On Record: John Carpenter: Lost Themes III: Alive After Death (Sacred Bones Records)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The further he moves into his seventies, the more John Carpenter blossoms as an artist of many creative disciplines. His work as a composer has built up an impressive momentum which nobody could have foreseen ten years ago, with two sets of Lost Themes in 2015 and 2016, along with the soundtrack to his own reboot of Halloween in 2018.

Lost Themes III: Alive After Death sees him working once again with son Cody on synthesizers and godson Daniel Davies on guitar, the three showing their musical acumen on another ten choice cuts.

What’s the music like?

Deliciously dark. Carpenter instinctively knows how to evoke a scene with instant effect, and many of the themes here have the unmistakable scent of Gothic horror. The music is hugely enjoyable, not afraid of a musical cliché or two when the trio rock out, but there is show a sensitive underbelly to Carpenter’s writing, an emotional depth underpinning each of the selections here.

That side is most evident in Dripping Blood, but the more typical Carpenter sound is the majestic, immediate presence of the title track, or the fabulously dark Cemetery, with a low piano line glinting in the moonlight. The beatless Dead Eyes is a mysterious interlude, its harmonies drifting restlessly, while in contrast The Dead Walk has a hollow beat driving it forward.

Daniel Davies’ guitar work is instrumental to the success of Weeping Ghost, a futuristic rocker with a throbbing beat, and also Vampire’s Touch, where the guitars growl as the groove gets into its stride. Yet Carpenter’s music is at its best when the keyboards dominate. Skeleton shows this best of all, a shapeshifting rock chorale that dazzles with its changing harmonies.

Does it all work?

Yes. These are brilliantly scored and wonderfully evocative instrumentals, each with a different shade of darkness. The only criticism would be that some of the themes – Dead Eyes for instance – pull up short and could be longer than they are. It’s a small point that actually emphasises how good this music is!

Is it recommended?

It is. Carpenter knows how these things work, but is never complacent in his music, which has the ideal blend of suspense, terror, humour and a sense of occasion. If you have the previous two volumes, no need to hesitate – and if you don’t, then what are you waiting for?! Prepare to be scared…

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