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No God, No Master
  • Composed by Nuno Malo
  • Varèse Sarabande / 2014 / 65m

A crime thriller set on the Atlantic coast of America in the early 20th century, No God, No Master weaves its story around that of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, a pair of Italian immigrant anarchists who were executed for their alleged part in a murder.  Many at the time thought they had been stitched up by the authorities and there were protests around the world calling for their conviction to be overturned as the apparently unconvincing nature of the evidence against them became clear.  Terry Green’s film has sat on the shelf for a while but is now receiving good notices now it has finally begun to be seen, with many praising the allegorical storytelling with its hints at the modern-day “war on terror.”  The story of the two Italians has been told in film once before, 1971’s Sacco e Venzetti, with its famous score by Ennio Morricone including Joan Baez singing his song “Here’s to You”.

No God, No Master‘s music is provided by the talented Portuguese composer Nuno Malo, who has deeply impressed many (including me) in the last few years with the superb Amalia and Miel de Naranjas.  This is a very different score from those, with a great dramatic sweep passing through some dark moments, combining some exquisite romantic writing with hard-hitting film noir music.  There are shades at times of Morricone himself, I’d say, and at its most dramatic the score enters similar territory to some other contemporary scores to period noirs like Mark Isham’s outstanding The Black Dahlia.

Nuno Malo

Nuno Malo

The score’s main theme is certainly lyrical but tinged with sadness and conflict; the composer sends it on an impressive musical journey through the score, beginning with a string-laden arrangement bookended by a floating little figure in the opening titles, progressing through to a much brassier, punchier sound by the time the album concludes.  The highlight versions for me are the tragic “The 10,000 Immigrants Arrest” and the stunning emotional powerhouse that is the denoument, “Nulus Deus, Nulus Dominus”.

There’s a truly beautiful secondary theme, explored in “Vanzetti’s Past” and “Another Bomb”, highlighted by a beautiful cello solo by Tina Guo – it’s a melody that drips with passion and feeling, drama and importance.  Of note too are the other prominent soloists, violinist Yue Deng (the early “Bike Ride Through Little Italy” – a rare moment of absolute happiness and joy – is just beautiful) and pianist Ivana Grubelic Malo (the composer’s wife; I love the Thomas Newman-style almost dreamlike piano in “Three Friends” and “Sacco’s Dream” but the instrument is often also used in a more traditional setting and Malo uses it to provide some moments of raw emotion – “Flynn Interrogates C. Howe” dances around the main theme in a quite exquisite way; “Vanzetti Gives a Cat to the Little Boy” a little oasis of hope and brightness in the middle of the score).

There’s some great action music here.  The bustling “Interrogation at Luigi’s Place” is brilliant, energetic and dramatically compelling.  A new sound is introduced in the outstanding “Memorial / Police Attacks”, with some barnstorming brassy action, beautifully-crafted and wonderful to hear.  The lengthy “Flynn’s Search for Tony / Galleani’s Capture” is perhaps best of all in this regard, setting several variations of the main theme amongst some thrusting and stylish tension-laden action material.  There’s one final element of the score saved for very late on, with the introduction of a choir in the particularly dramatic “Arm Robbery/Sacco and Vanzetti’s Arrest” and then used to add a religioso quality to the following (particularly Morriconean) “Catacomb of the Flower of Mankind”, adding the final stages to a tragic journey.

This is an excellent album, full of very strong material and with that great sense of real dramatic flow that is a highlight of all the best soundtracks.  With the memorable themes, the exquisite instrumental solos (and, in a wonderful way of ending the album, they are all given a chance to shine in the concluding “No God, No Master (piano trio)”) and the constant elegance, this is easily one of the strongest new scores I’ve heard so far this year.  Released as a limited edition CD and a digital download by Varèse, it’s very highly recommended and another piece of evidence that Malo is a superbly gifted composer worthy of considerable attention.

Rating: **** 1/2 | |

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  1. mastadge (Reply) on Sunday 5 October, 2014 at 01:53

    I really liked this one. Glad you did too. Really looking forward to seeing were Malo’s career takes him.