Brian Tyler’s Those Who Wish Me Dead is a quietly emotional and richly atmospheric score for the most part, though it certainly doesn’t shy away from its bold, dramatic main theme when called upon either.
I’ve always been a sucker for a good main theme. On a given day, I’d have likely overlooked reviewing this sort of score, but after catching a tweet from Brian Tyler last week containing a snippet of his theme for the film, the music, the orchestration particularly – it really caught my ear. Naturally, a few minutes later I was then listening to the full main title track courtesy of WaterTower Music, and liked what I heard even more, and so now here we are. Those Who Wish Me Dead is a survival action-thriller movie starring Angelina Jolie, where she and a young boy she meets must survive a combined human and environmental threat in the form of a few deadly assassins and an increasingly ferocious forest fire.
The main theme mentioned above is introduced in opening cue Those Who Wish Me Dead (Main Theme). It opens quietly, almost pensively, with strings and low brass then echoing the first few solemn notes of the score’s motif. Here the track turns almost sinister for a few seconds, before percussion then starts to play gently in the background and the instrumentation starts to pick up speed, building and growing with the main theme still playing quietly and rather morosely. It’s in the final minute of the cue though that things really start to get interesting – the theme continues to play, though this time with the build-up of the orchestra behind it to overall add a much bolder and reluctantly heroic quality to it; one backed by now-powerful brass and some particularly intense percussion. The dramatic playthrough of the theme then plays for a few further seconds before the cue then comes to a rousing finish. Overall, the motif certainly leaves an impression, and one that had me pretty much instantly hooked on first listen. Memorability-wise, Tyler definitely has this one down.
Elegy For A Soul then opens rather forebodingly, with low-pitched brass and sombre strings setting a particularly downtrodden tone. A few notes from the now established main theme then echo through the music at about a minute in, with slow brass notes emphasizing the dramatic nature of the motif for a few seconds before the cue then returns to the quiet, strings-based pensivity that it started with. As the piece starts to fade away though, gentle piano notes sound out in melancholy which then continue the mood through into subsequent cue Opus. For the first minute or so, the piano and strings continue in their solemnity before ominous electronics then gradually fade into the piece alongside the established instrumentation, slowly changing and molding the mood from sorrowful to almost sinister. A crash of percussion then bursts through to emphasize this change in tone, with the pace then quickening as the track reaches its close.
Lament returns us to the slow musical nature from earlier, but with a dash of hopefulness mixed in. Quiet strings take the musical forefront for much of the piece, alongside one particularly mournful piano resonating with a few notes from the main theme. Embers then emphasizes the strings from Lament and doubles down on the gradual pace and solemnity, making for a decidedly atmospheric cue overall. The Beauty Of Time is a lot like this too, building rich orchestral atmosphere and tone over continuation of the sort of thematic substance I’d come to expect from the opening title cue. On that note as well – so far, Brian Tyler is differing considerably from my expectations here, going for quiet mood-setting as opposed to the loud, dramatic setpieces he’s known for (at least from where I’m standing). The most interesting thing though is that here it actually, really works. We’ve had a good number of just quiet, thoughtful tonal pieces so far, and whether it’s the way they’re utterly, exquisitely orchestrated, or the way the main theme weaves quietly throughout them, or even just the gentle mood the cues resonate, one thing’s for sure – I’m really enjoying them.
The pace starts to pick up slightly in the short Glimmer Of Hope, with light strings and still-sombre brass hinting subtly toward a more hopeful future, while also keeping the music firmly rooted in the earlier established melancholy. The Love Of A Father then brings back the somewhat sinister electronics from Opus, intertwining them with a few notes from the main theme before then fading it all away almost as quickly as they arrived. Shadow Mechanics then reintroduces us to the sort of Brian Tyler music we know, with the album’s first major action cue. At seven minutes long it opens slowly, with the quietly foreboding electronics from the previous track playing low-pitched and ominous for the first minute or two before the pace then starts to quicken with increasingly loud brass notes accompanied by worrisome percussion. Strings also kick in a little later on, with the music overall growing more and more frantic as the music continues until a crescendo is finally reached just as the action comes to an end. To calm us down from the rather nerve-wracking nature of Shadow Mechanics, Presence then returns us to the slow, relaxingly pensive instrumentation from earlier, though the more sinister side of it also starts to emerge in the last couple of seconds. Mind Heart Conflation then builds on this solemn yet sinister mood, with a recurring strings motif keeping tensions high together with quiet brass. A hint towards electronics at the end of the track then leads into the next action piece; Lightning Strikes.
A touch of malevolence opens the cue with the established electronics lurking in the background, seemingly poised to strike at any given moment. As the track continues the electronics then become more prevalent, creeping out of the background alongside low-pitched brass and worrisome strings as the orchestration builds. The pace of this track isn’t quite as frenzied as Shadow Mechanics, but it certainly makes for some uneasy listening especially as the electronics come into the forefront towards the end of the piece. Speaking of uneasy listening – subsequent cue A Burning Cello then, curiously, is exactly what its title suggests. In an interview for the film, Tyler talked about how he actually set fire to a cello during the score’s recording sessions, in order to provide a “unique and inspiring” sound for the movie and how it centres around the tonal idea and mortal danger of fire. Here you can hear the dying instrument front and centre, and I’ll tell you what – it definitely leaves an impression. A very creepy, unnerving musical impression that actually – despite the fact that it’s literally a musical instrument on fire – works really quite well in the track, and makes for a very interesting musical idea to boot. The cello doesn’t last for very long here though, which is probably a good thing given how disturbing it is to listen to (no matter how much it fits with the mood). Zero Sum Game then returns us to the orchestra, playing a few downtrodden notes from the main theme before then building the malevolence from earlier back up with rising, emphatic brass.
High-pitched strings and eerily calm piano notes form the stylistic centrepiece of The Calm Inside The Storm, a just over sixty second section of wistful atmosphere that then leads into the album’s final action setpiece; Ultimatum. The recurring strings motif from Mind Heart Conflation returns in the opening minute of the cue, playing alongside some foreboding electronics and increasingly worrisome strings that then break for a short, pensive and brassy playthrough of the main theme a couple minutes later. The electronics then kick up the pace a little later on, with frantic percussion and loud brass also racing alongside. As the track then starts to reach its conclusion, the orchestra builds and flows in tandem with the electronics at decidedly loud volume, though things do then quieten down in a solemnly foreboding manner before the final track of the album then begins; Those Who With Me Dead Finale. As you might expect, the main theme returns in all its glory here, firstly on quiet, melancholic strings before then bursting through on loud, heroic brass in main-on-end fashion to close out the score proper.
Overall, Brian Tyler’s score for Those Who Wish Me Dead is a surprisingly quiet, pensive and richly atmospheric album for the most part, though it doesn’t shy away from the composer’s well-known epic orchestral talents where they’re called upon. The main theme for instance is a well-built, memorable piece that caught my ear pretty much instantly upon first hearing it. I would’ve perhaps liked to have heard it interweaved in its optimum form through the score a bit more, especially in the action sequences – it plays so boldly and heroically in its two thematic setpieces that it’s a bit of a shame it doesn’t get used in that manner in the more ferocious action areas. Still, it does appear fairly frequently, though establishing itself mostly as a pensive, melancholic motif that plays during the album’s moodier, almost Blade Runner 2049-esque musical moments that honestly do a pretty great job of emphasizing the wondrous yet downright terrifying nature of fire as an environmental adversary. Speaking of which, the burning of a cello was also a very interesting stylistic idea in order to musically represent fire, and it certainly leaves an unnerving, hair-raising impression in its featured cue A Burning Cello. All-in, it’s Brian Tyler scoring quietly emotional, but with a main theme that certainly sticks around.
Standout Cue: 1. Those Who Wish Me Dead (Main Theme)
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