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Soundtrack review: Into the Badlands (season 1) (Dave Shepard – 2015)


Soundtrack review: Into the Badlands (season 1) (Dave Shepard – 2015)


“Into the Badlands” is an American television series that premiered on AMC November 15, 2015. Based on the 16th-century novel by Chinese author Wu Cheng’ En, Journey to the West, the series features a story about a warrior and a young boy who journey through a dangerous feudal land together seeking enlightenment. In Season 1, Sunny, the deadliest Clipper in the Badlands, rescues a boy, M.K., from a deadly ambush. As Sunny and M.K. try to uncover the secret behind M.K.’s dark power, a new baron threatens to start a war between the rival lands. Dave Shepard wrote the score for season 1 while the main theme was written by Linkin Park’s Mike Shinonda.

I grew up on martial arts movies and stories and I am happy that a show like this exists today. The sound of martial arts movies and shows has always been distinctive for me with its minimalistic and sharp vibe that tries to give the feeling of fighting and exchanging blows. Dave Shepard doesn’t stray away from this and uses a deeply textural sound to evoke the barren and dangerous environment. The music is harsh and cold most of the time and I understand this considering when and where the story takes place. There is very little warmth and emotion in the music but this makes the more melodic moments stand out easily. “Sunny makes a promise to Veil” is the first such moment of hope.

I like the nods that the composer gives to classical martial arts or even Western movies in “Abbot fight”; this cue actually makes me feel nostalgic and Dave Shepard also uses various sounds, some metallic, some wooden, to mimic the fast movements of fists and blades, combining them with instruments that are either played then normal way or tortured until the sound becomes like grounded glass: grainy and sharp. As a contrast to this there is the comfortable ambient sound of “Arrival at the Abbots” that gives me a different kind of nostalgia.

As the score progresses and as I think of the show the composer’s creative choices make sense. Minimalistic as it is the score explores the feelings of emptiness and determination that are ever present in the show while in the same time providing swift action pieces where the percussion and electronic motifs, both pulsating and frantic, play the fights. “Attack at widow’s house” is one of my favorite cues from “Into the badlands” and a true martial arts moment.

In a way, this show can be considered a Western, a Chinese Western to be more precise and the score was written in that vein. I am enjoying the standalone listening experience and the combination of Western and Oriental. I also enjoy the melancholy that sometimes shoots through this score like the surprising end of “Lydia returns home”. At the end of the score I am left with that feeling of a harsh and unforgiving environment and this means that the composer and his music have reached their purpose.

Cue rating: 70 / 100

Arrival At The Abbots
Attack At Widow’s House

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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