The good folks over at Movie Music UK have released their seventh installment of their picks for best scores released in Europe, and Serj Tankian’s score to Furious (now playing in select theaters across Europe) is among the eight on the shortlist. If you’re following Serj Tannin’s career outside of System of a Down, then this album is a must-hear. The score allowed him to allowed him to “do ethnic folk instrumentation, huge bombastic orchestra and percussion, and fucking heavy metal guitars and some drums.,” (Loudwire) Below is a full review from Movie Music UK. See the full list at Movie Music UK.
FURIOUS: THE LEGEND OF KOLOVRAT – Serj Tankian
Furious: Legend of Kolovrat – or Легенда о Коловрате – is a Russian historical action movie directed by Ivan Shurkhovetskiy. It tells the story of The Destruction of Riazan, a medieval military tale about the capture of the city of Ryazan by the Mongols in 1237, and in which a noble knight named Evpaty Kolovrat leads his people in a desperate fight against Batu, the grandson of Genghis Khan, who is seeking to expand his legendary ancestor’s empire. The film stars Ilya Malakov, Polina Chernyshova, and Aleksandr Choi, and was a massive box office success in Russia when it opened in cinemas in November 2017.
The score for Furious is by an unlikely source: the Armenian-American rock singer and songwriter Serj Tankian, who prior to this was best known as the front man of the rock band System of a Down. However, unlike most rockers-turned-composers, Tankian has always had an operatic, almost symphonic edge to his music, and often incorporated ethnic elements and instruments into even his most aggressive songs to give them an interesting tone. Furthermore, Tankian is a student of film music – in a recent interview with Loudwire magazine he said he was most likely to be listening to John Barry than anything else in his car, and just last year he was a guest vocal performer on Ramin Djawadi’s Game of Thrones concert tour. In the same interview with Loudwire, Tankian described his score for Furious as “a big epic action historical-based fantasy score” which allowed him to use “ethnic folk instrumentation, huge bombastic orchestra and percussion, and fucking heavy metal guitars and some drums,” and this is a perfect description of what the score sounds like.
The score is huge, bold, brash, and endlessly entertaining, but what’s especially impressive is how sophisticated it sounds. Tankian (with help from his orchestrators, obviously) clearly knows his way around an orchestra, and several cues stand out for the unexpected beauty, delicacy, or instrumental inventiveness. Among the most notable orchestral cues are: “The Prince,” a lightly prancing scherzo; “The Family” and “Nastya,” which feature intimate solos for harp, dulcimer, and woodwinds; “Warn Our People,” which is dance-like and rhythmic; “Ryazan is Gone” and “Are They Really Outs,” which are emotional and feature lush string writing; “Woodland Spirits,” which is the evocative and dream-like but a little unsettling in the way it uses processed vocals and a highly-manipulated string drone; and the spiritual-sounding “Come Kill Us,” which uses cellos and solo vocals to haunting, emotional effect.
Of course, with Tankian being Tankian, there are plenty of instances where he lets his rock roots show: cues like “Ambush,” “Horde Patrol,” “The Horde Returns,” “There’s No Blood,” the second half of “Uragsha,” “Bear Attack,” “Battle Cry,” and “Hold the Line” throb with enormous pulsating electric guitars and a huge drum kit, combining with the orchestra and the choir to create an overwhelming wall of sound and fury. Some of it is very Hans Zimmer-esque in tone, but what makes this score stand out from all the other Zimmer imitators is the plethora of ethnic ideas that emerge, ranging from Mongolian throat singers to ancient-sounding woodwinds. Weaving through it all is a large and soaring main theme, which gets several spectacular renditions, including a solo female vocal rendition at the beginning of “The Horde is Here,” an epic orchestral version in “Death of Kolovrat,” and in a concert version in the conclusive “Kolovrat Theme.”
The whole thing is capped off with an original song, “A Fine Morning to Die,” written and performed by Tankian with members of IOWA, a rock group from Belarus, whose lead singer Ekaterina Ivanchikova has a soft, intimate, but deeply emotional tone. The song is based on Tankian’s main Kolovrat theme, and is quite superb. Ivanchikova sings in Russian, and Tankian sings in English, and together they reach quite operatic heights.
The only drawback to the album as a whole is its length – the middle section does tend to drag a little – but other than that this is a very impressive score from someone you would not expect to be able to write like this. With this, plus the more haunting and thoughtful documentary score Intent to Destroy which was also released in 2017, it’s clear that Tankian has the chops to succeed as a film composer, and stands head and shoulders above many of the other hard rockers who have tried their hand at film music of late.
Track Listing: 1. Intro (2:21), Ambush (2:17), Horde Patrol (1:20), The Prince (0:47), The Family (0:40), Nastya (0:47), The Horde is Here (1:05), Into the Wilderness (1:05), Mongolian Camp (2:43), Warn Our People (1:11), To Arms! (1:26), Fedor’s Last Stand (1:54), You Should Prey (2:03), Ryazan is Gone (4:30), Nastya’s Whistle (0:53), The Horde Returns (2:35), Herb Potion (3:18), Holy Mother (0:46), There’s No Blood (0:46), Woodland Spirits (2:19), Confusion (3:01), Uragsha (3:40), Bear Attack (4:48), The Children (2:01), Are They Really Ours? (2:13), Prepare for Battle (1:46), Battle Cry (3:59), Hold the Line (3:08), Come Kill Us (3:46), Sail (2:56), Death of Kolovrat (3:15), Shoulder to Shoulder (1:00), Kolovrat Theme (3:07), A Fine Morning to Die (written by Serj Tankian, Ekaterina Ivanchikova, Yevgeny Rayevskis, and Dmitry Rayevskis, performed by Serj Tankian feat. IOWA) (3:47). Lakeshore Records, 77 minutes 31 seconds.