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  • Composed by Chris Tilton
  • EA Recordings / 2006 / 37m

A first-person shooter video game released for PlayStation 2 and Xbox in 2006, Black focuses on a black ops (hence its title!) operative and his missions in war-torn corners of Russia.  It was well-received by critics and players, particularly for its stylised look and cinematic sound.  A sequel was planned but never materialised; five years later, the same developers’ Bodycount is generally considered to be its spiritual successor.

The score was by Chris Tilton, assistant to Michael Giacchino for a few years and presumably hoping to follow a similar path by wowing people with his video game scores, leading to high-profile television and ultimately film work.  He’s ticked off the television box with Fringe and presumably now needs to meet his version of J.J. Abrams to make the next leap, because nobody who has heard his music would be in any doubt that he deserves to be a very successful film composer.

Chris Tilton

Chris Tilton

Black may well be my favourite score of his.  It starts off with a doozy of a main theme (co-credited to Giacchino), driving and dynamic and thrilling, conjuring all the required excitement for the game and setting the scene very nicely.  The score that follows is very much in that vein – explosive action tracks which set the pulse racing punctuated by the occasional moment of relief from slightly more sombre drama or suspense.

Highlights are numerous – the whole thing is one long highlight really – but whether it’s the energetic brass-and-percussion action (slightly recalling John Williams’s action writing of the time – Minority Report, Attack of the Clones and such) or the startling clarity of some of the winds that lend some of the thrills such a distinctive air, what really stands out is Tilton’s phenomenal command of the orchestra – this is dark and gritty music, sounds entirely modern, realised by a symphony orchestra.  The ironic thing is that if a film with the same plot as this game (special forces conducting black ops) had been made at the same time, it would probably have been scored by someone like Harry Gregson-Williams and consist primarily of asinine drum loops and synth pads – here’s a guy showing some of his more celebrated colleagues how they should be doing things.

This is a tremendous piece of work.  I don’t know if there was any more music in the game or not, but the album is perfectly-presented – a thrill-ride from start to finish, it’s just so impressive.  Those like me who loved the 1990s action movie scores by people like Jerry Goldsmith, Joel McNeely and so on have had slim pickings to choose from after the end of that decade in the world of movies – the best equivalents are actually to be found in video game scores.  I’m not sure why filmmakers became so scared of music like this, but at least it has existed in another medium and scores like Black are an absolute godsend.

Rating: **** 1/2 | |

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