • May 31, 2015 at 5:07 am

    Did you mean 27/16 ? Or rather 27/8 ? 😛
    When I learned L’s theme on piano I always imagined it as alternating 13/8 and 14/8 , to give the jumping feel. In other words, yes I did dare to tap my foot to it. I’ve played similar songs with a jumping meter, although the large numbers are definitely really unique.


  • January 18, 2020 at 2:35 am

    I just got the OST and yes……..I deem it a masterpiece relative to other soundtracks for series of similar caliber. It’s dark, bold, and daring with variations of lows, highs, and shifts along the way. It’s the type of magic spawned from a chest game where people are pawns and two chest masters struggle for position to secure their victory. The more I listen to it the more the songs deepen for me……….that’s when I know a soundtrack is solid and worth its quality. Overall I like each of the soundtracks too, too bad I’m more divided on the show. =P


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