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Artwork copyright (c) 2005 New Line Records; review copyright (c) 2005 James Southall



Deeply dark, deeply impressive score


A History of Violence is the eleventh film collaboration between Howard Shore and director David Cronenberg; it is amongst the longest-running partnerships between a composer and a director in film.  Because of the nature of the majority of those eleven films, the music rarely gets mentioned even amongst film music fans, and I can barely remember even a word being said about their last film together, Spider; but such has been the stratospheric expansion of Shore's fanbase in the intervening years, A History of Violence has set messageboards a flutter before anyone had heard a note of it.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, Shore's name is plastered in huge type on the front cover of the album; I worry about those casual music buyers who might buy it because they liked Lord of the Rings though - they're unlikely to be humming this one on their way to work.

Having said that, it's actually far more melodic and appealing than the majority of Shore's music for Cronenberg, some of which is really rather abrasive (the simply gorgeous M Butterfly excepted).  The album opens with "Motel", which sets a very dark, dissonant tone (the opening actually sounds like the orchestra warming up before a concert) - and, indeed, the dark hues are retained throughout the score, with Shore always favouring low-register instruments in each of the sections of his orchestra - but things become very slightly warmer in the next two tracks, "Tom" and "Cheerleader", in which the fragmentary main theme is explored in some detail.  "Diner" introduces the secondary theme, which is rather darker; this is developed further in "Hero", with some impressive action music coming out of it; and then the score really explodes with the terrific "Run", sounding like a cross between Lord of the Rings and The Aviator.

"Violence" offers an intriguing trade-off between the score's two main ideas; Shore himself comments in his brief liner notes that he was attempting to create a dialogue between the alto flute (which plays the slightly warmer theme) and french horn (which plays the other one) and this particular cue typifies that.  "Porch" offers up some particularly brooding material (again recalling The Aviator); for once, Shore's dense orchestration can be heard clearly on the album, which makes a lot of difference (I don't know why, but of all the mainstream composers, he seems to be the one who most suffers from poor recording - perhaps he just favours a different type of sound, but it's always frustrating to hear what is apparently very detailed orchestration just being lost by the muddy recordings which dog the majority of his scores).  

"Alone" is a very effective, tragic piece of music, perfectly summing up the state of mind suggested by the cue title.  Shore does a great job throughout the score of getting inside the heads of the characters, something he has frequently done effectively.  "The Staircase" is a swirling, almost hypnotic piece, marred only by the theme it focuses on sounding (only for a bar or two) distractingly similar to Hans Zimmer's The Thin Red Line.  "The Road" shimmers and shines, continuing the hypnotic effect, before things turn seriously dark again in "Nice Gate".  "The Return" is anything but triumphant, suggesting a dogged, emotional climax to the film, but not one filled with any joy.  It's a telling and moving exploration of Shore's themes from the movie.  The album then ends with "Ending" (I suppose the clue's in the title) which at first seems to be a slight pity since the track before seems to bring things to a natural resolution, but as it develops it is clear that Shore still had something left to say, and it is here that he really does reinject the warmth back into the score which had been missing since very near its opening.

Lord of the Rings has opened up Shore's music to a considerably wider audience and it is scores like this that show why that is such a good thing.  Somehow though, it seems that as well as expanding his bank balance and prompting him to write fine music, that trilogy has somehow ignited an extra spark of creativity in the composer, who seems to continue to get better and better as time goes by.  A History of Violence is a somewhat brooding and not particularly striking score, but it rewards repeated listening, offering something new to discover every time.  It's not a score for everyone, but I highly recommend it to those willing to give it a chance.

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  1. Motel (3:11)
  2. Tom (1:31)
  3. Cheerleader (1:58)
  4. Diner (1:50)
  5. Hero (2:42)
  6. Run (2:25)
  7. Violence (3:12)
  8. Porch (4:17)
  9. Alone (1:36)
  10. The Staircase (2:44)
  11. The Road (3:06)
  12. Nice Gate (3:15)
  13. The Return (4:39)
  14. Ending (3:48)