Vampires have all the luck. Werewolves have fads but generally fade away, and the mummy is only wheeled out when Brendan Fraser needs a new wing on his mansion. But vampires are around all the time, only this time they’re running a hotel/brothel. It’s like Guest House Paradiso with more sex and less vomit. Yep, Byzantium sounds like my sort of film. Especially as Gemma Arterton is in it.
Javier Navarrete’s score is a strange animal. I suppose, given its subject of the seductive yet murderous vampire (at least assuming it’s played that way, and it’s hard to imagine it isn’t with Neil Jordan), the duality of the music is thematically appropriate, but it sure makes for a strange listening experience. There are two forces hard at work here, one that is beautiful and somewhat tragic and intoxicating, and another that is threatening and imbued with a sense of foreboding darkness. A bit like GWAR.
Both meet in the middle often, but the difference in feel is often jarring. The easier side has a strong motif at the centre of it, often played on solo piano but for effect also appearing in sweeping string mode (‘My Mother’). There are some moments where emotion is strong, especially in a tragic mode (‘Whore’). A traditional piece also appears, ‘The Coventry Carol’, which plays both on its own and later blends into the tragic pieces.
And then there’s the more dissonant side, a side that has one foot in sound design territory. Here electronics are happily used, lots of distortion and static, off-kilter melodies, a lot of really strange and at times disconcerting material. There are times when both sides marry, and it’s almost like a battle where one side gives way to the other (such as in ‘As Darkness Fell’). It’s a weird listen at times, and probably the main issue is that there’s no real resolution to the album, it just kind of ends with an admittedly pretty cool track with a driving electric guitar riff. I guess that disconnection really sums up the record. I’m sure it works in the film, but as a separate listen it’s just a bit distancing for my tastes.
BYZANTIUM is out now from Silva Screen Records
Words: Charlie Brigden