We Stood Like Kings ~ Away

Following their initial silent film trilogy and a set of classical reworks, Brussels post-rockers We Stood Like Kings have returned to the cinematic world, with a twist.  This time they are not only rescoring an animated film, but a recent one: Gints Zilbalodis’ 2019 award-winning Away.  It should be said up front that the film already had a decent score; in fact, the entire production ~ writing, directing, animating and even scoring ~ was the work of a single man.

The original score, as heard in the trailer below, was called “minimalist” but is perhaps better described as ambient-electronic in the Lullatone vein.  This type of music fits the wonder of the script, although falling just a bit short in the drama department, considering the fact that a “giant shadowy monster” is chasing a boy throughout most of the movie.  The new score splits the difference between tension and awe, gracing the film with an amplified tone.

Most post-rock bands are known for their guitars, and there are crescendos aplenty here, but the piano is the key instrument, contributing an essential beauty.  Multiple passages throughout the recording allow the ivories to reflect the heart of the protagonist, whose journey begins when he helps an injured bird.  The guitars and drums magnify the conflict, joining in the middle of “Duel” with an elongated drum roll followed by a pounding of percussion and a surge of electric strings.  All the while the piano plays, growing ever more frantic, signaling a battle of mythic proportions, until the soft beginning of “Elephants,” when the danger – for a time – seems to have passed.

The new score is more propulsive than reflective, especially in spots like minute three of “Turtle,” when the bass seems ready to drive the band off a cliff.  Suddenly the electric instruments take a breath, allowing the piano to create a sonic valley and set up the next drum roll.  These periods of extreme dynamic contrast, as short as they may be, are the most cinematic facets of the release.  The fact that the album sounds great in a car racing down the freeway (yes, we’ve given it a field test) is likely a reflection of the fact that the protagonist is on a motorbike for much of the film.

The existence of the new score sets up some interesting challenges.  First, the score is 17 minutes shorter than the film, so viewers can’t synch it up at home.  Second, the film is partially known for its score (“And what a score!” raves Variety). Fortunately, the album stands on its own, which we can’t say about most scores, bound as they are by the repetition of themes and preponderance of incidental music.  The film isn’t available in all areas, but the new score is.  If it leads potential viewers to encounter this animated Latvian triumph, everybody wins.  (Richard Allen)

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