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The Empty Man
  • Composed by Christopher Young
  • Hollywood / 63m

When teenagers begin to disappear from a town, locals suspect that the Empty Man is to blame. It is up to James Badge Dale to save them all. David Prior’s film was – surprisingly – released into cinemas at a time of less-than-peak cinema attendance; and in what is almost always a sign of great confidence in a film’s quality, its studio did not provide any advance screeners for critics.

Christopher Young knows a thing or two about scoring horror movies and, after a period where he seemed to be very consciously avoiding them in order to show all the other things he could do, he now seems to have settled back into the genre on which he made his name. He’s done all sorts of horror scores over the decades – from the grand and gothic to the most challenging musique concrète.

Christopher Young

In fact the first three tracks on the album are not by him at all, but are score written by Welsh musician Brian Williams, who operates under the stage name of Lustmord. Described by Wikipedia as having created the dark ambient genre – and with his most notable stage performance noted as having come in 2006 as part of a high mass observance by the Church of Satan – well, his music sounds like the sort of thing that you would expect based on that description. It has a terrifying, visceral quality to it that couldn’t be more perfect for a film like this (and is – it goes without saying – decidedly less than comfortable to listen to).

When Young’s music begins, it doesn’t branch too far away from that – the ambient electronica of “Mysterium Tremendum” is not quite as out there, but certainly aiming for the same sort of effect. A theme of sorts is introduced in “In the Heart of a Broken Man” – a rugged, quietly determined one. Much of the score flits between these two styles – pulses and twangs, an unsettling soundscape which is pretty unpleasant to hear but brilliantly evocative, a showcase of Young’s mastery of this type of film.

An array of processed sounds is used alongside some acoustic elements. Track titles include “Seeds of Evil Germinate”, “Fervent Supplicants” and “To Enflesh” and the music perfectly conjures up the same sorts of images as those words. I find it completely horrific to listen to, for the most part – it is bone-chillingly effective. Listening on headphones is particularly chilling – the stereo effects combined with guttural voices in “Down Paths to Dark Woods” have to be heard to be believed. The satanic chanting of “Fervent Supplicants” makes me want to go and hide somewhere.

If you make it through the album’s first 50 minutes without having a breakdown, then your reward is considerable – the final two tracks are simply superb. First is “Where Sentence Is Served” which is a grand choral requiem (with a rising-and-falling melody not unlike the Falls theme from The Mission) – of course its impact is all the greater because of the contrast with what has gone before – but it’s great by any standards, absolutely vintage Christopher Young. Then he somehow ups the ante even further for the finale, “In a Prison Built Out of Lies”, a warmth emerging from an unexpected orchestra (whatever orchestra may be present prior to the last two cues, if any, is highly processed) in a piece that just soars away, hell discarded for the better place.

It’s impossible to know what to say about an album like this. The music does the job it sets out to do just perfectly – nobody is better than Christopher Young at this type of score. For my personal taste, it’s horrible to listen to, until the last ten minutes. Fans of horror music will love it. The last two tracks are insanely good. I’ve no idea how many stars to award the first 18 tracks; the last two get the full five. I suppose the overall rating is some sort of weighted average.

Rating: ** | |

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