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MONGOL – Tuomas Kantelinen

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

For a long time now I have been of the opinion that Finnish composer Tuomas Kantelinen is one of film’s music’s greatest undiscovered talents, whose expertise and excellence would enliven a partially stagnant Hollywood film music scene. It’s ironic therefore that his biggest international assignment to date – the epic biographical drama Mongol – features one of his least accessible, but conversely most impressive scores.

Mongol, which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2008, and was directed by Sergei Bodrov, recounts the early life of Genghis Khan (Tadanobu Asano), who endured life as a slave on the cold, inhospitable steppes of Central Asia, before going on to conquer half the world in the 13th century. Kantelinen’s score is very, very authentic; it features a small, string-dominated orchestra which churns moodily, with lots of bass and heavy emphasis in the lower registers of the instruments, and is augmented by lots and lots of vocalists, including the unique khöömii throat-singing, female soloists lamenting and ululating over the orchestra, as well as the unique art of “urtiin duu” – traditional Mongolian long-singing.

The “Beginning” is eerily evocative, setting the scene well, while later cues such as “Temudgin’s Escape”, “Merkit Territory” and “Showing Strength” add a level of drama and weight to the score through their dark, heavy string chords. Action music comes by way of the frantic, percussion heavy “Attack”, “Slavery”, “The First Attachment” and the heroic “Tengri’s Help”, one of the few tonally bright spots of the score. To counterbalance the drama, cues such as “Together Now” have a dream-like element to them, with synths and chimes combining to give the music a sense of calm and peace, while the lush and emotional “Love Theme” is one of the few nods to traditional western film scoring.

The album also features additional music by traditional Mongolian folk/rock group Altan Urag, who have a unique fusion sound which melds traditional Mongolian string and woodwind instruments with modern western elements to intriguing effect. Their work can be heard in cues such as “At the Fireplace”, “Chase I”, “Funeral and Robbery”, “Chase II” and “Joy in Mongolia”, and adds another element of regional distinctiveness to an already non-standard score. It’s all very impressive stuff, and comes recommended to listeners whose tastes extend into world music.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Beginning (4:35)
  • At the Fireplace (0:48)
  • Blood Brothers (1:08)
  • Chase I (0:51)
  • Fighting Boys (0:53)
  • Temudgin’s Escape (2:03)
  • Funeral and Robbery (2:30)
  • Together Now (1:52)
  • Love Theme (1:25)
  • Chase II (1:36)
  • Cold Winter (2:30)
  • Merkit Territory (1:53)
  • Attack (0:44)
  • Martial Rage (1:12)
  • Jamukha is Following (1:30)
  • Slavery (1:48)
  • Long Journey (0:49)
  • Destiny (1:49)
  • Joy in Mongolia (3:07)
  • Final Battle – Showing Strength (2:15)
  • Final Battle – Tactical Order (0:36)
  • Final Battle – The First Attachment (1:21)
  • Final Battle – Death by Arrows (1:55)
  • Tengri’s Help (0:57)
  • Victory to Khan (1:36)
  • No Mercy (1:56)

Running Time: 43 minutes 39 seconds

Varèse Sarabande VSD-6902 (2008)

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