John Carpenter – Lost Themes

There can’t be many metal fans that don’t love the Panavision glory of John Carpenter’s films. The mere mention of the name of John Carpenter makes certain images jump into my mind…

Snake Plissken walking through a darkened Manhattan converted into a prison, on an almost impossible quest, in Escape From New York.

Vengeful lepers returning from a watery Lovecraftian grave in The Fog.

The impossible shape-shifting monster of The Thing.

The reality bending power of the written word in In The Mouth of Madness.

And underscoring the majority of these images are John Carpenter’s own self-composed and co-performed soundtracks. They provide the films’ dark heartbeat, what Carpenter memorably calls a ‘sonic pulse.

And now, we have John Carpenter’s first dedicated solo album. Of course, as always, he has collaborators (in the past memorable collaborators have included Dave Davies, Alan Howarth, and Anthrax!), in this case, his son Cody, and God son Daniel, making this a family affair (which is business as usual for John Carpenter – if you look at the credits of his films, you’ll see the same names frequently reoccur; there’s certain loyalty with this fine film fellow, which is unusual in Hollywood).

Carpenter’s dad was a teacher of music at the University of Kentucky, and later Carpenter was to play in several rock bands, so there was always a juxtaposition of the classical and rock, and always he sees his music as riffs, simple, but none the less effective for film scores.

Lost Themes is what you’d expect in many ways, soaring rising themes, great dynamics, heavy solos, but it has a warm, organic feel, very much like a band. And this is a good thing – it’s nice not be disappointed!

It works well as a body of music. It brings to mind three soundtracks to me, apart from Carpenter’s own work (where it brings to mind Prince of Darkness, They Live, and Escape From New York especially): these are Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, Goblin’s Susperia, and Mastodon’s Jonah Hex – one of the best things Mastodon have ever done. (But ignore the dreadful film. ‘Well done’ Hollywood, all you had to do was film one of the superb Joe R. Lansdale and Tim Truman Jonah Hex stories, and instead you waste a fortune making an unwatchable hellbroth of a film! In contrast, Mastodon’s soundtrack is an amazing piece of work, and just crying out for a proper release. There was an entire score unused thanks to reshoots, and much of the music in the film doesn’t appear on the all too short EP of a soundtrack. I’d love to see Mastodon do an entirely instrumental album because they’d just go nuts in the creativity department…)

Highlights… well I love all the tracks, but the epic “Obsidian” is incredible. One thing about this album that I love is how it makes you want to go back and revisit Carpenter’s films. Various tracks brought various films to my mind. This is a good thing, because cinema has been reduced to ridiculously budgeted films based on toys and comics at one end of the scale, and poor found-footage rubbish at the other. The kind of fine mid-budget film that Carpenter and his ilk made seems to have been squeezed out. Apart from Guillermo Del Toro, there aren’t many in Hollywood with a love for the fantastic, imaginative films that Carpenter loved.

In a sense, and he doesn’t get the credit for it, John Carpenter has created a genre of music all of itself: listen to the likes of Zombi, Gatekeeper, Voyag3r, Perturbator and Justice for proof – they’re all different, yet all have John Carpenter’s visuals and music in their creative DNA.

It would be splendid if Carpenter actually was given a budget to make a film to go with the music here, an inversion of the normal course of events, and why not? His films thrive on an inversion of reality!

(Sacred Bones Records)

Steve Earles

Steve Earles is author and co-author of numerous projects, including To End All Wars: The WWI Graphic Anthology, available summer 2014 (http://toendallwarscomic.wordpress.com/writers/).