Conan the Barbarian

 
In my life, there are various soundtracks that manage to strike a certain nerve, whether it’s for my love of crazed battle or a sweet serenade, they just stick with me and never leave, even if I don’t listen to the songs for some time. Before Hans Zimmer there was James Horner’s Braveheart, and long before that, there was Basil Poledouris’s Conan the Barbarian. My one true, and first, soundtrack love.

While I have only recently gained possession of the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack, this is one of those soundtracks that’s always been in the back of my mind as “I want that soundtrack – I want that music so I can listen to it whenever I goshdarn please.” Finally, finally I managed to get it and without the distraction of Arnold on screen hefting his sword around, it’s just that much more powerful because you get to zero in on all the large and small things that make Basil Poledouris’s work great. I am so very sad that Poledouris is no longer in this world – movies will forever miss out on an amazingly impressive talent.

Now let’s get down to the good stuff. If you haven’t seen the movie, that’s actually okay. Just as long as you know this is sort of Sumerian-times music – not something you’ll encounter very often. I’ve not even heard Hans Zimmer pull off anything like this – and I freaking love Hans Zimmer.

1.) Anvil of Crom – 2:39 What better way to start this soundtrack/movie off than with a set of banging drums and brass. I love how the two horns aren’t quite sounding at the same time – it’s like organized disorganization. You’ll soon get the full Conan theme. It’s a beautiful theme, with strings absolutely singing. It’s powerful, but also tense in their own way.

2.) Riddle of Steel/Riders of Doom – 5:40 I love the scope Poledouris uses in everything, as well as the kind of space you feel when you hear this, it almost echoes like the music is coming together from wide open spaces. And when things heat up, if you don’t turn up your sound…well I’ll just have to say you’re nuts. And of course, chorus baby! Chorus! Wonderful, wonderful, dangerous chorus matching up with the sharpest trumpet I’ve heard in a long time. Fantastic battle music and if you don’t like it, you might as well quit listening now and go brand “Crazy” on your forehead.

3.) Gift of Fury – 3:53 This is a slower track, echoing the despair and death that occurred in the movie amidst the snow. Dominated by the chorus with strings offering strong support, the occasional brass striking up when needed.

4.) Wheel of Pain – 4:13 Beginning quietly with not-quite-creepy strings and horns (I love what Poledouris does with his brass), slowly we are worked into stronger, burlier stuff. I used to wonder if that screeching noise heard in the movie was a sound effect or part of the music. Well, now I know. Adds a fine spark of character into the music as things work their way up to the climax we should all know so well when the adult Conan finally raises his head before finally winding down.

5.) Atlantean Sword – 3:54 Very mystical, lingering tones and pieces of instruments appearing and disappearing as we visit an old king’s tomb. It’s got a few nice little rises in it, along with a tiny piece that slows before building into the final climax.

6.) Theology/Civilization – 3:17 Aside from the intense battle music, this is definitely one of my favorite tracks. Whenever I watched the movie, I adored this slice of music and I still do. I was so excited to finally have the ability to hear it whenever I liked. The combination of various clinking and sparkling percussion and woodwinds that play off each other is like faded magic from long ago. And that’s before it even gets into it’s full fledged sprint across open lands.

7.) Wifeing [Theme of Love] – 2:14 Exactly what it claims to be; slow, gorgeous melodies of the movie’s love theme that you’ll hear in the future. However, even though it’s slower, it doesn’t have any less impact on you.

8.) Leaving/The Search – 6:03 This song rises and falls depending upon where we are. Sad about a lover’s departure or wandering over the windswept terrain. In some spots it’s actually quite moving – I love the swell of strings (and is that a triangle in the background?) that happens around 3:15, as well as the rises around the 4 minute mark.

9.) Mountain of Power Procession – 3:25 A commanding march up the mountain – a song many will remember well, I’m sure. This is one of the prime examples of Poledouris giving each instrument it’s own handful of sheer power even as they all work together to form this song.

10.) Tree of Woe – 3:36 Decidedly low, drawn, and freaky with the occasional I-don’t-know-what-that-is sound. Deadly, even with the mystical inclusion of what I can only guess are bells (I swear it almost sounds like shattered glass), and then bringing in that oh-so-beloved melody of mine from track 6 in full flourish, ending on a more solemn note.

11.) Recovery – 2:16 Starting in a clarinet with the main theme, it soon grows into so much more, complete with chorus. Delicious.

12.) Kitchen/The Orgy – 6:34 One of the best tracks on this soundtrack, without a doubt. Reminiscent of track 2, only starting out a little more march-like and at a slower pace. But don’t worry, the trio is only sneaking around right now – the battle will come up soon. I’m not sure what the chorus is singing, to me it sounds like it could be Russian, but I could be totally wrong. In the end, I don’t care because it just sounds cool. Of course, we need the orgy music (music you’ll also hear in the second movie), and very smooth, almost waltz-like in the way it swoops and curves around on itself, but it still retains that very Conan/Poledouris style. Then of course, you get a few violent clashes (love the cymbals and gong), the song wraps up.

13.) Funeral Pyre – 4:33 Similar to and the beginning of track 8, the loss of a loved one is poignant and deep. With slightly reworked pieces of the love theme, this soon works its way up into another specific section I have forever come to love. It just smacks of loss and future revenge.

14.) Battle of the Mounds – 4:56 You can just hear the preparation for battle in the beginning stages of this track, and if the gods aren’t going to help, “Then tell them to stay out of the way!” I love the way this winds up and then blooms into chorus. It dies down for a moment for a prayer, and then leaps directly into fierce battle music similar to track 2 but no less enjoyable.

15.) Death of Rexor – 5:38 This track almost literally slides into existence, then has a brief, shining pause (if you know what I mean), and then transforms into a desperate, yet triumphant version of the main theme. Like a dogged victory. Then it drops down into tones similar to track 3 but a little faster until a short, but fuller bit of the theme. Immediately after, a gentle chorus appears, trading off with tones reflecting the darkness of Doom until it fades.

16.) Orphans of Doom/The Awakening – 5:32 Very slow beginning with gentle chorus, like a sad dream, which, considering the movie circumstances, is essentially true. Then it drops to reminiscence of love and loss, rising and falling until a final decision is made and a triumphant horn takes over (another favorite part of mine) and erupts into a fiery flourish and resounding end.

I love this soundtrack because of what Poledouris has done with the music. It’s almost opera-like in the way he uses his woodwinds and the chorus and the combination of drums and tambourines. Everything is so distinct, hitting at its own time and you can clearly hear every instrument even when they’re all clashing together at full force. I honestly don’t remember the last time I’ve heard someone create songs with separate instruments acting so distinctly and with so much power even while a part of the whole. It’s wonderful work, let me tell you. Yeah, yeah, I know, if I love it so much, why don’t I just marry it, right? Hey, I just know when to appreciate awesome work, that’s all. And I’m not sure if the open space feeling is due to something Poledouris did or it just happened to be the recording studio they were in, but I couldn’t care less; it worked out great for the music, so all is well.

Note, this review covers the basic soundtrack; the initial release which was all I could get my hands on at the time. However, there has since been a complete score released with a grand total of 3 CDs and 53 tracks. Some of them are alternate versions that never made it into the film, and some were pieces that I'd always lamented were never on the soundtrack I owned, which included pieces such as "Hopefuls at the Tower of Set," "The Snake/Infidels," and the entire section of music during Conan's final battle with Doom's men at the Mounds. If you're not hardcore into the music like I am, you're safe with just the basics, but if you like any of these, I do recommend going all out because so many of those extra tracks are absolutely worth it.

May Poledouris live forever.

NT

Originally posted on Epinions.com

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I am an author, I sell books for a living, and I love music like there's no tomorrow. I've experienced much of this country, from forested hills of the East, to the golden plains of the Midwest, the sandy beaches of the Southeast, and the oh-so-majestic mountains of the Rockies. And when all else fails, eat chocolate.