Soundtrack review: Brimstone (Tom Holkenborg – 2016)
“Brimstone” is a 2016 western thriller film conceived, written and directed by Martin Koolhoven. The film stars Dakota Fanning, Guy Pearce, Kit Harington and Carice van Houten. It is described as a triumphant epic of survival and a tale of powerful womanhood and resistance against the unforgiving cruelty of a hell on earth. Liz (Dakota Fanning), carved from the beautiful wilderness, full of heart and grit, hunted by a vengeful Preacher (Guy Pearce) – a diabolical zealot and her twisted nemesis. But Liz is a genuine survivor; she’s no victim – a woman of fearsome strength who responds with astonishing bravery to claim the better life she and her daughter deserve. Fear not. Retribution is coming. Tom Holkenborg / Junkie XL wrote the score and I’m always up for a good western score. I was very curious how he would approach it given that lately I’ve been spoiled with scores for this genre from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.
Tom Holkenborg is one of my favorite composers around; I love his energy, his passion and how his music affects me. Usually it’s an adrenaline rush but every now and then (see 2015’s “Black mass” for example) he goes emotional and melodic and the title theme from “Brimstone” just leaves me with my mouth opened as it’s a beautiful and graceful orchestral theme that does the majestic world of Westerns justice. The cue is quiet and spacious and the subtle use of strings gives it a dark velvety feel. It’s rare that a composer I know so well and appreciate so much can surprise me so completely with a score but here I am diving deep in the most elegant score Tom has written so far. I feel like I am in a concert hall for the first few cues listening to a classical concert. Even the theme for the main villain “The reverend” makes me care for the character and not hate him at all.
As explosive as he is in most of his score with thundering percussion sections and relentless cues, Tom Holkenborg keeps his music contained in Brimstone. I listen to a cue like “She belongs in hell” and all I feel and hear is a smoldering hate the kind that brews inside and wants to get out but at this moment can only manifest itself through the tiny escape routes of fiery eyes and a trembling lip. The hatred is so thick I can put my hand on it and yet the surface of the cue remains untroubled. There is a sense of fate and a destiny that cannot be stopped or fought in every cue from this score. There’s no rush, no burst of energy and no manifestation of rage in the music, just something implacable and hard as stone.
The biggest quality of this score is how much it communicates and how powerful it is with a very minimalistic and quiet style; “Revelation” is an almost seven minute long cue that sent shivers down my spine as few horror scores were capable off and it did so quietly but with such a dark presence that my heart was still beating hard enough minutes after the cue was gone. Once again I imagine the face of a quiet person but so expressive that I can only back up in terror even if that person says nothing to me. This cue stares at me from the darkness with hateful eyes like the scariest physical manifestation of a nightmare. The elegiac choral section that builds up at the end makes me want to drop to my knees and ask for forgiveness as I await punishment.
The elegance returns then with the soft and somber piano and the splendid strings that just communicate to a very special place inside me. I missed a dark and quiet orchestral score like this and for sure I wasn’t expecting to get it from Tom. I recognize the place this score takes me too and I don’t want to leave it. It’s a very intimate score that the composer wrote without being afraid of exposing himself to his audience; to me Brimstone is a composition that presents emotions and characters without the slightest trace of judgment no matter what their actions might be. They kill, they hate, they forgive, they hurt and yet the music makes me feel the impossible weight of these actions while in the same time making me understand them and perceive them as normal. As brimstone itself is not the explosion but the sulphur of hell and is considered a symbol of damnation so this score burns slowly, painfully and eternally, taking its time and leaving a lasting mark; maybe this is why everything feels so normal, because this music presents a hell but a hell where everyone around me is just as sinful.
“Brimstone” is something special and unique from Tom Holkenborg; a beautiful and moving score that filled me up and then drained me emotionally. You haven’t heard him like this and this album cements his place as one of the best composers around. Do not miss this one and let me know if and how it affected you. It’s only the first release day of January but the mark has been set for the best score of the year.
Cue rating: 100 / 100
Total minutes of excellence: 87 / 87
Album excellence: 100%
She Belongs in Hell
I Am Here to Punish You
Rules Are Rules
I’m a Father
I Will Kill Frank
For the Love of God
God Has Other Plans
God Has Forgiven Me
Watching Over Me