Ravenous – Damon Albarn & Michael Nyman

After dissecting the musical opus that is John Carpenter and Alan Howarth’s They Live Soundtrack Jack Crow is back to talk about Ravenous a soundtrack that will leave your ears hungry for more horror.

Ravenous is a weird, cult 1999 period cannibal flick, where eating long pig gives you super human strength and not much really happens, other than a lot of horrible acting. I thought it was terrible. Its soundtrack, however, is something quite special.

At the time Damon Albarn was him-out-of-Blur, and hadn’t yet collaborated with the entire music industry and half of Africa, so the idea of him teaming with Proper Composer Michael Nyman was a big draw. In truth, the two wrote their respective tracks separately, with Nyman adding his contributions after Albarn’s.

The soundtrack begins with several Nyman recordings of music by Stephen Foster, the 19th Century ‘father of American music’, played here off-kilter, slightly out of time and further out of tune. Whether meant as being played appropriately for the period, or as some sort of schlocky ‘everything’s a bit kooky!’ vibe, they serve as a red herring for the meat (pun intended) of the record.

The bulk of the soundtrack (Albarn’s contribution) works around loops, building upon them layer by layer over the course of several minutes, often reaching hypnotic, terrifying crescendos. ‘Colqhoun’s Story’ starts with an innocent sounding loop of more period music, adds several layers of ominous strings and discordant melody, before crushing it all under growling brass that terrifies and sends shivers down this listener’s spine with every play. Its a trick thats repeated with great success on ’Manifest Destiny’ (this time with an added late surge in tempo that only increases the heart palpitations), and ’saveoursoulissa’, which soundtracks the film’s climactic fight scene and grows from scattergun percussion and snatches of distant vocals to a relentless, hypnotic drone of bass and chanting. The record is an uncomfortable listen throughout, even at its most light there sounds to be something not quite right.

This is most apparent on ’Trek to the Cave’ and ’The Pit’, more traditional orchestral pieces that shimmer with an eerie beauty, the calm before the storm, whilst both still retaining an unresolved sense of terror (that classic sound of high-pitched violin held relentlessly throughout) that never quite goes away. Both pieces pay off this dread, the former ending with a cacophonous blast of frenzied brass, and the latter followed by ‘Ive’s Return’ that shatters the calm with a brief cascading explosion of orchestral pomp, just in case you’d become too relaxed.

The highlight is perhaps ‘End Titles’ which ties together the disparate elements of looping melody and sweeping orchestral swells into a wonderfully sombre piece that refuses to resolve itself and leaves you wanting more, tempting the listener to start the record all over again looking for a bit of closure.

Discarding the few ‘traditional’ early tracks, there isn’t a weak piece on Ravenous, and its testament to how good the music is that despite being associated with a film I really didn’t enjoy the soundtrack became a favourite. How it works in the context of the film itself is something I have lost perspective on, all I can be sure of is Ravenous the soundtrack is far better than Ravenous the film, and listened to in isolation stands alone as a wonderful and unique piece of horror music.

Listen to some of the Ravenous soundtrack here:

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Sam Draper

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