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Soundtrack review: Black mass (Tom Holkenborg – 2015)

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Soundtrack review: Black mass (Tom Holkenborg – 2015)


“Black mass” is a biopic about one of the most infamous Irish-American mobster, Whitey Bulger. Following a string of violent acts, he becomes an FBI informant for 30 years in order to take down a Mafia family invading his turf. The film focuses on the period of the late 1970s and early 1980s, as Whitey was solidifying his position as leader of a famous gang. The movie has a mouthwatering cast which includes Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch and Kevin Bacon amongst others. Aside from the story and the cast which will surely make me watch the movie, there’s also the tiny detail of the score being written by Tom Holkenborg who finally completes his transformation and drops the Junkie XL alias. It’s mid-September and Tom still has the number one score for me in 2015, “Mad Max: Fury Road”. I’m sure “Black mass” will be a more contained and different affair and I can’t wait to enjoy it. Tom already wrote a mafia score this year, “Run all night” and it as brilliant.

Lately there’s a special kind of excitement whenever one of his scores comes out. There’s a thrill inside me, a shiver, a spark that tells me I’m in for an electric and rewarding hour. It’s the same feeling I get when I know autumn is coming. I love autumn, it’s my favorite season. When this score opens I get he same feeling as if I was standing in the middle of September looking at the clear sky and suddenly the clouds rush in and cover it all in grey. It gets chili and in a few minutes the grey sky looks as if it’s been there for months. There’s a feeling of natural settlement, of comfort in darkness and this is what happens to me as “Black mass” progresses.

But this is a different kind of autumn. It seems the transformation from Junkie XL to Tom Holkenborg is complete not only in name but also in sound. As much as I loved the electrical storms from his previous scores of 2015, the dark depth in “Black mass” somehow sounds even better. This score is an endless elegy or requiem and there is little to no hope in it. Somehow the heartbreaking sound of “Black mass” makes me think of Patrick Doyle’s music. Yes, Tom wrote a score as brilliant, melodic and emotional as one Patrick Doyle would write and to hear something like this after the tornado of sound that was “Mad Max” cements my conviction that Tom Holkenborg is one of the best and most brilliant composers working today.

“Black mass” is subdued and sophisticated. “Black mass” makes me feel and think. “Black mass” affects me. “Black mass” is hard to take in one listen because it’s so dark and heavy. A cue like “Aspirin”, sad as it is, feels my heart with joy because it comes from another age of film music. This score simply buries me and yet I still love it. this score is one of the best surprises of the year not because of how good it is, because I expected this from Tom Holkenborg, but because of its sound. Enjoy a dark and cello heavy score and forget about mind blowing percussion or addictive electronic sounds. You won’t get them here. You’ll just here an artist’s complete transformation into a film music composer. Can “Batman v Superman” come sooner, please?

Cue rating: 100 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 62 / 62

Album excellence: 100%


Black Mass Opening Title

Boston Crime Lord

John Connolly

Bulger Burial Ground

My Boy

Don’t Wake Him Up

You Got Two Minutes


No Drugs, No Murder

I Will Pull The Plug Myself

When You Wake Up In The Morning

It’s Just The Beginning


Did You Ever See Whitey Bulger Murder Anyone?

Thanks To Whitey

Jimmy And Marianne

You’ll Be Sorry

Boston Globe


Strictly Criminal

Take Care Kid


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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