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Venom
  • Composed by Ludwig Göransson
  • Sony Classical / 55m

If there’s one thing I am sure we can all agree on, it’s that there just aren’t enough comic book movies being made by Hollywood right now, so it was to everyone’s relief that Sony decided to plug this gap in the market by launching their own series of Marvel films to run parallel with the Disney ones.  The first in this series is Venom, a symbiotic lifeform who requires oxygen-breathing hosts – like humans, say.  It stars Tom Hardy, is directed by Ruben Fleischer and looks set to make decent money despite poor reviews.

Composer Ludwig Göransson joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe with his very popular score for Black Panther.  When he signed on to Venom, he said working on  superhero films was something he really wanted to do because “as a young film composer that is one of the things you dream of – superhero themes really resonate with audiences.”  Not long after, director Fleischer described the film as being one which had “no heroes” – oops!

Ludwig Göransson

The score certainly reflects that – there is absolutely no superhero theme here to really resonate with audiences – it’s an outright horror score, one which does have a theme (which appears in virtually every track, in fact) but it’s an angry one and you won’t be humming it afterwards.  It’s an angry score, one of the angriest I’ve ever heard – growling, snarling, heavy on abrasive electronic sounds.

The album opens with “Space Exploration” – a bleak soundscape, with orchestra, voices and electronics – and that is how the music goes on.  It flits between pretty oppressive action and terror and more psychological trauma which seems to come from the inside (clever, given the nature of the lead character).  First time I listened, I recoiled at it all – but I’ve given it another go, then another, and I’m glad I didn’t dismiss this early on because it’s actually an impressive – if not exactly pleasant – piece of work.

At times the most heavy-duty action music reminds me a bit of Don Davis’s two Matrix sequel scores (or at least, a version of that but with even more hardcore electronics) – you can’t always hear it but there’s an awful lot going on there in the orchestra.  Even more pertinently, the score often reminds me of the underrated Event Horizon, written by Michael Kamen in collaboration with the techno duo Orbital, not just in its style but also in its relentless nature and clear psychological intentions.

Göransson does occasionally (very occasionally) let the listener pause for breath with a couple of slightly gentler interludes but generally he keeps his foot right on the gas.  When he really lets rip with the action music, I think the score’s at its best – “Run, Eddie, Run” early on, then the brilliant “Pedal to the Metal” in the middle of the album – and especially near the end when a whole parade of cues make up one long musical action sequence.  “Venom Rampage” is violent and scary to start this sequence off but it’s in the lengthy, eight-minute “Battle on the Launch Pad” that things really reach their zenith. In the (generally softer) last track there’s more than a hint of Clint Mansell’s famous “Lux Aeterna” from Requiem for a Dream.

This may not be a popular opinion but if anything I think Venom is probably a more impressive composition than Black Panther.  Stylistically, large parts of it are not to my taste and I can’t imagine I will want to revisit it particularly often in future (reflected in the star rating below), but I can’t help but be impressed by how well the composer’s pulled off his strong vision for the score and made it so relentless.  I’ve seen a lot of commentary online from film music fans having the same reaction as I did initially – I hope they give it the chance to show what it’s really made of because it really is proper film music, challenging though it may be.  Listen to samples first because it’s certainly not going to be for everyone – and as I said earlier, it really is dark and angry – it’s surprised me just how much I’ve come to admire it and that may well be the case for you too.

Rating: ***

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