End of Days (John Debney)

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Both Arnold Schwarzenegger and director Peter Hyams were fighting the notion that their best days were behind them by 1999. Schwarzenegger, the king of 80s action, was in the middle of a rut that had begun with Last Action Hero in 1993 and many of his subsequent films from Eraser to Batman and Robin had underperformed with audiences and critics. Hyams had a minor hit with 1997’s The Relic, but nothing to compare to his salad days of Capricorn One and Outland. End of Days was not the panacea either man was looking for; a millenarian horror/action film about Schwarzenegger’s burnt-out bodyguard attempting to keep the fated mother of Satan’s child away from Old Scratch, it was a financial disappointment (Schwarzenegger’s reported $25 million paycheck probably didn’t help) and was critically savaged.

Hyams had worked with a number of composers throughout his lengthy career, including Jerry Goldsmith, David Shire, and Mark Isham. For End of Days, though, he chose to extend his partnership with composer John Debney, who had scored his previous two films, Sudden Death and the aforementioned The Relic. Debney had found a steady stream of high-profile work since beginning his scoring career in earnest in the early 1990s, and 1999 saw him tackle no less than six movies, with End of Days sitting opposite The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland in his filmography for that year. In many ways, End of Days was a good for for Debney; a devout Christian himself, the composer tackled the film’s music for the sacred and the profane with an orchestra, choir, and array of synthesizers and voice samples.

The primary motifs that Debney works with are based around the human voice. One is an eerie child soprano intoning “Agnus Dei” (“lamb of God” in Latin) which drifts in and out of the film’s soundscape; another is the deep and unmistakable tones of Tuvan throat singers, whose unsettling performances underscore the film’s most disturbing moments. Debney complements both with samples from Spectrasonics’ “Symphony Of Voices” and other more industrial synths for the film’s lengthy suspense and pursuit cues, while leaving the full might of the orchestra and the expected bombast for heaven and hell for key moments.

Debney’s approach yields some impressive highlights, most notably in the starkly horrifying “Main Title” and the film’s action-adventure centerpiece, “Subway Attack and Escape.” The scoring for the film’s denouement, “Redemption” and “The Eternal Struggle,” is lovely as well, employing every tool in the composer’s chosen arsenal as the choral and tonal elements of the score battle it out with synths and industrial tones. For much of the album, though, the latter ambient elements, with the child soprano and Tuvan throat singers throughout, predominates. And while this more ambient material deftly reinforces the film’s sense of oppressive millenarian darkness, it can be a very difficult listen away from the film. A very poor remix of Debney’s music tacked on at the end certainly does the album no favors, either.

One certainly can’t deny Debney’s creativity, the highlights of his work, or the sincerety with which it was assembled, but End of Days winds up working somewhat better in the film, flawed as said film may be, than on its own. As was the case for most of the 1990s, a “music from and inspired by” compilation of unpleasant rock songs barely heard in the movie was given a wide release first, followed by Debney’s much rarer 40-minute score-only product from Varèse Sarabande a month later. It’s worth seeking out for a distinctly different take on movie spirituality than Debney would later use in The Passion of the Christ and The Stoning of Soraya M., but expect a challenging and mostly textual listen with occasional highlights.

Rating: starstarstar

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