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Soundtrack review: Intent to destroy (Serj Tankian – 2017)

Documentary Film scores

Soundtrack review: Intent to destroy (Serj Tankian – 2017)

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Academy Award nominated director Joe Berlinger embeds with a historic feature film production on the set of Terry George’s “The Promise”, to take an unwavering look at the Armenian Genocide. Historians, scholars, and high-profile filmmakers come together in Berlinger’s cinematic exploration of the tangled web of responsibility that has driven a century of denial by the Turkish government and its strategic allies. Intent to Destroy is a timely reckoning with the large-scale suppression of a historical tragedy. Berlinger confronts the fraught task of shedding light on the Armenian Genocide – whose witnesses and descendants are still fighting to be officially acknowledged as such by the international community – how it was carried out during World War I as the reign of the Ottoman empire drew to a close, and how it laid the groundwork for the genocides that followed.

The story of the Armenian genocide has been quite visible lately with the 100 years anniversary and a host of films and documentaries. “The promise” came earlier this year and featured a fantastic score by Gabriel Yared. Serj Tankian wrote an arrangement of a traditional Armenian song for that soundtrack and wrote the score for this one. Now I have followed Tankian ever since he came in the spotlight almost 20 years ago with one of my favourite rock bands System of a down and he has always used his fame to promote and help his country. In the 90s and early 00s I was listening to almost only rock, metal and industrial and I am just giddy with joy every time I see musicians from the bands I grew up with making the transition and meeting me in the film music world. Nine Inch Nails, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Radiohead, Gary Numan, Pearl Jam and Faith No More are just a few examples.

Serj Tankian and System of Down fit right into that category for me as I have loved each on of their albums. I saw Serj live in Romania when he started his solo career and those albums are still in my playlist as well because of the powerful voice and messages he always brought forth. I remember when he played his music with a live orchestra as it was the first time I realised he could write a different kind of music as well. It’s time now for one of my favourite rock voices in the world to let the instruments speak for him. It’s always interesting and quite rare to have someone write the score for a movie dealing with a subject he is very passionate about and I am sure that emotion will transpire in the music.

The opening cue is the extended version of the centre piece “Massacre” and the combination of piano and wailing voices reminds me of the more intense SOAD pieces; the band always had these instrumental interludes that went deep and Serj Tankian’s piano playing travels on beautiful and familiar paths. The violin is familiar and haunting as well and the cue turns into a poignant requiem. I keep waiting for Tankian’s piercing and powerful voice to be heard but this is a wordless rendition of emotions. The composer chose to focus on the heartbreak and tragedy of the massacre rather than the anger and revolt.

There is some anger boiling in the second half of the second cue “Answer to denialists” with the raw and abrasive guitar over a pulsating electronic rhythm. I recognise the duduk, an instrument I am very fond of, in “Turkish generals”, a cue with an accusing and painful mood. It’s as if Tankian wanted to put together on the same the coldness of the Turkish blindness and denial with the warmth of the emotional impact of the lives that were lost. I like the way he mixed deeply traditional Armenian sounds made by the Duduk or the Oud with more modern pieces; “Intent to destroy” is shaping up to be both a history lesson and love letter to Tankian’s home country traditions and history.

Most of the music of “Intent to destroy” is contained, subdued; the emotions are concentrated in intense doses and there are enough long moments when the score is ambient and touching. I love ambient music and I am getting my fix with the subtle musings of this album. The music very rarely gets loud or aggressive and I can tell that in the end the issue of the genocide, at least for Serj Tankian as a composer, is more painful than angering; there is a subtle elegiac tone throughout the score that tells me that no matter what happens the pain of what happened will not go away; honestly knowing how outspoken and passionate Tankian is I was expecting a much louder and violent score but I am glad he went this road because what came out was a beautiful and emotional composition that makes me care and feel.

“Intent to destroy” is a score that many more experienced composers than Serj Tankian wish they could write; this is the composition of a mature and crafty musician who know how to evoke emotion and how to say a lot with very little. With meaningful atmospheric moments, ethnic pieces and angsty, angry inserts, this score makes for a very enjoyable and rewarding standalone listening experience. Above all it’s a restrained elegy for a wound that has yet to be healed or even fully admitted.

Cue rating: 94 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 53 / 74

Album excellence: 72%

Highlights:
01_Massacre (Extended Length Bonus)
02_Answer To Denialists
03_Turkish Generals
05_Scout Tufenkian Scene (Bonus)
06_Death March
08_40 Days
10_Opening Scene
11_Atom Egoyan Scene
14_Peter Balakian Scene
17_River Staging
18_Massacre
19_Hanging Village
21_Med School
22_End Of Production
23_Intent To Live
24_Turkish History Changed
25_Hrant Dink (Extended Length Bonus)

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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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