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The Great Wall (Ramin Djawadi)

July 24, 2017


Ramin Djawadi, 2017, Milan Records
18 tracks, 61:57

It may be a great wall, but will it have a great score?

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

European mercenaries searching for black powder become embroiled in the defence of the Great Wall of China against a horde of monstrous creature, says IMDb. Directed by Yimou Zhang (Hero and House of Flying Daggers), the luke-warmly received flick stars MAtt Damon, Tian Jing and Willem Dafoe. A few months ago Simon Franglen revealed in an interview that James Horner had been hired to write the score; and I can’t tell you just how much I would love to a Horner score for this movie. However, the job went to Ramin Djawadi of Game of Thrones fame.

What does it sound like? And is it any good?

When this score first came out I did not like it at all. Others seemed quite enthusiastic, but I just didn’t get it. I thought it was loud, repetitive and frankly boring. I didn’t write a review back then, because I didn’t want to waste my time on it. If I had written a review back then, it would have been harsh.

But that was then, and this is now. Over the last few months, The Great Wall has found its way onto my playlist over and over again. Its melodies grew on me and I warmed to its overall style. I still believe the score has problems, but I no longer seem to mind them so much. And I have to say… I enjoy this kind of journey. There are plenty of scores I would consider favourites that started on the opposite end of that spectrum.

The album opens with “Nameless Order” which offers a rather lovely melody sung, in Chinese, by a female choir, supported by strings and the occasional Eastern flute. It’s a noble theme and I have come to really love it. A couple of minutes into the cue, Djawadi starts adding staccato strings and rolling percussion. There is nothing original or surprising or remotely unique about this set up, but… it works very well. I just can’t sit still when the percussion and brass kick in. It’s a very addictive piece of music.

Addictive – I think that word applies to most of this score. Others might call it a guilty pleasure, though I don’t believe that any pleasure should be guilty. I think it is absolutely clear that Djawadi poured his heart and soul into this score. It is full of great intentions and the result is a total fun-fest.

There are a fair few themes and motifs flying around. In fact, the whole score is very obviously build from this handful of ideas. There’s a strong secondary theme, somewhat menacing, which can be heard in “Prologue” and many times thereafter. For me, the best moments are when then main theme (i.e. the “Nameless Order” theme) is deployed. Cues like the action-packed “First Battle” or the tragic/noble “Powder Rangers”. The aforementioned “First Battle” also reminds me strongly of Zimmer’s Gladiator, and I’m surprised the Holst estate  hasn’t come knocking (or may the did.. who knows).

There’s a lot of action material here which is all highly enjoyable; but let me stress that it has some wonderful tender moments too. “The Greed of Men” and “Xin Ren” are two cues that feature the flute (possibly a bansuri) with soft accompaniments from strings and synth pads. They’re beautiful cues that seems to reflect on the mysticism of the East. And there is some nice string-work, almost Horner-esque indeed, in “The Great Experiment”.

So I’ve done a near-360 and have come to very much enjoy Djawadi’s The Great Wall. I do still have an issue with the repetitiveness of the material. I mentioned earlier that the score is very obviously constructed from a number of building blocks. To me, it often feels as if Djawadi is dropping in these blocks as and when necessary without much variation. A bit too much copy-and-paste, to say it really harshly. I feel this way about Djawadi’s other works too,  hence I’m not his biggest fan. I find it all a bit too repetitive. However, in the case of The Great Wall the core material is strong enough for me to almost overlook that issue.

Rating [3.5/5]


01. Nameless Order
02. Prologue
03. What A Wall
04. The Great Wall
05. First Battle
06. Captive Heroes
07. A Clean Start
08. We Are Not the Same
09. Funeral Song
10. Foggy Loyalty
11. Fog and Fire
12. The Greed of Man
13. Fools and Thieves
14. The Great Experiment
15. Bianling Boogie
16. Tower Tactics
17. Powder Rangers
18. Xin Ren

Review (C) 2017 Synchrotones

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