The Alienist (Rupert Gregson-Williams) – Score Review

Baz Greenland reviews the soundtrack to new historical crime drama The Alienist...

The Alienist, based on the best-selling book by Caleb Carr, is one of the latest US crime mystery shows to get a lot of buzz, with a full UK air date in UK on Netflix this April. The eight-episode series follows Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, newspaper illustrator John Moore and police department secretary Sara Howard conducting a secret investigation into ritualistic murders taking place in 1896 New York.

Before the series makes its debut this side of the pond, Lakeshore Records have released the soundtrack from composer Rupert Gregson-Williams, which is now available for digital download.

Rupert Gregson-Williams brings an intriguing style to his score for The Alienist. While I cannot comment on the feel of the TV series before it debuts here in the UK, it is clear the composer has taken the rough, gritty feel of the Gangs of New York to create something that feels like an urban wild west. This is keenly felt in the opening track Streets of New York, which has a dangerous, urban feel – western saloon meets 80’s gritty cop drama – with its solo percussion beat and haunting string solo, full of tension and intrigue and gritty industrial sounds. It is incredibly evocative.

And this style continues throughout the album. It is not one of those soundtracks you can just sit back and listen to; I suspect it loses something in isolation while working well to support the story on screen, but that doesn’t take away from the passion Gregson-Williams brings to his work. It is interesting because it doesn’t just feel like a period drama piece of something you would expect in a psychological horror. It is both of these genres and more.

The second track Roundsman has an unsettling, gritty opening, with a relentless, guttural beat and haunting choral backing; fast paced western meets futuristic noir. This is followed by Dr. Laszlo Kreizler that again feels futuristic in tone, filled with haunting urban feel in the offbeat piano chords and and eerie orchestral backing mixed with disturbing distorted sounds. There is a dissonance between them while still feeling like part of the larger soundtrack narrative.

The fourth track One the Case is packed with synths sounds and a strained string movement that has a fast paced energy, before Brooklyn Bridge slows things down as Gregson-Williams kicks things off with weird sounds slowed down to something akin to a guttural roar that puts the listener on edge. The entire track is disturbing; wails and strained sounds that give it that weird, western urban wilderness feel. It is both thrilling and unnerving.

The sixth track Sarah is another haunting piece that contrasts against the fast-paced brash beat of Closing In that is atmospheric but feels utterly at odds with the period setting of the show, while having an energy and character of its own. The same can be said for Another Boy with its heavy industrial beats and eerie sounds, that drip with atmosphere and dread and feels more at home in a horror movie.

Track nine Eyes and Tongue, is one of the stand out tracks of the album. It has an emotional, almost ethereal opening, full of atmosphere and depth; the gentle string movements and heavenly synth sounds are quite beautiful. The tone then changes to something darker and more sinister, with heavier percussion beats that are full of danger before launching into a fast paced, intense synth beat and heavy industrial sounds. This is followed by Mary which feels larger similar if less effective; a soft, ethereal start, a haunting beat and rising, soft string and wind instruments make for a very emotive, sad piece before ending with a more sinister, heavy rising industrial beat.

Politics of Policing, the eleventh track on the album makes use of a heavy pace and clanging beat that evokes the idea of booted feet marching. The Western feel comes to the fore again; strings, wind and percussion beats mixed with soaring, tense orchestral sweeps. Independent Investigation is another moody piece, with a repeating string beat and haunting wind solo but doesn’t feel distinct from much of the album. Madness of the City, meanwhile, has a much grimmer, guttural feel; full of tension and menace, Gregson-Williams relies again on a heavy cacophony of industrial sounds with the repeating string beat that feels more at home in an 80s slasher movie, while also retaining that industrial wild west theme.

Track 14, Irish is another beautiful, emotive piece, full of passion and sadness; that string solo that plays over the ominous score is haunting. This is followed by A Matter of Time, another gritty urban feel to this score, with a fast paced intro. and a grim, haunting melody; the offbeat clang of the strings and beat are creepy and off putting, setting the listener on edge. Trance meanwhile, invokes that 80s, 90s fantasy horror vibe in its ethereal synth opening which is both beautiful and atmospheric. As great as these tracks are, they do feel a little repetitive at this point, and this is particularly felt in Man of the FleshAlienated Mind and Jesse Pomeroy.

Look Inside, the twentieth track on the album, is a bit more distinct though. It has an emotive, haunting orchestral score with a demented, creepy mix of sounds and heavy beats; this is a gorgeous, atmospheric piece and that wind instrument solo towards the end is sublime. This is followed however by The Facts and Cyrus, which are again atmospheric but ultimately forgettable.

Dispatch is stronger though, with a sinister beat and low, rumbling score full of menace and intrigue, while the final track – The Alienist (Main Titles) – is certainly memorable; gritty, urban industrial sounds with strained violin movement and clanging beat make a short sharp impact at just 36 seconds long.

Overall, Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score to The Alienist certainly achieves what it sets out to do, delivering a bleak, atmospheric urban wild west theme throughout its 24 tracks. It is not an album you can just sit back and listen to, but it is memorable and is sure to be a strong component of the TV series itself.

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