Conan The Barbarian
Varese Sarabande Records, 1999
REVIEW BY: Alfredo Narvaez
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/30/2001
Do me a favor. Never, EVER drive to this music.
If you want to end up causing a major accident on any interstate in the nation, then drive to this great score by Basil Poledouris. It's that simple. Drive, put this in your CD player, and feel yourself become the wrath of Crom!
OK, I'll back up now and give you some exposition -- aka drop some knowledge on your ass.
In the early 1980s, director John Milius and producer Dino De Laurentis were putting together the film adaptation of Robert E. Howard's classic character. De Laurentis wanted a pop score-something akin to Queen's soundtrack to Flash Gordon. Milius disagreed and decided to bring in composer/director Basil Poledouris to create an epic style score to his movie. Poledouris went in and delivered what has become one of the best-known film scores of the last twenty years.
The music starts with the classic "Anvil Of Crom." Known for its rhythmic pounding and loud trumpets, "Anvil" has become one of the ten most used pieces in movie trailers (Just think of last year's Gladiator.) Right behind it comes the two-part "Riddle Of Steel/Riders Of Doom." The first part, "Riddle Of Steel," is very soft and quiet, as a father teaches his son. Then, the cue changes directions and becomes this classic action piece known for its ominous chanting. (For the record it goes, "Ave tela/Ave cruor/Ave /Moritur" or "Hail terror/Hail gore/Hail blood/Hail those who are about to die/"). Cool stuff, indeed.
From there, Poledouris shifts the music from light-adventure ("Theology/Civilization") to dark and ominous tones ("Gift Of Fury," "The Wheel Of Pain") and to epic classic ("Atlantean Sword" and "The Kitchen/The Orgy"). At every step, it's his music that ties this movie together and makes it memorable. He manages to use the very same cues in both light tones ("Civilization") and serious tones ("Wifeing").
Just how into this was Poledouris? He uses one of the most famous Gregorian chant ever, the "Dies Irae" or the Catholic Mass for the Dead as a sub-theme for the evil Thulsa Doom. Appearing in "Mountain Of Power Procession," it manages to provide enough subtle hints about Doom's true nature that James Earl Jones doesn't always have to resonate with evil - though he manages to at every turn.
The album closes with the classic "Battle Of The Mounds" and "Death Of Rexor" - two classic action cues where Poledouris shoves all the major cues back to us - before giving us a haunting piece with "The Orphans Of Doom/The Awakening." It's a quiet way of ending all of this impressive loudness.
I highly recommend this soundtrack to film music lovers, action music lovers-heck, to every music lover! Just make sure to never listen to it while driving. Otherwise, you may feel the need to crush your enemies, drive them before you and hear the lamentations of their women. Then again, that may not be such a bad idea.