- Composed by Atli Örvarsson
- Lakeshore Records / 2016 / 45m
Bilal: A New Breed of Hero sounds rather like a religious propaganda film. Made by the Dubai-based Barajoun Entertainment, it’s a 3D animation about Bilal abn Rabah, a young boy a thousand years ago who converted to Islam and followed Muhammed. The rather unlikely leader of the voice cast is Ian McShane. I can’t help but notice that the film’s subtitle is the same as that important cinematic milestone’s, Howard the Duck, but I guess the similarities probably end there.
A.R. Rahman must have been busy, so the filmmakers turned instead to Atli Örvarsson, who made his name as part of Hans Zimmer’s gang but has since been writing considerably more interesting music for generally much smaller projects from his base in Iceland – so it’s interesting to see him returning to a much broader canvas for Bilal. He’s done the Remote Control kind of “epic” music before and I’ve never liked any of it, but I was intrigued to see if there’d be more of himself in this one.
While he hasn’t really left that bag of tricks at home, this is certainly a richer and more rewarding piece of work. It’s a very Hollywood-style score with that romantic view of Arabic music. The opening cue, “Meet Bilal”, starts with a very lovely passage before the main theme, which will be heard very frequently, is introduced first for an ethnic flute with a huge barrage of percussion sitting behind it, then taken up by the large-sounding orchestra. When that initial energy fades away (presumably the end of the opening logos etc) the composer reduces things down to a wordless female voice with tender accompaniment, the innocence of youth, before a more heroic sound emerges from the strings and horns. It’s really very lovely.
From those ingredients Örvarsson builds the bulk of the rest of the score, the other main device being powerful deep chanting from a male choir, introduced early in “City of Makkah”. Later in the same cue, there are some fast-paced string runs which have a light-hearted feel but things turn serious in “You Might Still Die”, where the Remote Control sound really comes to the fore in the bass-heavy rhythmic action, the colour provided by the voice keeping it from sounding generic.
A tender new theme is introduced in “A Noble Man”, not one that really sticks in the memory but has the sound its title implies. The real star is the action music and there’s more in “Desert Falcon”, heavy again on the percussion and male choir. There’s a Viking feel to the deep, deep chanting of the stirring “The Stone” but – as throughout the album really, providing a nice balance – this is offset by the more playful “Bilal the Horseman”, a lovely little piece which in its second half sees a particularly rousing version of the main theme emerge.
“Hamza” is much darker action, still melodic but now with a much more serious tone. “Madina” initially returns to the bustling feel heard earlier in “City of Makkah” before it takes a more sweeping tone as it cycles through various thematic material. “Slave!” is surprisingly heroic at first before a brief dramatic calm leads into very up-front action music. “Meet Sohaib” then really does calm things down, a tender wind melody emerging which is another lovely moment. “Sand Hubal” is something different, less interesting to be honest, rumbling away for a bit before the action comes back. “Lord of Merchants” is more inspiring, beautifully building a feeling of righteousness. “Makkah Burns” offers one final piece of dark action, with a feeling of tragedy rising to the fore, before things come to a predictably rousing conclusion in “Inspire Mankind”.
While Bilal isn’t going to win any awards, it’s a satisfying modern action score that travels along with great pace and offers plenty of enjoyable moments on the way. It doesn’t stray too far from the template from these things, but the film’s setting gives it that extra colour and flavour that drive its entertaining nature. While it is a little samey, it’s a fun score and at 45 minutes the album doesn’t wear out its welcome. I wondered a few paragraphs ago whether Örvarsson’s own voice would shine through and I suspect it doesn’t really (I’m not familiar enough with him to really know what his own voice sounds like) – it’s easy to sit back and enjoy the ride all the same.