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Soundtrack review: Mad Max: Fury road (Tom Holkenborg – 2015)

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Finally! I’ve been waiting for this score for months. This score and this movie have been on my most anticipated list of 2015 and the kicker is there’s no way they could disappoint. I’ve rarely been this excited about a score. This is one of the rare cases when I know for sure what I will get from both and it will be delightful. There are no grey areas or doubts: “Mad Max: Fury Road”, both the movie and the score, will be among the most bad ass action outings of the year. The trailer for the fourth movie in the post-apocalyptic franchise that launched both the genre and Mel Gibson looked unbelievable, nonstop adrenaline and I am sure both Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron will deliver. And who better to deliver the score than Tom Holkenborg aka Junkie XL, Hans Zimmer’s lead pupil and the heir to the throne. His name has become a stamp of excellence for me and he already delivered this year with “Run all night”. So I am excited, I am putting my best headphones on and I am ready to get blown out of my seat. Bring it!

The score starts as if it was the child of “Man of steel”. Tom Holkenborg’s work on that score pays off and it feels as if I am hearing a sequel to “Arcade”. That “Braaaaam” sound, the heavy percussion, the thundering echo inside me. Just the beating of an immense gong announcing the start of the score. Then we get that raw, spectacular and deafening beating of a thousand drums in the middle of a swarm of a million angry bees with “Escape”. Powerful sound systems were made for a score like this. A couple of tracks in and I want to stop and rush to the nearest electronics store and get more power, better speakers, better headphones, anything. The music slowly covers me like a sand storm until I can’t see or feel anything else.

As this score progresses I get a constant feeling of immensity. I recall the early Mad Max movies as feeling personal and somehow intimate but the music here just blasts that entire deserted and violent universe on our doorstep. Once the scenery is set Tom Holkenberg takes the time to also focus on emotions. The emotional motifs (I get the first set of goose bumps midway through “Immortan’s citadel”) are magnificent and their scale makes me think once again of Superman. You cannot mistake the world of “Mad Max: Fury road” with your own world. Tom Holkenberg painted an aggressive and violent canvas far away from anything you’ve known until now. With every note and with every cue I get even more impatient to watch the movie. Imagine these sounds doubled by the on screen extravaganza…

But this is all about the music. And there’s over 2 hours of it on this release. Two wonderful, insane, powerful and mind altering hours of film music that will be remembered years from now. The thrilling pace of the score is even better appreciated when the more atmospheric breaks come and just stop time. The end of “Storm is coming” is such a moment. It beats every emotional trailer music cue you’ve ever heard. “We are not things” is an eerie, almost elegiac oasis in the middle of this eternal desert. It’s a vision, it won’t last, but the illusion just warms my heart. I am a big fan of atmospheric and reflective music and when a section like “Water” and “The rig” comes up I am just as happy as when I am blown out of my chair by the brutal and loud cues. That swarm of angry bees has stopped and their constant buzzing is not a little quieter. Truce?

And then the percussion storms back in. The start of “Blood bag” for example is just pure percussion madness and I love it. I know a lot of people who frown at Hans Zimmer or RCP scores will say that this isn’t music, that Tom Holkenborg and the others are killing orchestral music and so on. Those people should not forget that film music is made to support and complete a film. The world of “Mad Max” is special and unique and it needs its own sound, its own music. For me, this score is music. Insane music, brutal music, biblically epic spectacular music and I love every second of it. The adrenaline rush is unparalleled and I feel my heart jumpstarting every time one of the more intense cues comes up. How can I not be affected by the power of “Brothers in arms”? This is a cue that electrocutes, crushes, inspires and makes you feel like a god.

Each piece of the score for “Mad Max: Fury road” is just like each of the spectacular and unique vehicles in the movie: a spiky hybrid, a fast and loud contraption suited for the creature that drives it or, in this case, for the one who listens to it. I feel the need to say something about every single cue, from the perfect way in which “The chase” (I would say it’s my favorite cue from “Mad Max” but I know this will change by the time the score ends) blends motivational melody with relentless percussion to the opera sound of “Moving on”; the hypnotic and addictive “The bog”, the monster cue of this monster score at over 12 minutes long or the unreal requiem that is “Many mothers”.

“Mad Max: Fury road” is about as loud and spectacular as a score can get. I don’t think any composer can do more. Tom Holkenborg gave this world and these characters the music they deserved. The ones who enjoyed the movie will find satisfaction in this exhilarating score. Fans of “Man of steel” and of Tom Holkenborg’s previous work will grow even more attached to this composer. Haters are going to hate. But if you are opened to it you will discover a score that will abuse your ears and enchant your souls in the same time.        You will not forget “Fury road” and you will return to it when you need the adrenaline. In Tom Holkenborg aka Junkie XL I trust and I count the days until “Batman v Superman” will be out. Until then, it will be a while before I’ll listen to anything other than “Mad Max: Fury road”.

Cue rating: 100 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 125 / 125

Album excellence: 100%

Highlights:

Survive (Extended Version)

Escape (Extended Version)

Immortan’s Citadel (Extended Version)

Blood Bag (Extended Version)

Buzzards Arrive (Bonus Track)

Spikey Cars (Extended Version)

Storm Is Coming (Extended Version)

We Are Not Things (Extended Version)

Water (Extended Version)

The Rig (Extended Version)

(Into the Canyon (Bonus Track)

Brothers In Arms (Extended Version)

The Chase (Bonus Track)

Moving On (Bonus Track)

The Bog (Extended Version)

Redemption

Many Mothers (Extended Version)

The Return To Nowhere (Bonus Track)

Claw Trucks (Extended Version)

Immortan (Bonus Track)

Chapter Doof

Walhalla Awaits (Bonus Track)

My Name Is Max

Let Them Up

Mary Jo Bassa (Bonus Track)

Coda (Bonus Track)

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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