Home > Reviews > LAND OF THE DEAD – Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek

LAND OF THE DEAD – Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek

landofthedeadOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

George A. Romero and zombies go together like peaches and cream, Tom and Jerry, or peanut butter and jelly. The 65-year old American director has built his career on movies such as Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, up to the point where today his name is virtually synonymous with the shambling, moaning creatures of our nightmares. His latest horror effort is Land of the Dead, the fourth installment in the “Dead” series, which stars Simon Baker, Dennis Hopper, John Leguizamo and Asia Argento as some of the last surviving humans, battling to stay alive in their fortified walled city after the zombies have finally taken over the world. Although some of the previous “Dead” films have included cult-like scores by artists as varied as Italian pop group Goblin and composers Claudio Simonetti and John Harrison, I have never seen their appeal. Although they inarguably suit the bleak nature their films, and though I acknowledge the fact that many of them are extremely popular with devotees of the genre, they have always seemed to me to be too bizarre, too experimental, too much out in left field to be truly enjoyable listening experiences.

The same can be said of the score for Land of the Dead, by German electronic composer Reinhold Heil and his Australian counterpart Johnny Klimek. The pair have written music for a number of successful films since they first teamed up in the late 1990s to work on director Tom Tykwer’s successful German thriller Run Lola Run. Subsequent projects such as One Hour Photo and the acclaimed TV movie Iron Jawed Angels have raised their international profile, but from a purely musical perspective I have never connected with their music on any level: almost totally electronic in nature, and consisting mainly of ambient sound design coupled with “urban” beats. So it is with Land of the Dead.

The score is written, arranged, programmed and designed by Klimek and Heil, with help from fellow composers Gabriel Mounsey, Shaun Thomas Odyssey and Bruce Winter, and is performed exclusively on Apple Logic samplers and sequencers. Having now subjected myself to this soundtrack twice, I am finding it increasingly difficult to find anything remotely positive to say about it. From almost the first cue to the last, the music is simply there: it whines, it whistles, it groans, and it hammers along like some kind of sub-industrial nightmare threatening to rip out my cochlea from the inside. The constant barrage of stingers, shrill shrieks and all manner of unpleasant discord quickly becomes tiresome. There are no themes, no obvious recurring motifs, virtually nothing in the way of melody, and no respite from the unremitting bleakness.

It’s almost impossible to pick out genuine highlight tracks, but of the 36 cues on this seemingly endless CD, one or two do stand out from the sludge. “Call It a Night” and “Military Zone” both build into muscular, pseudo-militaristic marches with sampled brasses and snares. “Department Store Raid” has a catchy pulse which briefly raises the tempo. “Saving Slack” and “Shoot Manolette” have a vaguely Aliens-esque intensity to then, and represent some the few moments of genuine suspense on the album. “City Battle”, “The Battle Continues” and “Mall Slaughter” are probably the best action cues, featuring a combination of tortured electronic groans and rapid rhythmic patterns with monstrous rock orchestrations over the top – quite energetic and powerful stuff in comparison to the rest of the album. “The Massacre” provides the only moments of thematic resolution in the entire score, although even here the music is hamstrung by the simplistic nature of the chord progressions and the unnatural sound of the electronics. The six-minute finale, “To Canada” recapitulates the score’s more prominent elements, concluding with a hard rock anthem which is surprisingly entertaining.

Amazingly, this score has been the recipient a great deal of positive reaction from the mainstream cinematic press: Justin Chang of Variety said that the score is “serviceably grim, with repeated patterns that evoke the restless walk of the damned”, while Michael Rechshaffen of the Hollywood Reporter called it “pulse-pounding and uncompromising”. From my point of view (and bearing in mind I have not yet seen the film), if I never listen to this CD again it will be too soon. I almost feel like writing a letter to Robert Townson at Varèse, asking him to compensate me for the 148 minutes of my life I lost while listening to this score. I realize I am being a touch harsh here, and that this kind of barren musical wasteland was probably very appropriate for the film and was what George Romero asked his composers to provide, but I truly feel that releasing 74 minutes of this score on CD was a complete waste of time and effort for all those involved. Avoid at all costs, unless you really like this sort of thing.

Rating: *½

Track Listing:

  • Sometime Ago (2:14)
  • Eats (1:03)
  • Big Daddy (2:26)
  • Call it a Night (2:32)
  • Last Night (2:43)
  • Department Store Raid (2:13)
  • Into Liquor Store (0:50)
  • Liquor Store (2:25)
  • Military Zone (0:57)
  • Saving Slack (1:03)
  • Cholo Escapes (0:17)
  • Zombie Targets (1:24)
  • Stealing Dead Reckoning (3:09)
  • Meeting Kaufman (0:53)
  • Leaving Mouse (1:30)
  • Team into City (2:09)
  • Looking for Ammo (3:36)
  • Shoot Manolete (1:20)
  • Driving to Drop Off (2:46)
  • Zombie on the River Bank (1:21)
  • Surface (2:07)
  • City Battle (3:56)
  • Overcome Cholo (2:04)
  • Back to the City (2:56)
  • Cholo Bitten (1:11)
  • The Battle Continues (1:19)
  • Mercy Killing (2:16)
  • Zombies Enter Mall (0:44)
  • Mall Slaughter (1:54)
  • Dead Reckoning Under Siege (1:35)
  • Get Away (2:51)
  • You Have No Right! (0:37)
  • Gasoline (4:00)
  • The Massacre (2:18)
  • Now We Can Go (0:28)
  • To Canada (6:49)

Running Time: 73 minutes 56 seconds

Varèse Sarabande VSD-6666 (2005)

Music composed, arranged and performed by Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek. Additional music by Gabriel Mounsey, Shaun Thomas Odyssey and Bruce Winter. Recorded and mixed by Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek and Bruce Winter. Edited by Kevin Banks. Mastered by Erick Labson. Album produced by Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek.

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