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Soundtrack review: Valley of shadows (Zbigniew Preisner – 2018)

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Soundtrack review: Valley of shadows (Zbigniew Preisner – 2018)

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Between the sea and the mountains in a small village in Norway, Aslak (6) lives with his mother Astrid. A tragic event occurs that Aslak can’t quite understand and Astrid struggles to handle. In a quest for answers, Aslak ventures into the dark forest behind his house. Is what happens on his journey merely a boy’s imagination or is it reality? VALLEY OF SHADOWS is a film in the tradition of Scandinavian Gothic. The music was written by Zbigniew Preisner.

I have been a fan of the Polish school of film music for many years now and I even did a Polish composers month on my site a few years back. And among these composers one of the best is Zbigniew Preisner, who completed most of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s movies. He is a legend and I am happy to see a new score from him, after listening to most of his past ones over and over again. This story just demands another dark intense score from him and seeing Lisa Gerrard’s name on it as well gives me even more hope. I see some massive 8, 9 or 12 minutes long pieces in here as well.

I’ve always been drawn to the music of Scandinavian Gothic movies; usually it’s Icelandic composers who capture that misty darkness best but someone like Preisner has known darkness in music his entire career so it’s no surprise that he instantly sets a sparse, minimalistic mood that’s opaque and almost hopeless. As a fan of minimalistic, ambient music I find my place right away in this score. The length of the cues also work with this atmospheric composition; actually some of the tracks could have been combined even further together as the mood is impenetrable and unbreakable anyway. I hear the mystery in the electronic moments from “The calling”, it has a bit of a Twin Peaks thing going for it.

This score could also work for an exploratory video game where the player would play Aslak’s part. The music is extremely immersive and peaceful and I get lost in it; every now and then an orchestral motif pops up, just as quiet, like the wind rustling some leaves I can’t see. There are somber choirs as well every now and then to evoke the mysteries of this land and I am just sucked in and hypnotized. The more I listen to the music the more I wish it was actually for a video game I could explore and discover instead of watching it from the outside.

If you are into ambient minimalism, it rarely gets better than this; there’s no drama, no loud moments, just that eternal, sparse flow of sounds. i’ve been missing dearly an album like this. Brian Eno once said that “Ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting”. “Valley of shadows” fits right in.

Cue rating: 94 / 100

Highlights:
The Calling
The Forest Gate
Aslak
Journey in the Woods
Before Dawn
Valley of Shadows (feat. Lisa Gerrard)
Odyssey
Valley of Shadows – Wake Up (feat. Lisa Gerrard)
Metamorphosis
Afterlife

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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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