Hellboy (2019) – Soundtrack Review

Hellboy is a bizarre score, being an odd mishmash of orchestra and EDM which succeeds only in making the album a pretty generic, dull and sometimes genuinely painful listening experience.

In case you haven’t already guessed it, I am not a fan of Benjamin Wallfisch’s work for the Hellboy reboot. I find the ridiculously loud and rather obnoxious EDM-style scoring difficult and at points near painful to listen to, not to mention the fact that the vast majority of the album’s musical content sounds quite generic and fairly forgettable. The former is a result of the somewhat odd choice to combine traditional orchestra with very heavy EDM electronics, as here they simply just do not work well together. Throughout the album the switches between musical genres are clumsy at best, and the constant pounding of the unpleasant-sounding percussion and near-deafening electric guitars gave me a headache after a while. The icing on the cake is then the latter point of forgettable-ness, something that is primarily due to the near complete and utter lack of thematic material across the score as well as really anything recognisable or unique motif or indeed compositional style-wise. These are harsh words I know, but I wouldn’t say them unless I meant them.

Let’s take opening track Big Red as a key example of what I’m on about. It opens at high volume, with harsh electric guitars taking the forefront and heavy percussive electronics bringing up the rear, both hammering home this dark, almost depressing yet somewhat dramatic tone. The percussion in particular is hard to listen to, being so obnoxiously loud and in-your-face that it actually distorts at various moments, even going so far as to sound like pure static at points. The music sounds like electrical interference, for crying out loud. The track continues in this coarse vein for a good two minutes or so before then settling down into some surprisingly upbeat guitar beats, and for a brief moment I thought things with Hellboy might actually get a little more interesting. This was not to be however, as the EDM soon returns with a few somehow even more in-your-face renditions before the track then comes to a rather dreary end.

If there’s one thing that Big Red absolutely nails, it’s getting across the tone and musical style of the score almost immediately, acting essentially as a “main theme” as the album begins. As a piece of music, it essentially says if you don’t like this, you ain’t going to like the score, and it’s absolutely right; I don’t. Now, one could make the argument that the electric guitars and heavy percussive elements of the track (and score) do fit the gritty character of Hellboy rather well, and I don’t dispute that (after all, they do – in a way) but I’d counterpoint with isn’t Hellboy a superhero? A somewhat darker one maybe, but one nonetheless. Yet, there is hardly anything in the way of heroic or indeed epic material here – not even a decent main theme to represent the character. I’ve found (after multiple album listenings) a recurring series of notes that might be a theme of some kind, but it’s barely recognisable as a theme let alone a main one, and it certainly doesn’t do the main character justice if it is. There’s nothing here that makes me think “superhero”, and due to the sheer amount of superhero scores around nowadays that might even be a good thing, but only if there was something just as interesting music-wise in its place, and sadly there just isn’t.

Cathedral Fight is the main action cue of the album, and for much of its seven minute runtime it trudges down a very similar tonal path to that of the opening track and indeed the vast majority of the album. The obnoxious electric guitars begin hammering against your ears almost immediately, this time however with actual orchestral-sounding brass and percussion in the background, which I admit improves the experience considerably, but unfortunately not enough to really matter as the orchestra disappears rather rapidly as the “main theme” makes a heavily-EDM-style appearance (by “main theme”, I mean the depressingly-dull recurring series of notes I discovered earlier that I assume is a theme) and we are treated to several minutes of pure horrendous-sounding electronics. The orchestra then thankfully returns for a few solemn strings-based moments towards the end before the track then draws to a close.

The standout cue award goes to Hellboy, as its the least worst piece of music on the album. It opens with dramatic and rather frantic strings before then rapidly descending into full EDM, filling up the soundscape with loud electric guitars and heavy percussion as the “main theme” gets one final playthrough before the album ends. The track is sadly only a minute and a half long, which is a shame as I felt potential here, and given Wallfisch’s main “four-minute-masterpiece” thematic work with SHAZAM! I couldn’t help but feel that this Hellboy track was a bit of a missed opportunity.

Overall, Benjamin Wallfisch’s score for Hellboy is pretty bad. The musical style is a weird mixture of orchestra and EDM, with the latter unfortunately taking up the bulk of the album. It’s a loud, obnoxious and at times quite irritating compositional choice, and I found myself having to turn it off at various points in order to take a break from the near constant barrage of in-your-face electronics. I find it difficult to avoid comparing this score to the disaster that was Ludwig Goransson’s Venom from last year, as both albums have and make similar issues and mistakes, particularly in their use of electronic-style scoring and near complete and utter lack of any thematic material. Hellboy badly needed a solid main theme that the rest of the album could rally behind, and sadly Wallfisch just does not deliver on this front, giving us a poor set of barely recurring notes instead.

Considering Wallfisch’s wonderful work for SHAZAM!, I find myself astonished at the shoddy workmanship that is Hellboy.

 

Score: 3/10

Standout Cue: 11. Hellboy

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