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Comments about the soundtrack for Ghosts of Mars (John Carpenter)
Filmtracks Sponsored Donated Review

James Wang
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Filmtracks Sponsored Donated Review   Saturday, October 4, 2008 (1:54 p.m.) 

(The following donated review by James Wang was moved by Filmtracks to this comment section in October, 2008)

Ghosts of Mars: (John Carpenter) The movie was a total bust, but the original motion picture soundtrack in an entirely different matter. Let's get one thing straight immediately: this isn't your traditional movie score. Taking inspiration from old school heavy rock with screaming guitar solo's and relentless pounding drums, the Ghosts of Mars soundtrack is an unstoppable barrage of high tempo high caliber rock instrumentals intertwined with John Carpenter's distinctive, sweeping keyboards. The result? Exceptional. While this movie may not be the sci-fi classic many were hoping from cult director John Carpenter, the overwhelming brute force of the thumping rock soundtrack makes it seem as if Carpenter went out and made a theme record, with the movie basically coming across as an accompanying 90 minute rock video. The album is the product of collaborations between Anthrax (mercifully minus the wailing vocals), Buckethead (Guns 'N Roses), and veteran guitar wizard Steve Vai, along with the self-scoring horror maestro John Carpenter himself.

The mixture of rock and Carpenter's expansive keyboard sweeps is nothing new, but here the two are forged to perfection. Opening with "Ghosts of Mars," the scene is set with the short, menacing guitar riff surrounded on all sides by the dread of Carpenter's synth sweeps (the sonic equivalent to the red clouds of a Martian dust storm). Into this mix comes the otherworldly assault of Steve Vai's jagged guitar, its howling, screaming sound suggesting the presence of the impending evil unleashed. Next comes a small slice of spooky ambience followed by the tribal drum intro to the primordial din of "Love Siege." With guitars sounding like Mars Colony warning sirens and a clawing, ripping dirge set against the sublimely aggressive drum work, the relentless attack continues on "Fight Train," which is again preceded by another deceptive few seconds of ambient keyboard chimes. With an unstoppable locomotive riff fueled by train track-sounding drum rounds and another slice of guitar solo wizardry, the track builds to an exciting crescendo before ending with some almost train signal like guitar stabs.

Over the next two tracks come the slower "Visions of Earth" and "Slashing Void" cues, which reverse the balance between the Carpenter and the Stratocaster. "Visions of Earth" has John Carpenter relaying the drug induced visions of Earth as seen through the eyes if the principal player in the movie (Natasha "Species" Henstridge). A refreshing refrain from the otherwise constant overpowering guitar work, these tracks start with synth drums and a low, grooving bass mixed with some funeral echoing electro keyboard organs and a singular, squealing guitar offering a path back to reality. "Slashing Void" continues the down tempo mix of keyboards and singular guitars but also throws in a warped reversed guitar trailing off into the twilight as the industrial drumbeat winds down. "Kick Ass" begins with a hypnotising slice of a gently flanging guitar before reverting into one of the more monotonous stomping numbers; six minutes is a bit much even if it does have another masterful guitar midsection and flourishing finish. By comparison, "Power Station" opens up with a wonderfully spooky piece of keyboards before kicking into a chugging beast with a tremendous chorus of guitar wailing.

The songs then transform again into a bluesy, mellow lament... retaining an underlying sense of menace as it finishes from the sinister electro backing. By far the weakest track is "Can't Let You Go," with a less than comfortable mix of the old fashioned synth keyboards in a three way struggle for supremacy with a saxophone (!) and yet another guitar. It is, however, mercifully short. "Dismemberment Blues" is one of the most atmospheric pieces of music on the album, with the bleak shimmering of the electronics cut in two by some emotive, alien guitar work. Continuing that theme, "Fightin' Mad" has a strangely alien, industrial-techno flavoured flow staggered by a jutting, detuned guitar. The superbly named "Pam Grier's Head" (watch the movie to find out why it's called that) is a short song with an old sci-fi movie music homage layered somewhere behind the grinding guitars. The album finishes off nicely (if not abruptly) by the whole crew on "Ghost Poppin'," starting with another false dawn of low ambience before launching into a final pounding assault on your ears. Featuring a very sparse, rhythmic one-tone riff, the track gives Steve Vai licence to spin wildly all over the song with the supersonic speed.

Unlike many other movie soundtracks, Ghosts of Mars is an album that works well independently from the film. Make sure you crank up your speakers for this one. You don't have to suffer through the lackluster movie to fully appreciate the intensity, artistry and atmosphere contained within this quality, forty-three minutes of Martian mayhem. But this leads me to the only negative: the running time. While the movie must be endured for a full hour and thirty minutes, the soundtrack runs for merely half that. Without a huge orchestra to pay, there must have been the opportunity for the Varese Sarabande label to provide more music than that on album, since short soundtrack (score) albums usually are the result of many orchestral players to pay. If you like those big orchestra, traditional kinds of scores, then you could hate Carpenter's music. Still, all in all, I would recommend the Ghosts of Mars soundtrack to any fan of hard rock/metal, with some dizzying guitar work or fans of John Carpenter, who continues to score his own movies after several decades of moviemaking. Either way, this album is a Martian masterpiece. ****

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