- Composed by Steven Price
- Varèse Sarabande / 2014 / 67m
It’s been quite a year or so for Steven Price, after he was hired to do a few weeks’ work on sound design for 2013’s Gravity, which wasn’t going to have a score. Not only did it get a score, he got to write it; and not only did he write it, it was absolutely fantastic, winning him a load of awards, most notably the coveted praise of the noted British film music critic James E. Southall. Now, the challenge for him is – how on earth could he follow it up? The answer comes in the form of Fury, David Ayer’s film set very late in World War II and focusing on a tank commander (Brad Pitt) and his small crew sent deep into Germany, facing (needless to say) overwhelming odds.
In common with (I suspect) many others, my only real exposure to Price before this has been Gravity; so I genuinely had no idea how he might approach the film. One thing I was fairly sure about was that it wouldn’t sound much like his previous score; after all, it’s a fair old distance from a futuristic space movie to the second world war. And that proves how little I know, because to all intents and purposes Fury is Gravity 2. I know that this will be controversial and the composer will get some criticism from people for repeating so many techniques (in fact it’s already started to happen), but thinking about it, it does make some sense – it seems the filmmakers really wanted to push the chaos and claustrophobia of war, which indeed isn’t far away from what the Gravity filmmakers wanted to push.
The score opens with “April 1945”, dissonant orchestral textures mixing with a huge array of electronics including a pulse effect immediately recognisable from the composer’s previous score plus others sampled from artillery and other battleground sounds. These mix with something new, a chanting choir (which I think is chanting German, which would be ingenious if true). Across all this, a theme of sorts is slowly developed, plus a two-note driving motif which becomes ever more urgent; this all contrasts with a plaintive cello solo which emerges late in the cue, finally an air of shell-shocked calm from the piano solo in the closing moments. There’s so much going on there, it’s so intense, such a portentous opening to the score – and it had me hooked from its opening moments.
In “The War is Not Over”, a more mournful orchestral sound builds up over the chanting – then a solo female voice adds another colour in “Fury Drives Into Camp”, doom-laden and sorrowful. Another Gravity device is then heard in “Refugees”, the little string flurries that evoke a kind of momentum despite claustrophobia. Again there’s much going on in the cue, including the first real airing of the score’s main theme, here for piano, very deliberately paced and so far not fully revealed, but it will go on to become extremely important.
In “Ambush” sound effects get louder before an orchestral onslaught arrives, mixed as ever with a huge array of multi-layered electronics. It’s this sort of music that I can imagine will be most hard for some listeners to take, given the subject matter, but also I suspect the very essence of what the composer was trying to do, stressing the horror of war, removing all romance from it. Things calm considerably at the opening of The Beetfield”, the main theme drifting in and out of the cue along with that lonesome cello – its effect is all the greater because of the big contrast between it and the horrors around it. But it’s a lengthy piece (eight minutes) and goes all sorts of places, with a number of different facets being carefully developed – there’s a sequence with an almost maniacal chant from the choir accompanied by piercing orchestral fragments, which is really very powerful; the elegiac vocal sequence at the end rather emotionally devastating.
The main theme is pared down to its barest emotional state in “Airfight”, which sounds vulnerable and frightened; then “The Town Square” has an eerie calm to it, which explodes with nervous energy as a blast of electronics briefly pierce the tranquility. “The Apartment” is the shortest cue on the album but there is time for the composer to create a surprisingly soothing atmosphere through the distinctive combination of cello, piano and solo voice, which he then expands upon in the subsequent “Emma” by using initially the same combination for another reading of the main theme, but it grows into using the full orchestra, emotions soaring, then Price ingeniously pulls it all back again to the smaller group. It’s powerful stuff.
The biggest action so far comes in “Tiger Battle”, all the various sonic elements coming together in furious fashion and with no shortage of style. Speaking of style – while I wouldn’t claim he’s reinventing the wheel or anything, I’m impressed that Price doesn’t really sound like anyone else. I spend so much time complaining about things being so generic, it’s a pleasure to hear someone who’s developed a very personal style of his own be unafraid to stamp that style onto a big studio film. People always excuse terrible composers writing terrible scores by throwing them a get out of jail free card by saying the score’s only terrible because that’s what the filmmakers wanted, so it’s great to hear someone write something he believes in and not feel the need to shackle himself and pretend he’s someone else.
In “On the Lookout”, the listener is allowed a bit of a breather after the furious sequence of action that’s gone before – not too much though, because there’s an undoubted tension there. The tension is built further in “This Is My Home”, which showcases one of the score’s great strengths, which is the contrast between the gritty unease of the electronics and the emotional realism of the orchestra – many will bristle at the level of electronics used here because it goes against the grain of what people will expect to hear in a WWII film, but ironically its effect is to heighten the impact of the orchestra and in particular the raw emotions the composer’s going for.
“Machine” is a beautiful construct, slowly building towards a powerful statement of the theme. “Crossroads” is a lengthy action-packed piece, with frequent interludes of calm, which just sounds so organic and so natural. Not for the first time, from the chaos emerges beauty for the score’s final moments, the vocals again providing some real feeling. It’s back to action in “Still In This Fight”, this time with a rugged determination underlying it; the brassy variation on the theme is the first time really that the score has given anything overtly heroic, and it’s almost over. “I’m Scared Too” is all about emotion, and it’s the emotion its title suggests – a feeling of cold loneliness gradually giving way to a small degree of comfort. “Wardaddy” is perhaps even more introspective, one of the most low-key presentations of the main theme, very slow and with a respectful air to it, gradually the noise levels building to the finale; and then “Norman” gives the fullest and strongest version of the main theme, a piece which has been built so impressively and used in so many different ways over the course of the score.
I can see any number of reasons why some people will not like Fury. For starters, a lot of people didn’t like Gravity, and they most certainly won’t like this either. Then there will be others who think it’s not an appropriate score for the film (but I can see what he was trying to do and think it was a bold decision that may well work brilliantly) and won’t be able to bring themselves to like it either. But I was one of those who absolutely adored Gravity and I feel the same thing here. Yes, I can’t deny, it sails well and truly through exactly the same territory – and if Price makes a career of writing the same score over and over again (becoming like a gritty version of Rachel Portman perhaps) then I’m sure I’ll grow bored of it eventually. I’ll give him this one though – 2014 has been a much stronger year for new film music than 2013 was so he won’t have such a chance to stand out from the crowd, but there’s no doubt that this is one of the year’s scores that I’ll be returning to frequently in future. What impresses me so much again is the carefully-planned, perfectly-executed dramatic journey the composer takes the listener on – this isn’t quite such a clear path as Gravity, through chaos to catharsis, there are more shades of grey this time, but I said above that he had me hooked from the opening moments, and he doesn’t let go till the very end. A major new talent in film music has emerged and let’s hope his next step will be to show us that he can master another type of score as well.
Rating: **** 1/2
Gravity Steven Price