Soundtracks on Vinyl: Valhalla Rising

With the arrival of The Neon Demon encroaching on cinemas, Andrew gives a listen to the Valhalla Rising soundtrack on 180g vinyl.

Whenever Nicolas Winding Refn does anything new that's movie related or in conjunction with his NWR vinyl releasing label dedicated to giving fans elite editions of their favorite soundtracks in exciting new packaging, I can't help but get excited.  Between his pop soundtracks for Drive and Bronson to his ambient scores for Only God Forgives and Fear X, the Danish auteur's soundscapes for his films tend towards bright neon synthetic electronica or brooding, Angelo Badalamenti inspired ambience with just a hint of industrial creeping in the background.  With the impending release of his latest film The Neon Demon around the corner, my inner Refn fanboy started perusing the soundtracks for films of his I didn't own yet and low and behold through Milan Records, it turns out his 2009 11th century hallucinatory and ultraviolent Norse odyssey Valhalla Rising did indeed finally get an official soundtrack release on CD and vinyl with a digital download included.  Pressed on a single platter with the first 300 copies printed on limited 180g red vinyl before the general release version went to 180g black vinyl, fans now have a chance to immerse themselves in the haunting, atmosphere drenched and otherworldly industrial/ambient score by Refn regulars Peter Peter and Peter Kyed.  

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Sounding at times like a frank imitation of Carmine Coppola's score for Apocalypse Now, particularly in the 'Hell' track which builds from a dull roar into a full throated cry of hopeless despair, the Valhalla Rising score in the context of the film and on it's own listening counterpart sound as though they would shave comfortable shelf space with David Lynch's unused Inland Empire soundtracks The Air is On Fire or Polish Night Music.  Sounding closer to white noise with light instrumentation including guitars and industrial sonics with just enough wind on the soundtrack to point listeners towards it's influences, fans of the creepier floating ambient ala Aphex Twin, Lynch or even Trent Reznor will be elated at the horror oriented soundtrack here.  Like the film itself, the score is drawn out, slow and quietly brooding with just a few moments that startlingly shriek to life such as when One-Eye experiences an epiphany and sharp strings jolt viewers up out of their seats.  The only confusing aspect of this listen is the rearranged chronology, as the most memorable track on the album, Return, appears much earlier than in the film itself.    

Peter Peter in the studio.
Unfortunately this single-platter release, though including a digital download code and a curious note from director Nicolas Winding Refn included, lacks a gatefold and much in the way of album art beyond the poster and a close-up of Mads Mikkelsen's battle scarred face.  Still, priced around $19 and pressed on heavyweight vinyl, this is a solid pickup for Refn fans and those who like their floating ambience to be just a little more unsettling than most would prefer.  In all fairness the album Peter and Kyed's score sounds closest to is Trent Reznor's soundtrack for the id Software videogame Quake for it's mixture of ambience, dissonance in sound for atmosphere and industrial, giving the whole enterprise a disquieting feeling as though we're somewhere off in a distant universe where unknown horrors lurk just beneath the ground's surface.  Though Valhalla Rising ostensibly takes place on the planet Earth, Refn himself admitted science fiction was the strongest influence on the soundtrack itself which sounds something like how an alien observer might perceive the brutal and unforgiving realities of a medieval world.


- Andrew Kotwicki