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The Omen - Soundtrack

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Genre: Soundtrack / Artist: Various / Soundtrack / Audio CD released 2001-10-29 at Varese Sarabande

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      10.10.2006 18:45
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      The grand daddy of all horror scores

      After Rosemary’s Baby in 1968 brought the idea of Satanic cults, worshippers and the red guy himself as a viable source for horror movies, the film world was soon followed by many imitations and variations on the same basic formula of the devil coming to interfere with the lives of us mortals to often horrendous results. The most successful by far of these follow-up movies were William Friedkin’s The Exorcist in 1973, a tale of possession and its resultant clerical exorcism, and Richard Donner’s The Omen in 1976. Donner’s film proved to be one of the most successful and iconic horror movies ever made, where the coming of the antichrist as prophecised in the Book of Revelations was brought about as him growing up in the family of an influential politician, who shortly afterwards became the US Ambassador (soberly played by Gregory Peck), in order for easily ascending to power in adulthood. The movie didn’t really rely on big scares or blood to make you uneasy, but rather created a sense of fright from its dark atmosphere, slow but determined progress of finding out the truth, some inventive death scenes that always seemed perfectly plausible as accidents, the innocent look of Harvey Steven’s character Damien (by far a name that has become almost a synonym for Satan), and of course the music of Jerry Goldsmith.

      Goldsmith by 1976 was already a well respected veteran in the film scoring stage from his strong work in television with series such as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and equally strong work in films like The Planet of the Apes, Tora! Tora! Tora! and Patton (also receiving several Oscar nominations along the way). Goldsmith was also a great experimentalist who liked to try out new instrumental combinations and electronic enhancements that more often than not worked perfectly, providing a working synthesis of electronics and traditional orchestra in a totally original way. With The Omen, however, a totally different approach to his usual fare was necessary, and the result was one of the most influential and often hackneyed efforts to hit the film scoring world. If there is one thing that can be said with absolute certainty, I seriously doubt The Omen would never have become the popular film that it is today, spawning three sequels and a recent remake, without the iconic score of Goldsmith. Very much the blackest of black masses, the score relies on suspenseful writing for the orchestra and some explosive chants of an adult choir to create a sense of dread and horror that makes the thrilling, but somewhat psychological, film drip with a sense of terror that crawls under your skin better than any of the visuals.

      The major set piece is the dark chant of “Ave Satani” (Hail Satan) that mixes a bunch of Latin-sounding words into a song for full adult choir to shriek at the top of their lungs, something that has since become a major stereotype in the horror movie scene. These words are repeated throughout the score in many different ways, from the straight concert working out in the end credits cue “Ave Satani” and the menacing swaying and furious terror in “Killer Storm” to terrifying whispering in “The Demise of Mrs. Baylock” and exultation in “Beheaded.” As such, the choral usage is almost avantgardist in many places, the writing for the choir being less lyrical than atmospheric or straight out furiously stabbing, without at the same time sounding too modernist. At this point I would like to mention how many people often compare the heavy use of choir in this score with Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana (and most notably to “O Fortuna”), that this is one of the biggest mis-representations I have ever heard of, as the two works really have nothing more in common than both featuring a prominent choir. Other than that there is absolutely no similarity between the two.

      Apart from the Ave Satani music, there are also two other major themes that are circulated in the score. The first is the “family theme” for the Thorne family, which is prominently heard in the beginning of the film. This is not one of Goldsmith’s very best lyrical themes, the music being ever so slightly dated and truthfully sounding a bit like elevator music in cues like “The New Ambassador” and “Where Is He?” However, when the theme is presented with a more romantic or sad piano in cues like “A Doctor, Please” and “A Sad Message” it sounds beautiful and very good. This theme also translates to the song “The Piper Dreams” which is performed by Goldsmith’s wife Carol and is actually a very enjoyable song, dispensing your usual pop rhythms for a more ballad like feeling with straight orchestra and a reverberant mix. The second of these themes is the more morbid “anguish theme” for moments of mental perturbation, being first heard in the beginning of the movie in the eerie “On This Night” and gathering prominence as the film goes on, often circulating with the family theme as well. These two themes are mostly the ones that either offer a little respite from the more straight-out horror moments or provide the thriller elements of the less scary scenes.

      Major highlight cues are plentiful, but at the top I should mention (apart from the obvious “Ave Satani”) “Broken Vows” that underscores Damien’s trip to church with a wonderfully escalating progress with low piano, scraper sticks, bass marimba and low strings that finally bursts with the choir into a furious frenzy; the similarly violent “Safari Park” that turns a delightful little trip to a ride in a park into a moment of horror; the absolutely fabulous “Killer Storm” for the scene where Father Brennan is impaled by a church spire, beginning with great building of tension with simulated wind effects in the violins and chorus menacingly anticipating something bad to happen, and when the storm erupts the orchestra and chorus attack with incredible destructive power and fury that leaves no question as to the horror of the moment; and the likewise horrific “The Dogs Attack” for the scene where Robert Thorn and reporter Keith Jennings find out about Damien’s origins and the fate of Thorn’s real child in the cemetery, perfectly capturing the dread of the dark setting and gruesome discovery before the proverbial hell again breaks loose as a group of dogs attack our stars. Other moments of note also include the tragic “A Sad Message,” the exultantly howling “Beheaded,” and the violent “The Demise of Mrs. Baylock.” The score is rounded up with “The Altar”, which is an alternate take of the scene as the original cue is missing (again featuring the whispering of the preceding cue) and finally ending with the main title version of the “Ave Satani” cue (basically a shorter recapitulation turned upside down on album).

      The original soundtrack album was first released on CD in 1990 on the Varèse Sarabande label and featured some 40 minutes of music. While featuring some of the largest set pieces, it omitted several great moments like the “Broken Vows” and “Beheaded” cues. A correction to this appeared in 2001 when a “Deluxe Edition” of this score was released, restoring a big chunk of unreleased music, therefore (in essence) offering the entire score on one CD, only omitting some very little, insignificant moments. When I first saw this album in stores, I was initially a bit skeptical as my memory of the score in the film didn’t really tout the sound quality to be that good. However, upon hearing this restored edition on my CD player, I was blown away by how great the sound was. The sound was full and immediate, not muffled or stringy as I was expecting, perfectly capturing the performance of the National Philharmonic Orchestra and Ambrosian Singers’ rawness with vibrance not often heard in scores this old. As a listening experience, for all its worth, this however is definitely not music that is ideal listening for people with a religious disposition as I’m sure they will not be appreciative of all the praises for Satan all that much (though even here it is good to keep in mind that Goldsmith’s third score for the original trilogy of films, The Final Conflict, ends with heavenly triumph and ascension). Ironically, regardless of the satanic overtones of the music and general lack of mainstream crowd appeal, in the Oscars for 1976 Goldsmith won his one and only Academy Award he was ever going to win during his entire career (and a rightful victory it was too).

      Overall, this is a classic example of a film score’s importance in creating a mood for a film and raising it to a whole new level, something that has unfortunately been somewhat forgotten in the profession today by offering generic and less in-your-face scores that don’t have the same kind of power to actually improve a film (exemplified by the new remake). Sadly, being one of the greats to really develop film scoring and its different techniques well into the modern era, Jerry Goldsmith lost his long battle with cancer in July 2004, aged 75. He shall be missed, which makes the injustice of the Academy in not giving him the proper recognition he really deserved ever more tangible. However, his music will live on and The Omen is a perfect example of Goldsmith’s art, and should be found from any respectable film score collection, regardless of your religious beliefs. You can pick it up from Amazon for £12.99, or alternatively get the boxed set with all three scores of The Omen (Deluxe), Damien: Omen II (Deluxe) and The Final Conflict for £20.99.

      Oh, and Happy Halloween!


      Deluxe Edition Track Listing

      1. Ave Satani (2:31)
      2. On This Night (2:33)*
      3. The New Ambassador (2:35)
      4. Where Is He? (0:54)*
      5. I Was There (2:25)*
      6. Broken Vows (2:09)*
      7. Safari Park (3:22)
      8. A Doctor, Please (1:42)
      9. The Killer Storm (2:53)
      10. The Fall (3:43)
      11. Don’t Let Him (2:46)
      12. The Day He Died (2:13)*
      13. The Dogs Attack (5:52)
      14. A Sad Message (1:42)
      15. Beheaded (1:45)*
      16. The Bed (1:06)
      17. 666 (0:44)*
      18. The Demise of Mrs. Baylock (2:53)
      19. The Altar (2:02)
      20. The Piper Dreams (2:39)

      * Previously unreleased


      Produced by Jerry Goldsmith / Robert Townson
      Music Composed by Jerry Goldsmith
      Performed by The National Philharmonic Orchestra & The Ambrosian Singers
      Conducted by Lionel Newman
      Orchestrated by Arthur Morton
      Recording Engineer: John Richards
      Recorded at The Music Centre, England
      1976 / Varèse Sarabande, 2001 (VSD-6288)

      © berlioz, 2006

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    • Product Details

      Disc #1 Tracklisting
      1 Ave Satani
      2 On This Night
      3 The New Ambassador
      4 Where Is He?
      5 I Was There
      6 Broken Vows
      7 Safari Park
      8 A Doctor, Please
      9 The Killer Storm
      10 The Fall
      11 Don't Let Him
      12 The Day He Died
      13 The Dogs Attack
      14 A Sad Message
      15 Beheaded
      16 The Bed
      17 666
      18 The Demise Of Mrs. Baylock
      19 The Altar
      20 The Piper Dreams