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ANGELS & DEMONS – Hans Zimmer

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The second film based on author Dan Brown’s enormously popular series of novels about the adventures of Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, Angels & Demons is actually a prequel to the popular and controversial The Da Vinci Code. Tom Hanks returns as Langdon, who becomes embroiled in another labyrinthine plot of mysteries and clues following the death of the Pope. Before the conclave to choose a his successor can begin, the four senior bishops in line for the position are kidnapped by a group claiming to be the ancient cult of the Illuminati, who want revenge against the Vatican for centuries of persecution at the hands of the catholic church.

Directed once again by Ron Howard, the film co-stars Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgård and Armin Mueller-Stahl, and sees the return of Hans Zimmer to the composer’s role. The music for Angels & Demons has the same basic formula as The Da Vinci Code, with significant emphasis on string writing, churning rhythmic ideas, and a general classical opulence. The opening cue, “160 BPM”, pits a relentlessly onrushing rhythmic core against clever, echoing contrapuntal choral parts sung in Latin and dark, percussive moments which grow in pace and intensity as the track progresses. It’s an impressive opening.

The importance and esteem of the project also attracted virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell, whose superbly realized performances can be heard in several cues, beginning with the “God Particle”. Zimmer’s main theme, which first appears in the second cue, is clearly based on the ‘Chevaliers de Sangreal’ motif from the final of the first film, and provides an important aural link between the two; its graceful oscillations, and Bell’s performances of them, can be heard in several later cues, notably the serene first part of “Science and Religion” and in “Election by Adoration” and the conclusive “503”. The theme also features in a piano-led version at the end of “Air” which is a nice twist, and it’s also worth mentioning the deathly, wonderfully chilling cello writing in “Immolation”, as the fate of the film’s true antagonist is revealed in all its fiery glory.

Some of the choral writing has a real sense of power and depth, especially when the male voices rise to the fore signing plainsong accompanied by important-sounding tolling bells, like those at the beginning of “Air”. Zimmer has been writing stuff like this since Crimson Tide, but its overall effectiveness is not diminished. Zimmer often uses synthesized organ effects to further enhance the ecclesiastical overtones of the story and its Vatican setting. Unfortunately, the score does tend to get bogged down in rather too much turgid electronic churning, especially in cues such as “God Particle” and “Black Smoke”, which adopt a rather unfortunate industrial sound that stands massively at odds with the elegance of choral and violin work.

And basically, that’s how the score progresses, switching between the droning modernistic suspense cues and more classically-inflected pieces for choir and strings. Bell’s parts, and the choral parts, are lovely, but the album as a whole is dragged down by the ghastly synth effects, which take up too much of the album’s running time, and are impossible to skip because, due to the length of the cues and the way the album is structured, the best bits by and large appear in the middle of cues.

Rating: ***½

Track Listing:

  • 160 BPM (6:42)
  • God Particle (5:20)
  • Air (9:08)
  • Fire (6:51)
  • Black Smoke (5:45)
  • Science and Religion (12:27)
  • Immolation (3:38)
  • Election By Adoration (2:12)
  • 503 (2:14)

Track Listing: 54 minutes 17 seconds

Sony Classical 88697-52096-2 (2009)

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