Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Fury Score Review

Check it out... if you enjoyed Gravity, and seek a score which runs in (somewhat) the same vein as that masterpiece, whilst also incorporating a number of innovative instrumental and compositional techniques along the way

Skip it... if you refuse to acknowledge Price's expertise in the area of synthetic composition, and rebuke any attempted hybrids between electronic and orchestral writing, no matter how dazzling, beautiful and stunning they may be 

"From the word go, Price enforces the idea that his success for Gravity was indeed not a fluke. This composer is no one trick pony."

In regards to realistic cinematography, characterization and acting, few modern directors manage to capture the gritty reality of life on film as well as David Ayer, the man behind films such as Training Day and End of Watch; the latter film, funnily enough, being my favourite film from 2012. As a writer/director, the man knows how to properly film and chronicle the lives of characters who fit into a world of which a viewer can find themselves thoroughly engrossed in; thanks primarily to the relatability and realism of the world realised. Whilst Ayer's prior endeavour, released earlier this year, an action film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, entitled Sabotage, was considered both a critical and commercial failure, his most recent project seems to be on the complete opposite side of the spectrum; Fury is currently serving as a critical and commercial darling, both producing outstanding scores on review aggregator and community-centric sites like Rotten Tomatoes (79% approval rate from critics; 4.2/5 average rating from users) and IMDb (commendable 8.3/10 average rating from users), as well as pulling in relatively large first weekend US box office numbers ($23.7 million). The film is another Ayer success, something that is very much welcome, considering the man's knack for detailed and engrossing action and dialogue. The film is set within the landscape of the latter years of World War II, and revolves around a group of men, commanded by a man known as Wardaddy, whose mission involves going behind enemy lines with their Sherman tank. Outgunned and outnumbered, courage and bravery are the only options for this group of men as they fight back against the Germans (because them fleeing is not nearly as entertaining!).

Scoring the film is Steven Price; a strange decision by Ayer, considering his previous two films were released with scores composed by David Sardy (End of Watch and Sabotage), whilst Price has never composed something of this nature. Nevertheless, Price is coming straight off the success of his Gravity score, which turned heads at the annual Academy Awards ceremony, gifting Price with his first Oscar for Best Original Score; and considering the man was far less prolific and well-known at the time than some of the other composers he was contesting against (Thomas Newman, John Williams, Arcade Fire and Alexandre Desplat), this is an immensely surprising achievement. His entrancing soundscape, the use of sound design and the ethereal beauty emerging late in the running time all combined to produce one of the finest albums of 2013. His follow-up score is that of Fury, which seems entirely confusing; "Isn't Price an electronic-orientated composer?" I can hear you already asking. "But a World War II score needs to be classical in nature and texture; it needs to reflect the dismal and emotion-filled landscape of the characters, and support the story with delicacy and precision. We can't have synthetic instrumentation running amok within something so inherently emotional!" Well, Steven Price would like to remind you yet again that a composer should not be limited by the genre conventions and cliches that plague the category of film he's working within; as he did with Gravity, he manages to combine multiple genres and forms of instrumentation, employing a large range of diverse compositional techniques to produce one of the finer scores of 2014; a score which serves as an astounding follow-up to one of the best scores of the prior year. 

A bold statement indeed, especially considering I awarded Gravity with an immensely high score (you can find the specific rating here, because I enjoy shameless plugging, unlike many a fellow reviewer. Though be warned; this was an old review, and it's of a poor standard). Fury is deserving of such high commendation though, for it is a thematically rich, vibrant score; one that combines electronic and orchestral components together near-perfectly. From the word go, Price enforces the idea that his success for Gravity was indeed not a fluke. This composer is no one trick pony. Steven Price is undeniably one of the most experimental, highly varied composers of the past half a decade, capable of producing some of the most painfully emotional and inventive music I've heard recently. And whilst Fury is perhaps not on the same level as Gravity in regards to innovation, it still manages to further cement Price as a thoroughly brilliant composer. Everything that made Gravity such an intellectually challenging, heartbreaking and beautiful score returns to Fury, all to great effect. The instrumentation, one of the key components that made Gravity so original, proves to be consistently interesting and diverse within Fury, and furthers the identities established to either individual characters or factions through the thematic material on offer. Price incorporates both electronics and classical orchestra, combining both to stunning effect. For example, throughout the action cues within the score (most notably within the pieces 'The Beetfield', 'Tiger Battle' and 'Crossroads'), Price finds exemplary ways to pair the surprisingly effective electronic portion of the instrumentation; this including uses of bass pulses, synthetic percussion and other artificial variants, alongside the suitably beautiful orchestra; composed of primarily cello, violin and piano runs, scarcely touching upon brass it seems except for a number of stunning highlights within certain pieces. He never seems to do too much within any given moment, allowing coherence to seep through, though nothing here is blatantly simplistic nor one-dimensional; every phrase, motif and piece seems to possess some ounce of textural complexity, whether it be synthetic percussion mixing with the organic bass drums and cymbals, or the string runs mixing together with the consistent bass pulses. Price combines certain sounds together, carefully constructing different identities for different sides of a battle or conflict, all to great effect. The main instrumental and compositional techniques undertaken for the Allies include (primarily) piano and string solos, both of which appear near immediately within the opening cue, 'April, 1945'. Deep cellos and grand piano phrases help inform us of the harrowed state which the group of main characters are in constantly; the main theme is composed of, initially, a beautiful piano theme, perfectly reflecting the heroic, conflicted and emotional portion of the principal characters. 

The Germans, on the other hand, are seen represented most commonly by a series of chants, sung in German. These are primarily delivered by a male choir, booming and deadly. They are infinitely terrifying and effective in producing an effect of fear; even at the mere indication of a return from this vocal identity is enough to send a shudder down my back. The chanting is not always wholly aggressive though, as it sometimes is used to indicate suspicion, fear, and is even used as a foreshadowing motif, advising the listener of a battle or danger that is to come. Price's ingenuity in relation to this compositional decision is not to be dismissed; he uses this singular idea, of a male choir chanting German words and phrases, to great effect, representing both the enemy and the underlying fears of the primary characters. Price also continues his trait of employing unconventional instrumentation for his scores by finding ways to successfully utilize metallic and machine-like sound effects, incorporating them within the album for fantastic results; Price has stated that this use of machine-like instrumentation represents Fury (the tank's name), as well as the weaponry in use in general. Again, this imaginative instrumental inclusion is first seen in the opening cue, but is elaborated on within the action cues most prominently, though it often makes appearances consistently throughout the rest of the score, mixing subtly with the general synthetics. It's another textural ingredient that allows more instrumentally-based identities to be drawn; something that, as I've made clear, is a consistently good result of Price's efforts.

Moving to the more compositionally-based of thematic material, Price delivers a number of suitably harrowing and beautiful themes within Fury, used all throughout the score. Combined with the identities already drawn thanks to the clever use of certain instruments or entire sections of such, we are able to correctly pinpoint certain character's dilemmas, situations and tribulations, based on the manipulation and characterization of their themes and character-based instrumentation. The main theme, first heard in the absolutely stunning 'Refugees', is a piano theme at heart, which is later used to great effect, whether to accent danger or to provide an emotional climax; the best of which occurs in the gloriously heartbreaking 'Norman', the final cue on the card. Piano and cello themes are common throughout, appearing within the cues 'April, 1945'; a staccato violin riff slowly morphs into a beautiful cello and piano theme, all alongside an effectively brutal array of synthetic composition; 'War Is Not Over', featuring a soaring string theme towards the finale of its running time; 'Emma', employing a reprise of the beautiful main theme, though far more fleshed out in this form; others are to be found, but with far less significance. The battle cues all feature a number of motifs, shifting in and out, obscured by one another. No single phrase of music gets to stand on its own throughout these sensational battle pieces, at least not for long, as the music trudges on, hammering the listener with a mix of emotionally resonant orchestral grandeur, as well as sensationally savage industrial-like synthetics.

The three major battle cues; the aforementioned 'The Beetfield', 'Tiger Battle' and 'Crossroads', all are exemplary displays of Price's versatility and range, as well as his ability to adapt to an entirely different tone than he has been shown to display before. Whilst he certainly got opportunities to shine on an action front within last year's The World's End, Fury represents the man's first opportunity to really show us his capabilities in providing strong action-centric music. From dark undercurrents of cello built alongside electronics, to almost mournful brass inclusions (relatively sparse in quantity, which is surprising for a score of this genre), Price implements a number of different flavours into each of his action set-pieces, whilst also pummeling us over the head with non-stop aggression, all satisfying to behold. It's incredible how much the man can often have going at any single moment in these cues; the amount of coordination involved to bring everything incorporated to a perfect or near-such standard must've been infuriating. Nevertheless, it pays off in the mind of a listener. It's not just the action cues, though, where a staggering quantity of music is being layered upon itself multiple times over; 'Fury Drives Into Camp' sees a piano riff set the base for the cue, with individual cymbal crashes, bass pulses, violin and cello volume and intensity fluctuations and electric guitar (within a score set to the backdrop of World War II?!) playing out to separate riffs and phrases, all with great results. It's a collation of varied and diverse instrumentation and writing, pulled together for a stunning outcome.

Ultimately, though, it's not about the action cues, nor the complexity undertaken with any given piece; for me at least, it's about the emotional core of the entire score. Fury does what so few scores manage to do so magnificently well, and that is to produce a story that doesn't require a visual medium to be emotionally potent for the listener. I am yet to see the film, but I believe I understand the majority of the plot line, thanks to what Price has delivered. When the main characters are feeling worry, love, anger or suspicion, our composer reflects as such with his music. I can imagine the tribulations encountered by Wardaddy and his men, and the musical finale is just as heartbreaking a conclusion as what I expect the visual version of events will be. Price did this with Gravity as well, representing the space and abyss with synthetics, machine-like in presence and atmosphere, though contrasted that with the organic orchestral instrumentation that represented the human element; when humanity shot forth throughout the film, the orchestra and vocals would be there to represent it in all its glory. As the Germans approach Fury and her men, the synthetics wage a war with the cello, violins and organic percussion, fighting for dominance. Despite the strings lack of pure aggression, though, it manages to stage a damn strong fight, pushing the synthesizers back consistently. It's these conflicts within the soundscape that allow us to build an idea of the setting and tribulations that are actually occurring within Ayer's vision; and all of this without any dialogue being said. Without any gun being actually fired. All this through the language of music. And when all is said and done, isn't that what film, game and television scoring is all about; telling a visual story with the use of instruments instead of weaponry or words? At the end of Fury, I had shed multiple tears. I had wept for characters I had not seen nor heard. That is what I look for every time I purchase a CD, or look up a new release; something that will resonate with me on an emotional front. Fury is all that and more. It's a compilation of powerful electronics, stunningly good orchestra, and thematic material which stuns and terrifies. It pulls no punches. Whether you consider it the masterpiece I do, one thing is abundantly clear; Steven Price is here to stay, and is undoubtedly to become one of our finest modern composers, if he continues to deliver such quality on a consistent basis. You can purchase Fury on Amazon or iTunes, here and here. 


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