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Victor Frankenstein (Craig Armstrong)

December 15, 2015

Cover_VictorFrankensteinVICTOR FRANKENSTEIN

Craig Armstrong, 2015, La-La Land Records
32 tracks, 68:16

You don’t often see Craig Armstrong associated with this kind of dark, gothicy film. So how will he fare?

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Directed by Paul McGuigan (“Wicker Park”), and I suspect loosely based on the novel by Mary Shelley, this “Victor Frankenstein” tells the famous story from Igor’s point of view. We see the troubled young assistant’s dark origins, his redemptive friendship with the young medical student Viktor Von Frankenstein, and become eyewitnesses to the emergence of how Frankenstein became the man, and the legend, we know today.

The film’s original score is by Craig Armstrong, who doesn’t often get a chance to show off his gothic side. He is mainly known for his romantic works and his clever use of electronics. His biggest action score to date is arguably “The Incredible Hulk”. With “Victor Frankenstein” the composer has the opportunities to combine all those things into one powerful score.

What does it sound like?

The album opens in classic Armstrong fashion… soft percussive effects en mellow chords. It’s instantly recognisable as the Scottish composer. The opening track “The Circus” offers a very minimal melody, which will turn out to be the score’s main theme, and it’ll receive bigger performances throughout the score. It’s very pleasant but, as I sort of alluded to, it is so quintessentially Armstrong that it sounds like it could’ve come from any of his albums.

There’s something almost Howard Shore-ish about the use of strings and winds in “Igor’s Books”; and Armstrong starts to crank up the tension in “Escape”, with playful string ostinati, rattling percussion and snarling brass clusters. It’s quite theatrical, but remains fairly light-hearted. This action-ostinato returns several times throughout the album, for example in “Getting to Work” and “A New Design”,

There is a beautifully lush theme for woodwinds on display in “The Hospital”. It’s a very lyrical melody, perhaps even more lyrical than we know from this composer, though the backing chords are very typical for Armstrong. This theme is reprised beautifully in “Igor Transformed” (for strings and glockenspiel) and in “Dark Red Theme 1”, amongst a few other locations.

There is more lushy goodness in “Dark Red Theme 3” when Armstrong combines piano, strings, and… well the whole orchestra really. It’s not as lyrical as the previously mentioned theme, but it feels rich and grand. “Body Parts” offers the same elements, though the orchestrations are a little lighter, focusing on strings and winds. And this continues in “Lorelei” (for strings and piano).

As the score progresses, the set-piece become bigger and bolder. “Gordon’s Escape” offers chugging strings, surging strings, choir and brass. “Basement Raid” reprises the main theme, and combines it with pounding percussion, chugging strings and chanting choir. It’s at time Phillip Glass-esque, and at others Elliot Goldenthal-ish. It’s worth putting your headphones on for this one, as there are some really nice details in the strings, which you’re likely to miss otherwise.

Armstrong does it all over again in “Prometheus Ascending”, an energetic cue for percussion, string ostinato and the main theme. The use of col legno strings is a neat touch, as are the descending brass figures, in the middle of the cue. And the fun doesn’t stop there… as Armstrong cranks it up another notch in “Turpin’s Theme”; and another in “Finale”, where he adds Goldenthal-ish swirling string figures, not to mention a big choir. This is a big, big sound from Armstrong.

Elsewhere the score offers some really beautiful moments. “Igor and Lorelei” (strings and winds), “Victor’s Father” (strings and cello), “Victor Story” (piano and strings), “Reunited” (a lush, romantic reprise of the main theme) and finally “Fairground”, which offers bizarre but utterly mesmerising orchestrations for (and I’m guessing here) flute and possibly glass harmonica or something equally alien and ethereal.

Is it any good?

Craig Armstrong’s “Victor Frankenstein” is an exciting, almost outstanding work featuring all of the composer’s trademarks that we’ve come to love over the years. It is so quintessentially Armstrong though, that it does struggle to sound unique. The score’s uniqueness doesn’t so much lie in its melodies or orchestrations (as these do sound like they could’ve come from almost any Armstrong album), but rather it lies in its sheer size. It gets big, and it’s get loud (for Armstrong’s doing).

The album as a whole does creek and moan under its own weight. 68 minutes is not ‘mammoth’ length, but it does feel a little too long here. Armstrong’s action music is exciting and undoubtedly effective on-screen, but lacks the flair or finesse of other, more action-orientated composers. The ostinati for strings and brass are really cool, but do eventually become a little tiresome. That said, the composer more than makes up for this with his melodic approach to the score. It is a fantastic score and a great album. I’m probably being a little harsh on it, but it does all sound rather familiar and it is a tad too long. Compared to that other recent gothic score “Crimson Peak” by Fernando Velazquez, “Victor Frankenstein” is the more modern, action-packed one, whilst “Crimson Peak” is the prettier, more classical one.

Rating [3.5/5]

Tracklisting

01. The Circus (2:36)
02. Victor Arrives (0:45)
03. Igor’s Books (1:15)
04. Escape (2:22)
05. Never Been Out (0:52)
06. The Hospital (3:16)
07. Victor and Igor (2:13)
08. Igor Transformed (1:21)
09. Turpin Inspects (0:48)
10. Lion’s Foot (1:02)
11. Dark Red Theme 3 (1:48)
12. Eyes Revealed (1:44)
13. Getting to Work (0:56)
14. Dark Red Theme 2 (3:36)
15. Body Parts (1:41)
16. Lorelei (1:40)
17. Card Trick (1:07)
18. Gordon (3:19)
19. Gordon’s Escape (2:54)
20. Igor and Lorelei (1:05)
21. Victor’s Father (3:09)
22. A New Design (0:49)
23. Basement Raid (3:58)
24. Victor’s Story (2:59)
25. Prometheus Ascending (5:54)
26. Turpin’s Theme (2:13)
27. Igor’s Theme (1:48)
28. Finale (4:04)
29. Dark Red Theme 1 (1:17)
30. Clown (0:52)
31. Reunited (3:50)
32. Fairground (1:14)

Availability

See the La-La Land Records website for more information.

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