Alan Silvestri’s The Abyss is chock-full of mystery and wonder, and that combined with an epic main theme and some breathtaking final cues stands it out as one of his best.
The Abyss is certainly one of James Cameron’s most…interesting movies. The underwater scenes are breathtakingly shot, at the expense however of the film having been both massively over budget and particularly taxing on cast and crew. The story, without going into spoilery details – is rather entertaining and at times genuinely quite intriguing, and the score – is truly wondrous. I’ve always admired the works of Alan Silvestri and he really does shine here, especially when it comes to the magnificent main theme that debuts in the opening cue of Varese Sarabande’s expanded Abyss release; Opening Title. The track opens softly, with light, near ethereal vocals setting a quiet and peaceful tone before loud percussion and triumphant brass then rapidly rise out of the darkness, elevating the score to breathtakingly epic levels with a short debut for the main theme before the music then simmers back down just as quickly as it arrived. Annoyingly as well, this is where the main theme both hops on and gets off this soundtrack train for quite a substantial amount of album time, as it returns only much later on in the score.
Tense strings and ominous percussion then open Montana/Crash/Flood (ten out of ten for track titling there) in an manner incredibly reminiscent of Silvestri’s orchestral action style in Back To The Future. This isn’t exactly surprising given the proximity of both scores to one another (the aforementioned being from 1985 and The Abyss 1989) but its a curious stylistic similarity all the same – and one that continues to appear throughout the action. This string/percussive combination persists for much of the two minute cue, pausing for worrisome breath only towards the end of the piece. Militaristic drums then arrive in Marker Buoy/They’re Coming, indicating the presence of (you guessed it) the military in the movie. While this instrumental idea does recur in the score, as its somewhat lacking in terms of actual melody I’m somewhat hesitant to call it a theme – so recurring military motif it is.
The rather lengthy Let Me Drown Your Rat/Search The Montana is up next; a ten minute long, incredibly atmospheric and so highly unusual (for Silvestri) musical setpiece that has a focus on low, dark electronics and very ominous-sounding strings. I’d almost liken this track’s style overall to that of an orchestral Vangelis’ Blade Runner – it concentrates on mood-setting and world-building much more than say the themes or rich orchestral ideas that the composer is usually known for. Jammer Freaks then continues this style for the first minute or so before introducing loud, ethereal vocals into the mix. Much like with the military motif these also seems character representative, as they recur across the album and usually play when the otherworldly creatures show up in the film itself.
MIRV Recovery/SEALs Return then brings us back to the aforementioned military drums, playing them in a rather threatening manner for the entirety of the cue’s two minute runtime. Tension then kicks back into gear with Crashing Crane, with rapid brass punching through as the music begins alongside backing percussion and a particularly frantic piano, with strings arriving and then reaching a horror-style crescendo in the track’s final few seconds. What A Drag continues where it leaves off, diving the score right back into tense action territory with aggressive brass and rapid strings. The action then concludes with The Draggiest Man, a much shorter piece that brings the rapidity to a particularly dramatic close towards its end with a loud and rather alarming final burst of brass. Similarly to earlier cues, there are multiple instances in all three of these tracks where stylistic similarities to certain other Silvestri scores can be heard, with the largest difference being that there is no thematic material weaved into the action here.
The motif for the aliens plays a significant role in the six minute Lindsey’s Close Encounter, particularly in the back half of the piece where the light, heavenly vocals established earlier for the aliens create a quietly pensive but also slightly unnerving atmosphere before then fading out just as mysteriously as their debut. The Pseudopod opens in a similarly ominous manner, starting off with quiet vocals before then moving onto deep, rumbling electronics and creepy-sounding strings which then turn high pitched and rather horrorlike around the halfway mark. Loud brass then barrels into view at the end, delivering quite a tense finale to the nearly six minute cue.
Low-pitched, gloomy electronics then open The Fight, with rapid percussion racing in just a few seconds later. The electronics lurk threateningly in the background for much of the track, coming to a high-pitched and rather loud conclusion towards the end with the score then seguing fairly seamlessly into the six minute action setpiece What A Drag. Tense strings start things off alongside ominious piano notes and worrisome brass, with the composer then once again leaning heavily into the more Back To The Future-y side of action scoring for much of the cue – though again sadly sans themes. The fast pace then comes to a particularly edge-of-your-seat conclusion in Coffey Explodes, a sixty second long piece that utilises horrorlike strings to great atmospheric effect.
The creepy, high-pitched and rather moody strings return in The Only Way, establishing a real sense of dread at the start of the piece that is then emphasized considerably by deep, rumbling electronics and imposing percussion. This atmospheric animosity continues throughout the piece, coming to a close a few seconds into subsequent cue Resurrection. Warmer yet still rather forlorn-sounding brass then starts to push through the solemnity, building quietly at first before then gently playing a hopeful debut for a brand new motif – the love theme. Cheerful, uplifting strings join the fray, pushing atmosphere aside for pure orchestral bliss to the point where even the music sounds relieved. This doesn’t last for long however before Bud’s Big Dive then plunges the score back into moody darkness; creepy electronics and low, threatening brass form the stylistic centrepiece for the majority of the track, with the occasional light yet mysterious woodwinds cropping up to add an edge of upbeat to the otherwise rather gloomy cue.
Next up we have Bud On The Ledge – and it’s here that things really kick off. The track opens just as quietly and atmospherically as previous cues, but you can just tell that something is different as gentle vocals then start singing the opening few notes of the main theme (which we haven’t seen in a good long while) before the orchestra then bursts in and practically explodes with a gloriously epic rendition of the main theme on triumphant brass, wondrous strings and loud percussion. Blinky Bows continues the main theme on ethereal vocals before Bud On The Air cuts in with another loud and proud thematic appearance that then segues nicely into the album’s standout cue – Finale And End Credits. Here the main and love themes get their last and frankly best renditions on the score, with Silvestri simply pulling out all the orchestral stops to make them as dramatic, upbeat and epic as possible. The only slightly annoying hitch here is that at just over four minutes long the track doesn’t actually include the full end credits suite from the film, which is a little bit of a shame. Still, even just at four minutes it still makes for a fantastic way to end the album.
Overall, Alan Silvestri’s The Abyss is nothing short of magical. While the album does take a little while to properly get going, once it does – it absolutely soars. The main theme in particular is absolutely spectacular, receiving excellent renditions in Bud On The Ledge and of course the standout Finale And End Credits alongside the delightful love theme. Atmospheric scoring is not something that Silvestri is much known for, but he utilises it to great effect (see The Pseudopod) throughout the album before the full orchestra then takes over in the finale for that excellent sendoff. All-in; good style, great themes, enjoyable action – it’s Silvestri on his a-game, with marvellous results.
Standout Cue: 28. Finale And End Credits