Lorne Balfe’s Black Adam score is a bit of a mixed bag – positively, you’ve got two genuinely memorable and quite enjoyable main themes in Adam’s and the Justice Society’s, but then that’s all the score really has to offer as the themes then essentially just repeat in the same grandiose, epic manner for two further hours, which overall sadly results in a rather dull soundtrack affair.
The soundtrack for Black Adam is centred around two primary themes; the first being a loud, boldly bombastic motif for the titular Black Adam (played by Dwayne Johnson in the film) and the other being a more traditionally heroic, primarily orchestral piece for the age-old Justice Society Of America, led by Hawkman and consisting of Doctor Fate, Cyclone and Atom Smasher in the movie. Both themes feature very prominently all across this nearly two hour film music experience and they have their own theme tracks to boot, and so it’s there that we’ll begin.
The titular character’s motif debuts in “Black Adam Theme”, where increasingly rapid strings and dramatically upbeat vocals rise for the first thirty seconds or so before loud, grandiose brass then introduces us to the Black Adam melody. It’s a fairly simple theme to start, playing through several increasingly grand and sort of half-heroic, half-villainous-sounding renditions backed by similarly dramatic, hip-hop-esque percussion and loud imposing electronics. All this then continues to build in both volume and intensity throughout the four minute cue, becoming near deafening by the end as the theme reaches an epic finishing crescendo. All-in, it’s a genuinely enjoyable superhero (anti-hero?) theme that is successful at the most difficult hurdle any theme has to overcome; memorability. If nothing else, it sticks in your head pretty much immediately after you hear it. That being said though, the motif does also get rather buried under the near-deafening instrumental elements here (particularly the electronics towards the end of the theme track) as they all vy for the top spot volume-wise, and so the cue overall does unfortunately sound a little overprocessed, even a little overdone as a result, leaving you feeling just a little bit exhausted post-listen.
With Black Adam’s theme emphatically bowing out though, this then brings us onto the secondary main theme of the score; “The Justice Society Theme”. As mentioned, this is a more traditionally orchestral, heroic piece, leaning more into the strings and brass side of things to start with percussion and vocals keeping the pace heroically high throughout. Like with Black Adam’s as well this theme is similarly memorable, sticking with you pretty much right away after hearing it (which again, is no small feat, so props to Balfe there) and it also utilises the same slow build to loud crescendo structure throughout its five minute runtime. Where Adam’s is more bombastic and grandiose however, the Justice Society’s is a little more humble, a bit more traditionally superheroic, to some pretty spectacular orchestral results by the end of the cue (bar some similar overprocessing issues to that of Adam’s theme anyway). All-in then, it’s a pretty solid thematic start from Balfe, with musical memorability certainly held high.
With the main themes established the score itself then begins with “Teth-Adam”, a three minute thematic setpiece that, with the help of additional, more prominent choral vocals and hip hop-esque beats, sets about bringing Black Adam’s new theme fully into the fold with a lengthy playthrough much akin to that of its thematic debut track. “Kahndaq” then utilises the percussive rhythms of Adam’s theme in its opening, before then seguing into action as loud, Middle Eastern-sounding drums and increasingly frenetic choral vocals and strings take point, with several sporadic, frantic renditions of Black Adam’s theme seguing in-between. An increasingly dramatic electric guitar then opens “The Awakening”, with Adam’s theme slowly building on incrementally grandiose brass until reaching a particularly powerful crescendo right as the three minute cue closes out. “Introducing The JSA” then does pretty much what it says on the tin, with the proudly heroic team theme makes its score debut firstly on quiet, moody strings before then becoming louder and bolder on brass and electronics as the heroism rises throughout the nearly five minute piece.
The Justice Society’s now moodily grand theme returns on quiet, restrained brass at the start of “What Kind Of Magic”, with Black Adam’s motif also rising quietly to meet it in the back half on similarly downtrodden strings. With the stage set, action then takes the forefront in “Your Enemies”, with some frenetic, dubstep-esque percussive beats leading the charge with loud, ferocious brass playing the opening notes from Black Adam’s theme through several increasingly grandiose renditions alongside emphatic choral vocals. The ninety second “Black Adam Spotted” then continues where the previous cue leaves off, with the Justice Society’s memorable motif now taking centre stage in unusually worrisome, brass-based form. Action duo “Not Interested” and “Just Say Shazam” then conclude this ferocious soundtrack serial, with the former utilising the emphatic vocals from Black Adam’s theme alongside dramatic percussive beats, and the latter then bringing an electric guitar into the mix as both the Black Adam and Justice Society themes come to a dramatic four minute orchestral clash, to some pretty explosive results overall (particularly in the cue’s back half as a loudly choral crescendo is reached).
With the battle over (at least for now), the Justice Society theme briefly emerges victorious in the subsequent “Ancient Palace”, with the now rather subdued Black Adam theme following almost meekly behind to start with before then really showing off as it bursts into an emphatically choral rendition. “Father & Son” then slows the score right down for a few minutes, as quietly sorrowful strings enter the fray followed by now moodily morose vocals. As the track continues however a spark of hope starts to emerge, with gentle brass reprising notes from the Black Adam theme in increasingly grander, more hopeful style until the unusually downtrodden cue then ends just as quietly as it began. It doesn’t take long though for the album to recuperate its spirits, with subsequent action setpiece “Fly Bikes” taking off pretty much immediately with several soaringly dramatic playthroughs of Adam’s motif on now typically and increasingly frenetic brass, with the Justice Society then quickly swooping in to save the day in the track’s final few seconds. “Through The Wall” then brings back the hip hop-esque percussive beats, with Black Adam’s theme held almost villainously high and the action then coming to an almost sorrowful close as “23lbs Of Eternium” reprises the solemn strings from “Father & Son”.
The score takes on an almost horror-like tone at the start of “Hawkman’s Fate”, with high-pitched strings and worrisome choral vocals playing in frightening tandem until hope then fades this ominosity out, with the Justice Society theme reprising on quietly noble brass. This then segues into dramatic action setpiece “The JSA Fights Back”, with rapid strings and emphatic vocals kicking off a brisk pace before loud, thunderously heroic brass then bursts into the fray, with the Justice Society theme held triumphantly high for two loudly ferocious orchestral minutes. With the battle won, “A Bad Plan Is A Good Plan” then proudly reprises the Justice Society theme on victorious choral vocals. “Dr. Fate” though then switches things up, introducing a new theme quite late in the game here with a short motif for the titular superhero. It’s quite an ominous-sounding piece overall that debuts primarily on loud, dramatic, almost Moon Knight-esque vocals and malevolent brass in its minute-long introduction here. Black Adam however then bursts semi-triumphantly back into the fray with “Prison Break”, with his theme playing in almost deafeningly loud form for two and a half lengthy minutes.
Loud bursts of emphatic brass thunder throughout the sub-minute “The Doctor’s Destiny”, harkening back to the short theme established for the character from “Dr. Fate” before action then boldly leaps back into the fray with “Slave Champion”. Here the Justice Society theme reprises in now typically heroic form in the first half of the cue, with Black Adam’s then turning the tone almost malevolent in the back half on choral vocals. Fragmented, the choral rhythms from Adam’s motif then surge through in fast-paced action mode in “Legions Of Hell”, with both these and the theme’s percussive rhythms then occupying the majority of subsequent cue “Man In Black”. With the album fast approaching its end, final track “Adam’s Journey” then reprises the Black Adam theme in full once more, opening loudly and almost malevolently to start with imposing brass before the now pretty well known choral vocals, hip hop-esque beats and increasingly emboldened brass then gradually build up into the fray, giving the main theme a typically grandiose sendoff to then end the album on.
Overall, Lorne Balfe’s score for Black Adam is at least moderately entertaining, though I’m afraid to say I did also find it a little boring at times. The main reason for this is that to be honest, there’s not a whole lot the two hour soundtrack album here does that the two main theme tracks don’t simply cover in ten minutes. What do I mean by this? Well, the two main themes of the score – Black Adam and Justice Society – play in almost deafeningly loud, thunderously grandiose and heroic form throughout their two thematic debut cues (to the point where they’re almost a little much at times), and while this is pretty enjoyable, they then essentially repeat in this form throughout the two hour soundtrack album, reprising in the same or very similar epic grandiose manner to that of the main theme tracks, without really building or growing, or progressing narratively in much if any way. The way you hear the themes in their debut tracks is the way they play across the entire album, which makes the score overall sadly just a bit… dull as a result.
Don’t get me wrong, I do like the two main themes – they’re very memorable and enjoyable in their debut cues – but there’s nothing in the actual score, bar those two cues really, that I feel warrants listening to again, which is a bit of a shame. Some variety would have been nice, rather than just continual orchestral/electronic/choral blasting for two hours. There are some hints toward different in the score (such as in the unusually solemn “Father & Son” for example) but nothing really substantial.
It also has to be said, the themes themselves sound a bit overprocessed at times, particularly in the back halves of their respective thematic cues. Listen to “Black Adam Theme” for example – you’ve got a solid main theme in there, one with actual sections & ostinatos which makes it really memorable, but over the course of the five minute track it then gets slowly buried in more and more increasingly loud electronics until by the end where it just feels like a wall of oppressive sound. Like… you’ve got solid themes here, Mr. Balfe. Why not just… play them? Why do you feel the need to practically bury them in increasingly oppressive and overprocessed-sounding electronics that if anything harm the themes rather than help them? It’s a bit of a shame, especially as both theme tracks start out really well, and the motifs themselves are genuinely awesome.
I don’t know. All-in, I don’t hate the score for Black Adam, in fact I’ve actually really tried to like it, but I can’t help but find it rather dull, aside from the two main theme melodies anyway. I guess if you like continually loud, almost oppressively heroic orchestral/electronic action music with little to no breaks for two straight hours then you’ll probably enjoy this score, but… it just isn’t really for me.
Standout Cue: 41. The Justice Society Theme
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