Unlike most theological thrillers where the scores consist of themes for sacred and profane elements (the Omen films, as well as the more recent Angels & Demons), John Frizzell’s music for Legion is radically simplified into stark aggression, with a selective use of sounds – no warm woodwinds or trumpets for clichéd heralds - within a very broad aural spectrum.
Because God is pissed off at Mankind, the music has to have epic sonic scope, and Frizzell generally stays away from using a traditional orchestral makeup. “Michael Descends,” for example, has long, unnerving chords that are superceded by brass and percussion after a lot of metallic flanging in the opening bars. The percussion bridge begins with wooden strikes that eventually converge from loose clusters to heavy, almost unified hits before Frizzell fleshes out the score’s menacing theme (heard briefly in “When I Was a Little Girl”).
Coarse strings perform a consistent 3-3-5 note pattern that propels the score’s menacing theme, as aggressive forces converge on people in a gas station; and slyly intentional or not, it’s also a pattern that evokes the mass and rage of, well, sixties Godzilla films, but any further similarities dissipates as Frizzell starts to play with aspects of his theme.
While a horn-like wail looms over the pattern, eerie percussion hits tap across the stereo spectrum, and more interesting is the torn-up versions of the rhythm, where missing beats are filled in by digitally processed hits, creating an off-kilter and unstable image that leaves a sonic vacuum just long enough for the listener to feel relaxed, after which the full theme returns with hard percussion, snarling brass, and distant female chorals. The vocals are subsequently replaced by a reverberating digital sample, mimicking the choral parts, yet evoking a presence that’s now vanished, leaving just its wake, rippling in the foreground.
The dynamics of Legion – low sounds that fill out a broad spectrum – as well as the lack of an elegant liturgical theme (Jerry Goldsmith’s Damien Omen III is a perfect example of that) also recall Edward Shearmur’s Reign of Fire, with its emphasis on 20th century orchestral writing. Woven into that modern fabric are techno pulses and peripheral percussion hits stemming from metallic to digital, and hard surface hits with echoes resembling the morphing of dog barks and a clipped vocal chant.
More examples of Frizzell’s inventiveness lie “Dark World,” where the frenetic strings shift pitch, slowing down the cue and displacing the listener’s expectations; and there’s the cue’s concluding bars where layers of shrill, discordant strings are glued to high-pitched brass, and whole tones are sort of nudged like pliable cardboard.
The first sign of melody comes in “Old and Pissed Off,” with mid-level strings and solo piano, which Frizzell later fleshes out in the album’s final cues as the battle comes to a resolution. The harmonics of the theme are also close to the intro bars of “When I Was a Little Girl,” and perhaps that’s where Frizzell creates his link between sacred and profane: tender sounds that flow in a calm wind, and the minimalist notes of the menacing theme that seem to trick the listener as a variation of goodness before revealing its true, dark colours.
Unlike Frizzell’s prior thriller scores – particularly the Dark Castle works such as The Reaping, Thite3n Ghosts, and Ghost Ship – Legion is structurally tighter. There’s less need to focus on other characters because the conflict is up-front, and apparently not tied to a whodunit plot (as was the case with Whiteout) nor what character will soon mysteriously disappear.
The Reaping had plenty of chorals, but the album seemed to run out of steam because the film had no gradual denouement (plus the title sequence was at the end of the film, mandating a quick, up-tempo mix of the main theme).
There also seems to have been more sequences in Legion where the composer could play with progressing ambiances before going bonkers in cues like “The Ice Cream Man,” with squeaking/squelching strings and rubbery low brass. Cues like “Attack of the Possessed” also provide a subtle B-movie sound with the brass playing out hard chords like a Universal monster movie, since some of the film’s visuals make use of goofy morphing humanoids (such as Paul Bettany’s weird ice cream man, with his pinhead hat, and stretchee-bendee maw).
The progression from weird occurrences to more dire conditions are overt in “God’s Plan,” with deeply unsettling celli overlaid with tragic lines from the violins, and there’s a heavier use of all major elements – mixed chorus, strings, and brass – as the conflicts thicken in subsequent cues. Also noted by the composer in the liner notes is the use of what Frizzell calls “frozen sounds,” where digitally treated samples sort of hang and waver like human voices (evident in cues like “Percy’s Story” and “Are We Safe Now?”).
La-La Land’s mastering is first rate, and the 51 min. album (including an alternate version of the final cue, “You Are the True Protector” with extra beatific décor) is probably Frizzell’s most dramatically satisfying thriller score.
To read an interview with composer John Frizzell, click HERE.
© 2010 Mark R. Hasan