Film music sometimes delivers the most remarkable surprises. What would you expect from an animated feature entitled Heavy Metal 2000, sporting a 2000AD style drawing of an unfeasibly large-breasted Amazon toting an unfeasibly large gun on the album cover? A cheap electronic hack job?
Heavy Metal began life in 1975 as Métal Hurlant, a French comic-strip science fiction magazine showcasing the work of such artists as Jean Giraud and Philippe Druillet, which Ridley Scott acknowledged as an influence on the visual style of Alien (1979), and which proved so successful as to rapidly spawn various editions in translation. In 1981 a Heavy Metal feature film appeared, following the format of the magazine in presenting an anthology of assorted science fiction and fantasy stories. The music was a mixture of heavy metal (naturally) and score by Elmer Bernstein. Heavy Metal 2000 is the much belated sequel, which rather than offer a second anthology, is a feature-length adaptation of Simon Bisley's graphic novel The Melting Pot. By repute the film seems to be a blood-splattered revenge-fuelled space-opera aimed squarely at the lowest common denominator; the sort of thing Paul Verhoven would be doing if a) he had no talent, and b) was reduced to making cheap animated straight-to-video features. One really should be expecting the worst.
Elmer Bernstein's name is nowhere to be seen. In his stead is Frederic Talgorn, a composer whose best known credits are probably the Christopher Lambert science fiction adventure Fortress (1992), and two episodes of the television Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Clearly someone in the production of Heavy Metal 2000 had visions of grandeur, for Talgorn's background in working in George Lucas' second most famous fictional universe is developed in a score which sounds as if it should come from a full-blooded, huge-budgeted CinemaScope space-opera adventure. This is music in the tradition of John Williams' Star Wars (1977), or rather more accurately, the darker, more complex The Empire Strikes Back (1980), while also echoing Williams' The Fury (1978), Goldsmith's Alien and Trevor Jones' Excalibur / Merlin. In short, Heavy Metal 2000 is a huge, ferocious, overwhelming monster of an orchestral score, a Wagnarian behemoth of corrosive intensity. Way too good to be wasted on a second-rate straight-to-video cartoon, the dramatic power here is probably what most people were hoping The Phantom Menace (1999), film and score, would deliver.
The opening, 'Lost in Space' has the slow, brooding atmospheric dread which would make a fine start to a new entry in the Alien series, or serve as a demonstration that Talgorn is up to the job of scoring such a film. 'The Key' is far more tonal, filled with impassioned orchestral menace, and strongly suggestive of the Star Wars series. 'Julie & Kerrie / Alternate Version' introduces a big, romantic theme in which stirring horn calls rise above rich strings. Again, it is space fantasy music in the Williams tradition, but also in the James Horner lineage as traced back to such scores as Krull (1983) and Star Trek's II & III. So the album goes on, 'Tyler Catches Kerry' introducing a motif which echoes the Darth Vader theme, further cues clearly written in the tradition of the great Williams / Goldsmith / Jones / Horner science fiction / fantasy scores, yet always retaining sufficient personality and sheer dramatic force to encourage one to turn up the volume just that little bit more. By the end of the album one should have ringing ears and feel thoroughly exhilarated, especially after the thrilling seven-minute assault that is 'Tyler's Rage'. The final track, 'It's Over (End Title)', has the elegiac dignity required of a good Alien movie, and should leave most purchasers hoping Mr Talgorn is given the opportunity to score a $100 million action blockbuster ASAP.
The recording is very detailed and carries great visceral force, which is just what a score like this needs. The performances by the Munich Symphony are very tightly focused and full of committed energy, with some very strong brass and percussion. Only the fact that by its very nature Heavy Metal 2000 is forced to be derivative of far more famous models prevents me from making this a five star album. In all other respects this is tremendous stuff, happily proving that there are younger composers ready to assume the mantel of Williams, Goldsmith and others of the old guard.
Gary S. Dalkin