Home > Reviews > PRIEST – Christopher Young

PRIEST – Christopher Young

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

You always know where you stand with a Christopher Young horror score. Throughout his career, going all the way back to Hellraiser in 1987 and continuing on through scores like Hellbound: Hellraiser II, Bless the Child and Drag Me to Hell, horror movies with religious overtones have defined the majority of his best work, brought him the most fans, and earned him the most acclaim. Although he is enormously accomplished at writing in literally dozens of styles, from the smooth jazz of scores like Rounders to the soaring orchestral beauty of scores like Murder in the First, his work in this genre remains the cornerstone of his writing, and Priest is yet another outstanding example of why he remains one of the best in the business as this kind of thing.

The film is based on a popular Korean comic book, is directed by Scott Charles Stewart, and is set in an alternate reality where humans and vampires have been at war for centuries, and where the Church has become one of the last vestiges of civilization on the planet, gathering the ragtag remnants of the human race inside giant walled cities. Paul Bettany stars as the nameless Priest – part clergyman, part ass-kicking warrior vampire slayer – who is forced into action when his niece (Lily Collins) is captured by the vampire leader Black Hat (Karl Urban), who is attempting to provoke mankind into an all-out war with the vampires. The film also stars Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q, Stephen Moyer and Christopher Plummer.

As one might expect, Young’s score for the film is absolutely enormous, making use of a large and vigorous orchestra, electronics, a church organ, a massive choral element, and various vocal soloists ranging from Lisa Gerrard’s soothing world music tones, to a bank of deep and menacing throat singers. Some of the ideas are clearly inspired by Hans Zimmer’s current penchant for using repeated cello ostinatos as a base for the music – although it has to be said that Young uses the motif better and with more panache than anyone else who has used it – while other parts of the score pull up compositional flourishes from Young’s past, including but not limited to scores like Hellraiser II, Species and Copycat.

The opening cue, “Priest”, is powerful and portentous, with a swirling repeated string figure, resonant brass chords, an interesting ascending woodwind triplet which dances under the main melody, the ticking woodblock from Species, bold choral accents, and eventually a Toccata and Fugue-style pipe organ to complete the sense of ecclesiastical grandeur. It’s a wonderful piece, full of everything that makes Chris Young great, and sets the tone for the score to come.

The second cue, the gorgeous “Eclipsed Heart”, is the flipside of the horror, and introduces the first of several moments of deep orchestral and choral beauty. It has some of the same surging string work that so typified his excellent score for Murder in the First, and often plays the main theme in harmony with what sounds an Armenian duduk clarinet, to excellent and haunting effect. This tender central motif actually plays a large part in the score as a whole; in amongst all the mayhem that follows the theme makes guest appearances from time to time, reminding the listener that the driving force for all this is the rescue of an innocent young girl.

The pure action and horror music is of the in-your-face sturm-und-drang variety, more often than not employing the colossal orchestral and choral forces at their loudest, and often underpinned by a noticeably large percussion section. The immense “I Have Sinned” features a superb variation on the brass triplets that accompanied the resurrection sequence from the first Hellraiser, before erupting into a series of vicious explosions of horn-led mayhem that are wondrous to behold. The moments of chaotic dissonance and rampaging rhythms towards the end of the cue are just fantastic. Later, in “Blood Framed Hell”, a male voice choir chants ominously, accompanied by sinister vocal utterances, unnerving synth effects, and vivid outbursts of orchestral carnage.

The splendid “Sacrosanct Delirium” sees Young almost heading into Howard Shore/Lord of the Rings territory in the opening few moments, especially in the way the orchestra and chorus harmonizes, before continuing on through the subsequent seven minutes with terrific compositional creativity and orchestral muscle. The dark and threatening seven-note brass motif at the end of the cue clearly represents the appearance of something hideous and evil in the world.

“The Vampire Train” reveals itself to be a relentless powerhouse of a cue that revisits the Hellraiser triplets from earlier in the score, but augments them with an even more overwhelming layer of thrusting brass writing and choral turmoil, as well as a series of brutal percussion rhythms that keep the energy levels high. “Detuned Towne” is similarly exciting, and concludes with an extraordinary collision of full-throttle choral chanting, flute flutters, whooping horn clusters, and an astonishing snare drum rhythm that seems to mimic the death throes of a speeding train.

To counterbalance all this devilment, Young tempers his music with several moments more tonal, thematic writing. The majestic “Faith, Work, Security” begins with throat singers offset against a pulsating, more modern vibe that is little reminiscent of the music Daft Punk wrote for Tron Legacy last year, especially in the way the electronic pulses are married to the orchestra, before emerging into a heavenly choral variation on the main theme. “Cathedral City Blue” builds on this style further, even going so far as to add triangle rings to the percussion section to add to the heroism, while beefing up the cello ostinatos, giving the cue a sense of movement, forward motion, and clarity of purpose that is highly appealing. These parts of the score have a clear similarity to Hans Zimmer’s “Chevaliers de Sangreal” from The DaVinci Code, but Young’s mastery of the orchestra and more varied arrangements give them a great deal more life and depth.

Composer and vocalist Lisa Gerrard lends her uniquely exotic tones to cues such as “Never One for Love” and the uplifting and majestic “Fanfare For A Resurrected Priest” to excellent effect, the latter of which reminds me a little of the more tribal parts of Brian Tyler’s Children of Dune, coupled with sophisticated eletronica of the aforementioned Tron Legacy. The score concludes with what is probably its most impressive cue, “A World Without End”, which revisits the hypnotically rhythmic theme from “Cathedral City Blue”, but increases the sense of majesty and emotion by merging it with Lisa Gerrard’s vocal work, higher register strings, and noble trumpet triplets, resulting in a cue that acts as a strong restatement of the score’s core elements, as well as a fitting and optimistic coda to the action.

Priest is a marvelous listening experience from start to finish, filled with avant-garde orchestral and choral textures, colorful action music, and no small amount of majestic religioso beauty. There’s virtually nothing to criticize about the score; at a touch under an hour it never outlasts its welcome, it constantly presents refreshing and interesting compositional ideas, it manages to take the all-pervasive RC cello lines and make them work well in a different setting, and it confirms Christopher Young as the undisputed master of this kind of music, as he has been since the mid-1980s. It’s available as a digital download and a CDR-on-demand from Madison Gate Records via Amazon and iTunes, and I unhesitatingly recommend it to all.

Rating: ****½

Buy the Priest soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Priest (3:26)
  • Eclipsed Heart (3:34)
  • I Have Sinned (5:07)
  • Blood Framed Hell (3:52)
  • Sacrosanct Delirium (7:44)
  • Never One For Love (2:38)
  • Faith Work Security (2:14)
  • The Vampire Train (7:00)
  • Fanfare For A Resurrected Priest (2:39)
  • Cathedral City Blue (6:44)
  • Detuned Towne (2:33)
  • A World Without End (7:39)

Running Time: 55 minutes 10 seconds

Madison Gate Records (2011)

Music composed by Christopher Young. Orchestrations by Peter Bateman, Kristen Baum, Davy Bernagoult, Yoann Bernagoult, Tony Blondal, Richard Bronskill, Konstantinos Christides, Benoit Grey, Jørgen Lauritsen, Sean McMahon, Sujin Nam, Joohyun Park and David Shephard. Additional music by Max Blomgren, Andrew Spence, Kevin Teasley, Jonathan Timpe and Brandon K. Verrett. Special vocal performances by Lisa Gerrard. Recorded and mixed by Peter Fuchs. Edited by Thomas Milano. Album produced by Christopher Young and Max Blomgren.

  1. Craig Richard Lysy
    May 16, 2011 at 7:30 am

    I could not agree more Jon. We saw this yesterday and this is the most robust and powerful score Young has written since his Helraiser days. I hope the A World Without End cue is the film’s End Title Suite which for me was just amazing.

  2. batman844
    May 31, 2011 at 11:20 am

    The movie was too short and felt half finished, but this really is Christopher Young back to his very best. Great strong themes for choir and orchestra. I’m glad it got a CD release, even if it is as an ‘on-demand-CDR’.

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