by Alissa Ordabai
– Senior Columnist —
It takes guts and a certain kind of resourcefulness to compose for horror films. They say tapping into the dark side always comes back to haunt you, but for true explorers an opportunity to learn more about human nature is stronger than fear. Not the first guitar hero to write a soundtrack for a horror movie, on this release John 5 continues the lofty tradition of some of the most inventive and ballsy musicians in rock: Jimmy Page, Trent Reznor, Buckethead, Thomas Bangalter, and Ron Thal, to name a few.
What John 5 cooked up for Rob Zombie’s film Lords of Salem (released last year) may not be as abstract or avant-garde as Page’s benchmark work composed in the early Seventies for Kenneth Anger’s classic “Lucifer Rising”. But it surely is just as remote from John’s trademark guitar fury as Page’s experimental soundtrack was from the grandiosity of Led Zeppelin. You never know what scoring a horror film is going to bring out in a certain musician, although the outcome almost always fetches unexpected results. And this is precisely what we get here.
All six tracks written for the film by John 5 (and co-credited to producer Griffin Boice as fellow composer and performer) seldom run over two minutes. But what they lack in length, they sure make up for in atmospherics. Here John 5 abandons his trademark heavy metal guitar marathons played at 1000 miles per hour and instead chooses sparse instrumentation, falling back on his note-perfect knowledge of the dark things that reside beyond the surface of our everyday realities. Ostinato acoustic guitar, minimalist keyboard, and occasional eerie noises are driven by transparent melodies that chill you with cinematic poignancy.
Standout “Three Sisters” rings out with music-box simplicity straight out of childhood memories, but a shadow of an irreparable, old and staying tragedy veils this spellbound tune like a decaying burial sheet. The simple theme drips – tear-like – with haunted notes, washed over by ghostly strings, wiping out our habitual perceptions with its soft but lethal breath. What it reveals – just like all intelligent horror, be it in music or in visual arts – is our collective shadow, archaic and unexplored. The separation of our inner light and our inner darkness – parts of ourselves that forever remain mutually oblivious – has never been laid bare by John 5 so compellingly before.
The Velvet Underground’s super hits “Venus in Furs” and “All Tomorrow’s Parties” – also included into this CD – sound even more unsettling next to John’s exquisite nightmare. Prog anthems “Blinded by the Light” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and Rush’s “The Spirit of Radio” don’t stay immune to the surrounding proceedings either. You end up feeling unsafe listening to those feel-good energizers on this CD, and keep suspecting that the creeping unease of the neighboring tracks can invade the safest of your inner refuges – a proposition not so far-fetched and delivered with edged depth by Rob Zombie’s visionary axe-man and psychopomp.
Music composed and performed by John 5 and Griffin Boice
1. Open Wide the Gates (spoken word)
2. The Curse of Margaret Morgan – John 5 & Griffin Boice
3. Blinded by the Light – Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
4. No Person in Number Five (spoken word)
5. A Special Child – John 5 & Griffin Boice
6. Our Philosophy (spoken word)
7. Crushing the Ritual – Leviathan the Fleeing Serpent
8. Give It to Me Baby – Rick James
9. Ladies Choice (spoken word)
10. The Spirit of Radio – Rush
11. Smash or Trash (spoken word)
12. The Lords Theme – John 5 and Griffin Boice
13. Salem Rocks (spoken word)
14. Venus in Furs – The Velvet Underground
15. Three Sisters – John 5 & Griffin Boice
16. You Know What I Think? (spoken word)
17. I’ll Always Know – John 5 & Griffin Boice
18. Apartment Five – John 5 & Griffin Boice
19. Lord Hear Us (spoken word)
20. All Tomorrow’s Parties – The Velvet Underground
21. WIQZ News (spoken word)
Label: Universal Music Enterprises
Hardrock Haven rating: 10/10