Saturday, September 14, 2013

Arrow by Blake Neely (2013)

Review by Travis Elder

Arrow is a dark, very turbulent score and that is not surprising considering Oliver Queen's dark persona.  Oliver (Stephen Amell) is marooned on an island for five years after a shipwreck that claims the lives of everyone on board including his father.  Before his death, Oliver's father urges him to right wrongs and injustices and return their home, Starling City, to its former glory.  After some harrowing and hardening experiences on the island including torture, Oliver finally gets away and returns to Starling City to fulfill his father's wishes.  By day Oliver maintains a billionaire, playboy persona.  By night he dons a dark hooded disguise and enforces vigilante justice with his weapon of choice, the arrow, like a modern-day Robin Hood.

Neely's score is dark and brooding, drawing inspiration from the scores of a similar DC Comics character, Hans Zimmer's Dark Knight trilogy.  But Neely's opus is no carbon copy of Zimmer's work.  Neely takes the style and creates his own fusion of traditional orchestra with a huge variety of percussion, both organic and synthetic, and an assortment of electronic sounds.  Particularly impressive is the array of percussion used in the action material including everything from taiko drums, bongos, steel drums, rock band percussion, clanging metal, and anvil strikes, to electronic bursts, pulses, riffs, and mechanical effects.

Arrow features a number of action highlights.  My favorite is the turbulent Chasing the Hood with its vigorous string rhythms, taiko drums, and synth blasts.  Taiko drums, percussion of Japanese origin, have become increasingly popular in scores and Neely's use compares well next to other favorites such as Bear McCreary's Storming New Caprica and Jason Graves Scaling the Ziggurat.  To get a flavor for the rough, gruff, and intense vigilante sound Neely creates try playing back to back Vigilante Justice, Chasing the Hood, Damaged, Train and Hunt, and Search for Salvation.  During the course of twelve minutes you will be taken on a thrill ride exploration of percussive explosions, pulses, blasts, a little hard core grunge, and energetic strings.

Arrow also has some tender, soft moments too.  The best of these is I Forgot Who I Was.  The cue begins softly and plays somewhat somberly until suddenly contrasted with the cello playing a beautifully lyrical melody starting at 2:32.  If you are like me, by the time the cue ends a minute and half later you will be wishing it lasted longer.

A highlight of the score including for those who watched the show is the montage that plays when Queen sets up his lair, during some of Queen's training sequences, and over the end credits.  While not a hummable theme, Setting Up The Lair develops guarded heroism with its driving and repetitive percussion and string rhythms that build on one another.  A good companion cue is the subtly valorous, The Dark Archer / It Is I Who Failed This City, which shares some of the same cautiously inspiring rhythms of Setting Up The Lair.

The score concludes with an extended, five-part traditional orchestral suite.  In between bookend performances of Queen's theme/montage is an almost epic, sweeping piece from 2:33 to 4:52 with strings playing off one another in a graceful, grandiose style.  After all the gritty, rough Vigilante sounds, the Oliver Queen Suite is a welcome reprieve and great way to end the album focusing on the nobler and more intimate sides of Queen's persona.

Exploring Blake Neely's Arrow is my first experience with both the composer and the series.  I went into it not knowing what to expect, but came away particularly impressed by Neely's adept and thoughtful construction of the details in his action material.  Arrow's darkness and its intense and sometimes zany, sometimes in your face synth effects may deter some.  Arrow's main theme may also frustrate others because it can seem like a prologue that really never lets loose.  However, repeated listens bring an appreciation of the composer's skillful fusion of orchestra, percussion, and synth effects and the emergence of a number of highlights that will likely keep you coming back for more whether you have seen Arrow or not.  The score is available on disc and digitally from WaterTower Music. Amazon CD-R | Amazon MP3 | iTunes

Track Listing:
1. Five Years (1:54)
2. Returning Home / Scars (2:53)
3. City In Ruin (1:20)
4. Setting Up The Lair* (2:27)
5. Loss And Regrets (2:38)
6. On The List (1:40)
7. Vigilante Justice (2:10)
8. Honor Thy Father (1:45)
9. Inhospitable Island / Deathstroke (2:09)
10. I Forgot Who I Was* (4:00)
11. Train And Hunt (2:38)
12. Betrayed By Those You Love (1:51)
13. Chasing The Hood* (2:28)
14. Damaged (1:39)
15. The Dark Archer / It Is I Who Failed This City* (3:31)
16. Working Together But Alone (1:53)
17. The Count (2:02)
18. Friends In Arms (2:36)
19. Trust But Verify (2:37)
20. Join Us (1:55)
21. Trusting A Friend, Saving An Enemy (1:57)
22. Sins Of The Father (1:27)
23. I Can't Lose You Twice (3:17)
24. Search For Salvation (3:29)
25. Shado Sees An Emerging Hero (1:57)
26. Unfinished Business / Saving Walter (2:29)
27. A Way Off The Island (2:15)
28 Sacrifice (4:52)
29. Oliver Queen Suite* (9:47)

Total running time of score: 1:17:36
*ScoreCues 2013 Best Cues Nominee

Recording session:

Examiner Interview: Interview

Composer's website: (lots of audio)

Spotify playlist:

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