Saturday, October 19, 2013

NEW SOUNDTRACK FOR AN OLD GOLEM


Modern soundtracks of silent films can run from the ridiculous to the sublime. The group of musicians collectively calling themselves HobGoblin have offered their interpretation on a recent combined DVD/CD release of THE GOLEM. While some may feel inclined to score it towards either of the aforementioned extremes, I prefer to place it somewhere in between.

Silent films, and especially silent horror films have been an attractive creative playground for the musically inclined for many years. Their lack of an existing copyright and ubiquitous availability make them easy candidates for creative embellishment. Consequently, there has been no shortage of attempts to attach new musical scores to early German Expressionist films such as NOSFERATU DAS CABINET DES DR. CALIGARI, and DER GOLEM.


Considering there is a lack of information regarding any musical accompaniment to the first (and long lost) 1915 version, the first original soundtrack for DER GOLEM (THE GOLEM in English) was heard with the film's release in 1920. Scored by German composer Hans Landsberger, it has since been considered lost as well. In her 400-plus page analysis of the film, Paul Wegeners Golem-Filme im Kontext fantastischer Literatur: Grundfragen zur Gattungsproblematik fantastischen Erzahlens (A Diskurs Film Book, 1989. A copy of the book, in German, is currently available at Amazon.com for the turn-to-stone price of $3,759.09!), Elfriede Ledig discusses the music, here translated:

"Hans Landsberger, a composer, [wishes] to be taken seriously. He wants to do away with the medley of styles (with Potpourri) and supplement the mosaic with a logically linked sound image that has a life of its own . . . of course Landsberger does not speak a folksy language; he created a grandly executed symphonic poetry which pairs together the assets of contemporary harmony with the instrumental arts of older lineage." (Eisenberg, Weimar Cinema: An Essential Guide to Classic Films of the Era)

In 1979, composer Karl-Ernst Sasse (b. 1923 - d. 2006), who has the distinction of producing over 500 film scores, was commissioned to compose a score for THE GOLEM by German television (GDR). While it is not listed on either IMDB or WIKI, it nevertheless seems to have been produced, further evidence as shown by a CD recording being currently available.

In his book, Musique Fantastique, Randall D. Larson describes the theme of Sasse's work: "Sasse assigned a specific theme for each of the two worlds [the German Imperial Court and the Jewish ghetto -- MMW.] as well as assigning a menacing, 3-note theme to the Golem itself, each harmonically connected and played off of each other as the score progresses." Sasse explains himself in the 1996 Capriccio Records liner notes written and translated by Lionel Salter, "It was my aim to create with my music a kind of parallel action which only in some places (e.g. bells and blowing the shofar) synchronizes with images of the action."

Kino Video/DVD released a restored version of THE GOLEM in 2000 with a new score by Latvian composer Aljoscha Zimmerman (b. 1944 - d. 2009). Here the music was infused with the Jewish and folk dance songs of Ledig's "older lineage".

Now we have the latest in the evolution of the near century-old German expressionist film in the form of the newly-released November Fire DVD, accompanied by a brand new soundtrack on compact disc. Recorded by a group of musicians calling themselves HobGoblin (in an homage to Argento's "house band", Goblin, perhaps?), this soundtrack immediately diverges from all things traditional as they have instead chosen to contemporize the venerable monster film using -- of all styles -- heavy metal. While traditional soundtrack listeners may immediately dismiss the idea as being heinous, even sacrilegious, the more adaptable and amenable film score fan may find the new interpretation enjoyable, maybe even going so far as to call it innovative.

HobGoblin's music is a collaboration of San Francisco Bay-area musicians comprised of personnel from other music projects Skinlab, Forbidden, Neurosis, Sacrilege BC, Claymation Horror Show, and Re:Ignition. The roster is made up of musicians Dave Ed, Dougal Hayes, Mark Hernandez, Rob "Wyrm" Corvey, Steve "Snake" Green, Strephon Taylor, tim, Dannygirl Waters, and Drew Cook.

This is the third in the re-release by November Fire of German silent horror films with new soundtracks, the first two being NOSFERATU and THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI. According to the press release, it took two years for the project to be completed. It is described by the band's publicist as "a very dark soundtrack, reflecting the black magic and willful destruction of the film. But amid the shadow world you are going to find a few surprises, including, dare I say it, a funk inspired party groove!" Funk, indeed!

As for the music itself, I would ultimately categorize it as a sub-genre of Prog Rock known these days as "Symphonic Metal", where the normal, harder edge of the purposefully abrasive style of Metal is enhanced by the addition of the lush expansiveness of electronic keyboards using orchestral and choir pads. There is (mercifully) no "Speed Metal" on dizzying display here, but the guitars remain drenched in compressed, bone-crunching and earth shattering distortion and feedback. The drums provide a thundering rhythm, and the keyboards, while not stacked with the usual infinite layers, serve as the score's foundation. I am guessing that some of the tracks were recorded live, but at least a number of them seem to be predominantly recorded "direct into the deck". The mix, fidelity, and headroom of the recording is very good.

While I feel this effort is overall admirable if nothing else by its audacity, I found a flaw that, if it had been considered and remedied, could have easily taken this soundtrack to the next level. Other than the music played by the instruments themselves, I do not detect a thematic premise here. The use of say, "a 3-note" leitmotif as described by Sasse would have gone far to cohesively unite the tracks. As it is, each track plays against the other, and any musical interrelation is lost in the sonic assault. I do have to say for the record that I have listened to the CD's but have yet to view the DVD, so there may be a contextual element that I am missing (I will be reviewing the DVD at a later date). Still, taken on its own, the score is at times intriguing, and throughout capably performed and professionally produced.

The Golem
HobGoblin
November Fire Recordings 2013
NFRCD006
2 CD's
$10.00 USD

Track List:
1. The Oracle (2:30)
2. The Oracle Part II (4:04)
3. Knight Florian (6:11)
4. The Secret of Clay (3:58)
5. Eviction Served (3:25)
6. Beautiful Miriam (2:58)
7. In the Shadows (5:01)
8. Deadly Cargo (2:43)
9. Insulting Response (3:09)
10. Waking the Dark (4:47)
11. Black Magic (4:37)
12. Black Magic Part II (6:08)
13. Aemaet (3:02)
14. The Golem Lives (4:12)
15. An Ominous Servant (3:09)
16. Let's Go Shopping (3:00)
17. The Emperor's Guest (3:29)
18. A Royal Party (4:55)
19. Heart of Clay-Forbidden Love (3:04)
20. Awaken By the Shofar Horn (5:04)
21. The Golem Is Raging (2:46)
22. Destroy Everything (4:18)
23. Pint Sized Killer (3:15)
24. Back to Clay (3:26)
25. Emperor Farewell (4:17)

November Fire's treatment of THE GOLEM is, at its core, ambitious. It is also daring, original, and perhaps even courageous. Thankfully, it stops short of being pretentious. Attractively packaged in an affordable gatefold Digipack, it screams out for a booklet with liner notes explaining more of the development and recording of this project, but instead is made only more conspicuous by its absence.

While some may exclaim, "Heresy!" to November Fire's efforts, those of the open-minded kind -- especially metal fans, and symphonic metal fans in particular who love horror (and who among them does not?) -- should give it a listen. Whether it is considered "willful destruction" or "innovative reconstruction" remains to be seen.

Ordering information is HERE or clicking on the HobGoblin logo on the sidebar.


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