Xperiments (from Dark Phoenix) – Soundtrack Review

Xperiments is a comprehensive, highly thematic and frankly epic expansion of the original Dark Phoenix score.

If there was one thing that the score to X-Men: Dark Phoenix made me feel by the end of its sixty-eight-minute runtime, it was a sense of incompletion. While I quite enjoyed a few of the album’s themes (particularly that of the Phoenix herself) I didn’t think that they were nearly fleshed out enough. The main X-Men theme for example barely appears on the score, appearing once in full force in Gap and then making light and sporadic cameos in various other tracks. It badly needed expanding on, and so because of that and my general unsatisfaction from the original score, I got quite excited when the Xperiments album was officially announced. As we learned from Man Of Steel‘s second CD, experimental music from Zimmer is often where we hear him at his wackiest and (for me, anyway) most interesting. There are some genuinely good motifs in Dark Phoenix, and I was intrigued to hear how the composer would play with them in this expansion. So without further ado, let’s begin.

The album opens with X-HZT, and you’re probably thinking; “What kind of a track name is that?”, and you’re right. They are quite bizarre. Each of the twelve cues here begins with “X-“ and then has an assortment of other letters, which is not only a rather odd way to name tracks, but also quite a confusing one. I can only guess at what the letters might mean; here for instance I’m struggling to come up with anything other than Hans Zimmer Theme for HZT. It’s a seventeen-minute-long piece, and it focuses pretty much entirely on the Phoenix theme from the original score. Ominous vocals and slow, dark percussion take up the first two minutes before the track then takes a rather wacky turn, switching up dramatically into a techno-esque mood with fast-paced electronic percussion and warped vocals. After a few minutes it then switches back into slow and solemn, and then essentially repeats this genre-hopping every few minutes until the end. Overall, it’s a pretty intriguing piece of music, and while it doesn’t quite flesh out the Phoenix theme in the way I was hoping, I still found it quite enjoyable (if not a tad bizarre).

X-X is up next, and I can only assume that this X stands for X-Men since the track deals exclusively with Zimmer’s new X-Men theme. It was the motif that most needed a good fleshing out back in the original album, and I am pleased to say that we get exactly that here. Light percussion opens the piece and then (like with Gap from the score) a piano plays the opening notes from the theme. The music then slowly starts to build, culminating at around the two minute mark with a loud and epic thematic burst – complete with dramatic vocals and rapid, heroic percussion. Things then slow back down for a minute or so until Zimmer then goes into full wacky mode again; an electric guitar playing the main theme shows up out of nowhere and the percussion’s volume dramatically increases, making for a near incredible-sounding final two minutes before the cue draws to a close. As thematic expansions go, this is a damn good one.

We then return to the Phoenix theme for X-LGDP, with solemn vocals opening the piece that instantly kill the heroic momentum from the previous track. Said vocals then turn ominous once again, sounding out several repeating notes from the Phoenix motif in combination with thumping percussion for the first two minutes of the cue. The music then starts to build, with the instrumentation and vocals getting steadily louder and more dramatic over the course of several minutes until finally exploding with an epic and full thematic rendition for the back half of the track. Things then slow down towards the end before seguing right into X-SI, a much more atmospheric piece that doesn’t really focus on any particular motif. Instead, it utilises the established methodologies from previous tracks (i.e. percussion and vocals) to set a rather dark and haunting tone that overall makes for quite a moody six-minute cue.

The album then enters action territory with X-HD and X-MP. The former features fast-paced and Dunkirk-esque percussion throughout its three minute runtime, and much like the previous piece it doesn’t utilise any particular motifs, acting instead as a tone-setter for tracks to come. The latter cue then ups the percussion game considerably, using almost rock-like beats in combination with the traditional Zimmer synth sounding out sporadic notes from the new X-Men theme. X-MT then slows things right back down and begins to play around with the Magneto theme, a motif that I unfortunately managed to overlook in my score review. In fairness, it’s not quite as recognisable as the other two, but here it certainly gets treated like them as it gets a lengthy five-minute fleshing out, complete with epic synth and loud, imposing percussion.

The X-Men theme makes a return with X-TX, however this time in a much less heroic and more solemn fashion. A slow and methodical piano plays the opening notes from the motif for the track’s first few minutes, at which point synth then takes over, keeping the track in solemnity for much of its rather drawn-out runtime. A glimmer of hope does start to shine through towards the end though, with hints of the epic percussion from X-X quietly beginning to bleed through before the track then concludes. Subsequent cue X-MDP then brings us back to the Phoenix theme, and that combined with Zimmer going into full experimental mode with said motif makes for a peculiar yet rather entertaining nine minutes of music, with techno beats, bizarre electronics and wacky vocal manipulations playing notes from the theme taking up much of the runtime. Things then get much darker in X-F, a much more atmospheric and motif-less piece that instead focuses on slow, Blade Runner 2049-esque synth notes.

Pensive vocals open X-CH, a rather intriguing piece of music that experiments with not one but two main themes; combining the X-Men and Phoenix motifs for a very compositionally interesting clash of tones. The Phoenix theme constantly pulls towards gloom and darkness with deep vocals and low electronics, and the X-Men motif then does the opposite, utilising light and hopeful vocals to pull the tone back the other way. The track is essentially a musical wrestling match between two radically different thematic creations, and yet it works surprisingly well. To close out the album Zimmer then pulls out the standout cue, X-SS. This is the end credits piece from the film that fans have been desperate to hear since the original album release; a fast-paced and particularly epic X-Men theme rendition that doesn’t hold back on the heroism.

Overall, Hans Zimmer’s Xperiments is a welcome expansion on the themes and compositional style of his original Dark Phoenix score. One of the biggest issues I had with the first release was how little it utilises the composer’s X-Men theme, and that’s something that gets fully rectified here as the motif gets at least fifteen minutes of thematic fleshing out, leaving me (and I imagine a great many others) more than satisfied. The Phoenix theme also gets plenty of album time, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed as it is quite simply a fantastic composition. You can really tell that Zimmer has been allowed to run free here as there are more than a few rather wacky and bizarre pieces of experimental music dotted around the album, and they are actually quite fun to listen to. All-in I’d say it’s a marked improvement over the original score, and I welcome intriguing expansions like this in the future.

Zimmer’s been let off the leash for Xperiments, with some truly fantastic results.

 

Score: 8/10

Standout Cue: 12. X-SS

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