When I think of some of the most influential science fiction films, a few immediately pop into my head. Star Wars, Blade Runner, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Dark City and 2001: A Space Odyssey (my picks, so yeah, there are plenty of other great sci-fi pics out there, but these are my pics, not yours) all have strong ideas, strong visuals and strong scores. In their day, they pushed big stories and concepts to new levels, for sure, but the godfather of science fiction films is Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. It was a truly awe-inspiring piece of cinema, and its visuals were overwhelming to the silent film-going public in 1927. When I watched it for the first time, the one thing that stood out to me was the score that accompanied it. I always imagined what it would sound like if someone could’ve updated the score and give it more of a futuristic touch. The New Pollutants did it in 2005. Now, Midwest electronic artist Metavari, aka Nate Utesch, has re-scored it – and to stunning effect.
Being the simpleton that I am, I’d imagine a re-scoring of Metropolis would be a bunch of drone-y synths, some crushing 808 beats, and maybe a touch of darkwave for good measure. But once again, me being a simpleton, I would be wrong – at least in terms of what Utesch had in mind. He definitely works the magic with the synthesizer, but there’s so much more going on here.
“Epigram from Metropolis” is enough to whet the appetite. You know there’s someone truly gifted at the helm here, someone who understands that first impressions are everything. It’s a big and swift opening that leads into “Worker City(Shift Change)” which sounds like early 80s Tangerine Dream. Another woozy dose of synth, it sets the stage for what’s to come. Given that Metavari are quite adept at both headier synth sounds and pop-inflected electronic music “Club of Sons,” its percussive slant is not surprising. There’s a real Vangelis-meets-Giorgio Moroder vibe here. “Eternal Return, pt. 1” has some very effective vocal turns, which I think push the very human side of Metropolis.
And that’s just the first few minutes.
This is a truly remarkable feat. Utesch doesn’t take the typical route of the futuristic re-scoring (as apparently I would have done). He makes some really creative twists and turns here. There are plenty of the dense, Tangerine Dream moments. There’s the emotional wash of Vangelis strewn throughout and pop elements that bring Metropolis even further into the future. “Moloch Rising,” “What Were You Doing in the Machine Halls,” “11811 (The Dial l)” and “Tetrafugue (The Inventor’s Doors)” are masterful pieces that truly work to push the “silent” story further. There are also some inspired bits of genius here as well, like a cover of Lindsey Buckingham’s “Trouble” done in an electro pop fashion. I think Buckingham would be impressed (as would Moloch.) “Furioso” and “Witchhunt” capture the spirit of “the new world.” The stuttering electronics and propulsive rhythms help tell a story all on their own.
I could mention literally every piece on this album and talk of its gorgeous warmth and prodigious construction in overwhelming platitudes, but we all have things to do. I’ll just say this: not a single moment is wasted throughout these 86 minutes. With the time constraints of vinyl, the run time was cut down in order to fit this re-scoring on a double LP. It’s all there, but pieces were shortened. Cinephiles who own the 2002 restoration of the film will find they can’t sync this up to the film. Still, this album completely works on its own as an incredible electronic album. No syncing required.
Like some of his electronic music peers such as Oneohtrix Point Never’s Daniel Lopatin, Tim Hecker, and Under The Skin music composer Mica Levi, Utesch has a true vision to everything he does. Whether he’s creating far out electronic pop or heady sci-fi film scores, he never does what you would expect him to do. He pushes it to another level. Metropolis (An Original Re-Score) is everything you’d hope it would be and not at all what you’d expect. It’s just plain brilliant.
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November 17 • Honeywell Center