Friday, 15 May 2015

blackwood - soundtrack review

blackwood is a traditional english ghost story about a college professor played by ed stoppard who suffers an emotional breakdown and retreats to the countryside with his wife and son in the hope of making a fresh start. this seems to be going okay at first, but then he starts to witness strange things in the house his family have moved into and he finds himself unravelling a local mystery that could put the lives of his family in danger.

the score is by lorne balfe, a diverse composer who seems equally at home scoring action thrillers such as ironclad and the upcoming terminator: genisys as he is composing the music for animated features like home and the penguins of madagascar. as a producer he has worked on some truly iconic scores, including sherlock holmes and inception for hans zimmer. balfe is a composer with an impressive filmography and who doesn’t appear to be restricted to a particular tone or genre. the music for blackwood shows that he certainly knows what he’s doing with a supernatural-themed score.

the blackwood score opens with a philip glass-esque organ piece that recurs on a number of tracks. aside from the recurring, repeating organ motif most of the tracks here are slow-build, atmospheric pieces that really build tension as well as suggesting the emotional state of the characters. balfe emphasises the dramatic moments with string and choral arrangements and occasionally uses some interesting techniques to represent a descent into madness, but aside from a few standout moments he mostly plays it safe with a genre-appropriate if uninspired score.

there are a number of really interesting tracks on the album, particularly cadenza which uses a disjointed violin melody that fades in and out and increases and decreases pace at odd intervals to show the main character’s struggle with madness. first night in blackwood really sets the tone of the story, and makes it clear this is about the characters and their journey more than it is about scares. balfe also does a great job hinting at a mystery with this track. six chimes is a fast-paced track that at times feels like philip glass on a duet with john carpenter. the final track, blackwood, does a great job uniting the various themes into something almost triumphant, with a hint of sadness and ever-present mystery.

overall, this is a really effective but at times workmanlike score that does exactly what it needs to do, although it does have some really standout moments. scores like this are tricky to review in isolation, because in a lot of ways it has a subtlety to it that makes it perfect for film. that subtlety doesn’t necessarily make it a great listen on its own, but what’s clear is that balfe is certainly a talented composer who, with the right project, could rival the giants in the field. if you are interested in horror soundtracks then this is definitely worth considering for your collection.

blackwood – original motion picture score is available digitally right now and will be on cd may 19th, 2015.

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