Jóhann Jóhannsson

Mandy [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]

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Far from his uplifting music for The Theory of Everything and more abstract than his Arrival or Sicario scores, Mandy is a departure from the other soundtracks that dominated Jóhann Jóhannsson's career prior to his untimely death in 2018. Jóhannsson was a fan of director Panos Cosmatos' previous film Beyond the Black Rainbow -- and also a big metal fan, both of which made the composer the perfect choice to score this '80s revenge story full of supersaturated visuals and utterly committed performances by Nick Cage and Linus Roache. Despite the film's over-the-top nature, Jóhannsson doesn't try to match the onscreen insanity. Instead, he supports it brilliantly. Working with acclaimed producer Randall Dunn and Sunn O))) guitarist Stephen O’Malley, Jóhannsson's final completed score uses metal, electronic, and orchestral elements with precision, cunningly drawing listeners into Mandy's world of ever-building dread. Subtle, spacious early cues like "Seeker of the Serpent's Eye," "Horns of Abraxas," and "Starling" signal the stirring of a great evil that surfaces on "Black Skulls," where brass and woodwinds howl like panicked animals in the face of sheets of scraping metallic noise. Mandy doesn't really let loose until its second half -- and even when it does, it's not gonzo. When O'Malley's guitars finally erupt on "Sand," they're surrounded by plenty of space to let their doom unfurl; on "Burning Church," the seething distortion and feedback suggest the scene's chaos instead of competing with it. Likewise, "Dive-Bomb Blues" and "Waste" unfold at an agonizingly slow pace, building from thudding riffs to skull-crushing beats and brass squalls in a deliberate fashion that's more terrifying than a frenzy. Jóhannsson balances the score's aggression with the solemnly graceful "Mandy Love Theme," a remembrance of tenderness driven by rippling, Durutti Column-like guitars that later float through "Death and Ashes" and "Memories." However, the most intriguing track here might be "Children of the New Dawn," a dreamy electro-pop number that sounds like a more elegant version of early '80s soundtrack music; like the rest of the score, it's not quite like anything else in Jóhannsson's body of work. Another triumph, Mandy reaffirms his mastery and hints at how much more he had to contribute.

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