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Inferno
  • 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.

Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer

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.

Rating: ***

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  1. Dave Dueck (Reply) on Wednesday 19 October, 2016 at 15:18

    Surprised by the objectivity and positivity of this review. I’ll need to revisit it with more of an open mind. I loved the other two scores and felt this one too abrasive and technical, none of the mysterious reverence of DVC or A&D. And I love electronic music, I enjoy Trent Reznor scores within reason and loved Elfman’s Girl on the Train. I suppose it’s all down to expectations.

  2. Hari Haran (Reply) on Wednesday 19 October, 2016 at 16:06

    I didn’t expect a positive rating from you for this score at all, James, but if there’s anything you and your reviews have taught me, you’re bound to surprise all of us when we least expect it.

  3. Eric Marcy (Reply) on Wednesday 19 October, 2016 at 19:13

    I appreciate the fairness in this review. While the (deliberately) hellish first half of this album is often painful to sit through, it isn’t just dumb noise. It’s very intelligently crafted. Though it is definitely an assault on the senses, unlike parts of the Batman v Superman score, Inferno is never boring. Through my first few listens I was struck by the very visceral and tangible reaction I had to the music (unlike the meandering disinterest sound design scores often illicit) and the cathartic power of the overblown second half of the score as it begins its ascent really hits home as a result. The liminal nature of Minutes to Midnight is particularly interesting to me, marking a shift of the album from hellish to heavenly.

    By no means is it one of Hans Zimmer’s finest efforts (I’ll still take either of its predecessors over it), but it *is* a unique and dynamic effort, and for that I give him credit, and appreciate you giving him credit where it’s due.

  4. A. Rubinstein (Reply) on Thursday 20 October, 2016 at 11:20

    This score was a complete torture for me, it’s just painful to the ears and I have no intention to ever listen to it again.

  5. ANDRÉ, Cape Town. (Reply) on Saturday 22 October, 2016 at 15:26

    A worse torture, Rubinstein, would be having to watch Tom Hanks, with ZIMMER’S underscore embellishing his on-screen histrionics! I loathe electronic techno-metal music blasting my eardrums…these scores (they all sound alike, no matter how skillfully crafted James) weren’t the reason I fell in love with film music– and hope it isn’t a developing trend. I recently bought Italy’s LUDOVICO EINAUDI’S score for ‘Giorni Dispari’ – a film released in the year, 2000. Most of the music is Heavy Metal, with two tracks of exquisitely beautiful piano music – as emotionally direct as his ‘Divenire’ that was included in the JAMES HORNER ‘Pas de Deux’ album…AND the reason I purchased ‘Giorni Dispari’ was hoping to hear more of the beautiful music his albums feature. ATLI ÖRVARSSON and his director thought the Techno Rock sound for ‘Hansel & Gretal: Witch Hunters’ was the coolest music ever created! “This score will rock your balls off” shouted Tommy Wirkola, the director, in a high-pitched screech (refer CDs liner notes). That was in 2011. Two years later, BENJAMIN WALLFISCH boasted that, following the demand of ‘Hammer of the Gods’ producers that “anything predictable or generic was COMPLETELY BANNED” he wrote “extreme, terrifying electronic music.” Yes, you were so original BENJAMIN… Not! There are other composers and scores that I’m sure other Movie-Wave readers will mention to support this developing trend.

  6. Kalman (Reply) on Wednesday 16 November, 2016 at 13:41

    I’m relatively late in the game but it’s just been today that I listened to this score and having read many reviews I must tell you it exceeded my expectations by far.

    Yes, there are a couple of tracks that are not easy to listen to but they are far fewer than I expected. Actually there’s only one track, Seek and Find, that I find nothing to like about. The rest of the “heavier” tracks either have great rhythmic structures that I love listening to, or exciting synthesizer melodies. I enjoyed them, I had no problems with them at all.

    The last six tracks are as great as they are, probably the best part of the CD. Wonderful melodies, choir, violin and cello solos combined with the electronic instruments. All in all the score is a very pleasant surprise for me in the light of the many negative reviews.

  7. ANDRÉ, Cape Town. (Reply) on Wednesday 16 November, 2016 at 23:33

    Your enthusiasm for the final six tracks, with choirs and wonderful melodies, has suddenly regenerated my interest in this score Kalman…so will view the movie next month to evaluate the score. I hope the dreaded heavy metal pounding won’t be at + 100% decibel volume…but it probably will, as lots of NOISE seems to be de rigueur on the Audio Tracks of too many movies. I saw ‘Arrival’ today – the noise of helicopter rotors and roaring military vehicles was overbearing. JOHANN JOHANNSSON’S score starts off beautifully – an emotive theme underscores the relationship between Amy Adams and her daughter. Then a formless drone, punctuated with blasting whale calls, introduces the electronic score that supports the meeting with the Aliens and the complexities of setting up communication between our species and the Heptapod interstellar travellers. Some of the music works wonderfully – but those whale calls have no reason to be included within the score as [SPOILER ALERT] the form of the Aliens is almost arachnid. I watched the music credits – a symphonic orchestra is mentioned, along with lots of instrumentalists… surprising as I was only aware of electronic-sonics.

  8. Edmund Meinerts (Reply) on Thursday 17 November, 2016 at 23:33

    The trouble is that a fair portion of what makes those final six tracks good is taken more or less verbatim (with a few small orchestration tweaks) from the previous two scores in the series.

  9. ANDRÉ, Cape Town. (Reply) on Friday 18 November, 2016 at 00:18

    Pity! Those two scores are already part of my ZIMMER COLLECTION…Does RICHARD HARVEY provide an encore? His ‘Kyrie for the Magdalene’ [heard in ‘Da Vinci Code’s End Credits sequence] is a track I listen to frequently. HARVEY and ZIMMER fused their talents for ‘The Little Prince’ and some of the sample tracks were lovely. It’s part of my order from Screen Archives, ‘shipped’ the 14th September, and which appears to have disappeared…luckily a friend, who orders our CDs, insured the Parcel of 12 albums. We’re still hoping they pitch up…otherwise its back to claiming and re-ordering.