- Composed by Hans Zimmer
- Sony Classical / 2016 / 70m
The Da Vinci Code phenomenon a few years ago extended to Ron Howard’s film being hugely successful even though it wasn’t very good, which led to Dan Brown’s previous entry in the series Angels and Demons not long after. It was slightly better but when the third book came and went without an adaptation it seemed for a while like the cinematic series may have run its course, but now the fourth book Inferno has turned up with Howard returning along with Tom Hanks. This time round it’s a deadly virus that’s threatening the world and Robert Langdon has to piece together clues based on Dante’s Inferno to save the day.
Hans Zimmer wrote one of his most popular scores for the first film in the series, culminating in one of the best things he’s ever written, the outstanding “Chevaliers de Sangreal”, which was then repurposed as a theme for Langdon in the sequel, for which the composer provided a much more modern and electronic sound. He’s continued that journey all the way now, treating Inferno like a full-on techno-thriller and writing some of the most hardcore electronic music he’s done in a long time, recalling some of the more abrasive passages of Howard’s Backdraft in fact, and also scores like Drop Zone and even the more recent Chappie.
The first track is called “Maybe Pain Can Save Us” and it seems Zimmer may have decided to try a musical experiment to see if it’s true – it’s mean, angry, dirty synthetic music, a collection of dark textures which come together to form an oppressive whole, from which finally a little keyboard melody emerges (sounding a bit like a passing ice cream van staffed by Satanists) – disorientated, groggy, confused. It’s not exactly my cup of tea but this isn’t aimless noise: it’s intelligently crafted noise and it does what it sets out to.
In “Cerca Trova”, a very 80s-sounding keyboard tune introduces the track before it goes pretty hardcore, a furious rhythm driving it along – it’s like a trip into a (very) deranged mind. I’ve read people comparing it (and similar tracks later) with Batman v Superman‘s music, but it’s much more than that – like the style or not (and I don’t, really) its easy to see what it’s trying to do, and it achieves it. “I’m Feeling a Tad Vulnerable” continues it, sustained tense action music with the first electronic wafts of Langdon’s theme. In “Seek and Find”, Zimmer pushes things further still: it’s relentlessly bleak, an acid trip at a rave, freakish sounds aimed at creating an unsettling atmosphere.
“Professor” includes some warped appearances of Langdon’s Theme and while it’s still very dark (including an electronic heartbeat), there’s a sense of progress towards something else and then “Venice” opens with a very brief rendition of what is effectively the only fresh melodic material in the whole score, a little piano motif that’s mysterious but appealing (almost by default because of how deliberately unpleasant most of what surrounds it is). Even this track moves into action, like most such moments in the score seeming to have something of Vangelis about it, the multi-layered synths designed clearly very carefully and with a great deal of effort.
Suspense is the key in the less interesting “Via Dolorosa #12 Apartment C” which noodles along for a while (the ice cream van motif reappearing briefly) before coming to life a bit with the apocalyptic-sounding deep choral textures that emerge near the end. “Vayentha” is like all-out creepy horror scoring, terror all the way – a combination of distorted noises done in an interesting and effective way – and the final minute, an excellent synth variation on the Langdon theme, is excellent. “Remove Langdon” is an effective piece of action, the “Science and Religion” motif from Angels and Demons playing a big role and adding the requisite amount of mystery to proceedings.
In “Doing Nothing Terrifies Me”, there’s a very simple lullaby which is buried fairly subtly in the mix but creates an impressively spooky sound. A ticking clock-type synth effect runs through the brief “A Minute to Midnight” which leads into the biggest of the action cues, “The Cistern”. It’s blaringly loud and aggressive – and I really like it, probably my favourite track on the album. The overriding feeling now is no longer the disorientation of the score’s first half, but more outright bombastic fear.
The tension is then resolved somewhat in “Beauty Awakens the Soul to Act”, which is another top cue, a haunted solo violin rendition of Langdon’s theme a real highlight, truly beautiful, before it moves more into Inception territory (the calmer moments of that wonderful score), the strings of the orchestra heard clearly for the first time on the album. In “Elizabeth” we get an extended look at that piano motif introduced earlier – it’s pleasant if not particularly memorable, its main attraction being how peaceful it is, particularly compared with the madness of the earlier moments of the score.
The calm doesn’t last, though… back to one final aural assault on the senses in “The Logic of Tyrants”, with buzzing, groaning, intense synth percussion and effects at first, the Langdon theme emerging as an unlikely action anthem later on before the calm returns. The Langdon theme (in different guises) then dominates the remaining two tracks: “Life Must Have Its Mysteries” alternates it with the Elizabeth theme at first and it’s absolutely lovely, before it gets the full “Chevaliers de Sangreal” treatment – it’s as camp as Christmas and gloriously entertaining. The score ends with “Our Own Hell on Earth”, Zimmer turning (not to the first time) to Ennio Morricone for the simple motif that gets endlessly repeated at first before the dizzy haze from earlier in the score returns, albeit in much stripped-down form, the Langdon theme then returning in action mode again as the composer ends things at a canter.
Like a lot of Zimmer’s scores, Inferno is bound to polarise opinion. It’s at times an extremely challenging listen, but as I noted above it’s absolutely not just oppressive noise, there’s a very deliberate structure to it and the electronics are realised with a huge amount of skill (bizarrely an orchestra is credited and there’s been a reasonable amount of fuss because it’s the first time the Vienna-based orchestra and studio facility has been used for a Hollywood film score, but I’ll be damned if I can hear it more than a couple of times). It really isn’t, for the most part, a style of music that I particularly enjoy but it would be impossible to deny how effective it is, and my hat’s off to the composer for that. The other two scores in the series offer much more in the way of easy gratification and I’m sure I will return to them far more frequently in future, but this one’s without question the smartest of the bunch. The rating reflects the midway point between how much I enjoy listening to the album (which at times is not very much, particularly in the first half) and how impressed I am at how bold and effective it is (which is very). If there’s a fourth film and Zimmer pushes things even further down this path, we’ll be in for something interesting indeed.