Director Andreas Prochaska's brooding genre picture leads the pack of films nominated for this year's Lolas (the German Film Awards), with a formidable haul of nine nominations. Nabbing one of those many nods is German composer Matthias Weber. With an impressive number of TV movies to his credit, as well as work in episodic television like Baywatch, Shield, and The Sopranos, and programming/arranging work for both Hans Zimmer and Trevor Jones, Weber has established himself over the years as a reliable talent. His score for The Dark Valley is something wholly unexpected: a reserved and textural melding of classical and more ambient, contemporary styles. Working in tandem with the chilly, brooding visuals, the score is a persistently downbeat experience, relying heavily on droning textures, pulsating rhythms, and, occasional, more location-specific solo instruments.
The opening "The Secret" briefly establishes the score's sorrowful main theme, a lonesome idea for a small string ensemble brought to life by the Skopje Film Orchestra. Quickly after "The Secret", we are treated to Clara Luzia's moody vocals in "Sinnerman" (or, alternatively, "Cinema, where you gonna run to?"), one of the two original songs written for the film. Weber's material continues in "Mountain View", a predominantly ambient piece, with melancholic pastoral accents provided by a solo alpine horn (or alphorn). The similarly melancholic "Reminiscing" features descending notes of icy ambiance, while "Plotting" concocts an atmosphere of almost funereal dread via a two-note, rising motif on the GuitarViol. Weber then does something rather unexpected, layering a very contemporary string ostinato over pulsating electronics for a brooding sense of forward momentum towards the end of "Plotting". Such curiously contemporary elements continue to crop up until the score's conclusion. Singular electronic beats punctuate the atmospheric "Nailed" (reminiscent of Bear McCreary's material for The Walking Dead''s Governor character), before "Wedding" opens the score up to a fuller (though nonetheless oppressive) orchestral palette, with lone horn blasts, chopping strings, and weighty percussion dominating the cue. "Confession" immediately stands out as the most contemporary piece of the score, with pulsating electronics and chopping string ostinatos a la Hans Zimmer permeating its brief runtime. "Passacaglia Vindicta" is a grave piece, slowly exploring the descending progressions of "Reminiscing" by way of a fuller string ensemble, while the animated progressions of "Dark Valley Polka" inject a faint glimmer of liveliness into the proceedings (even if a nagging sense that something isn't quite right still remains). The main theme returns for a somber reprise in "Surprise", before being swallowed up by brooding, ambient strings and pulsating electronics later in the cue. These electronics take center stage in the relentlessly dark "Promise", before the second of the score's original songs, "How Dare You!" by Steaming Satellites, is thrown into the mix. The score pulls us back in with the oppressively ambient "Smith Fight" and then gives way to the grander "Revenge Done", which features a more melodic statement of theme to close out Weber's score material. The somewhat stiff orchestration evidenced in the latter half of "Revenge Done" bars the cue from having the kind of flowing, melodic tragedy that it really deserves, but its still a welcome reprieve from all the preceding doom and gloom. One Two Three Cheers And A Tiger's (I don't make these names up) synthpop/post-rock rendition of "Sinnerman" then closes out the album for a curious but catchy finish.
Composer Matthias Weber has managed to create an effective, brooding soundscape for The Dark Valley, with both period and contemporary influences interacting to create an intriguing hybrid mix. No doubt, his relentlessly dark and often quite oppressive ambient material fares better in the context of the film, but the score still has moments where it manages to stand on its own. To be sure, Matthias Weber's The Dark Valley has a clear job to do and does it unforgivingly. It is a score that would rather envelope you in weighty atmospherics than dish up traditional melodic narrative so, thematically, it may indeed prove too meager for most listeners. For the remaining few who are open to being intrigued by a consistently downbeat but nuanced effort, The Dark Valley may be of more interest to you.
A Few Recommended Tracks: "The Secret", "Confession", "Revenge Done"
Label: MovieScore Media
Availability: 16 track edition