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Chernobyl: Music from the HBO Miniseries Album Review

Written by Richie Corelli

Released by Deutsche Grammophon

Chernoblyl Hildur Guonadottir Large

Composed by Hildur Guðnadóttir
2019, 39 minutes
Released on September 6th, 2019

Review:

The scariest show to hit television in 2019 had nothing to do with zombies. There were no Mind Flayers. There were no teenage witches. And it didn’t take place in Hill House. No, the scariest thing on TV was a historical drama about a human disaster. The HBO miniseries, Chernobyl, details the worst nuclear accident in history, starting with the 1986 incident itself and moving into the cleanup efforts and political turmoil that followed.

Chernobyl is grim a foreboding tale with a through line of dread that is underscored by Hildur Guðnadóttir’s brilliant soundtrack. The atmosphere she develops is chilling. Guðnadóttir creates a physicality to her work by weaving heavy sounds through an airy ambience. Blocks of cold tones glide forward, clattering echoes tumble in the distance, and low hums hover about like ghosts on the prowl.

The music of Chernobyl feels tangible. This is by design. To really capture the mood that she wanted, Guðnadóttir got into a hazmat suit and visited an old nuclear power plant in Lithuania. The plant was in the process of being decommissioned and is similar to what Chernobyl would have been like before the accident. Guðnadóttir, along with her score producer Sam Slater and sound-recoding specialist Chris Watson, walked the premises, recording everything. She later took that audio and mixed it into the music. The sounds of the power plant run through the entire album. It gives it an authenticity unmatched by most other film scores.

Compositionally, Chernobyl is strong from the start. “The Door” begins as staccato beats rattle softly, indiscriminately. A bellowing groan of instrumentation joins in. The tempo of the bottom instrumentation hastens while a piercing noise climbs overtop. “Vichnaya Pamat” is another tri-umph. Here, Guðnadóttir enlists the talent of The Homin Lviv Municipal Choir. The choir sings slow, sad. Beneath them, bumps of hushed field recordings. The track, a dirge, is easily the most emotive song on the album. “Liður” is yet another excellent track. The first half of this song is vocal and piano piece that would be on home on a Grouper album. Guðnadóttir’s voice rever-berates gently as a single piano note is struck with varying intensity. A cello swoops in around the midway point, leading other instrumental touches and further spotlighting the hushed singing.

As great as these cited tracks are, it’s almost a disservice to call out individual songs. The entire soundtrack is magnificent and it plays really well as one long piece.

If there is a negative to this soundtrack, it is not in the music. It’s in the presentation. This is not a Waxworks or Mondo release. It’s not made for collectors looking for some kind of exclusive colored vinyl like “nuclear fallout green” or something like that. This is a basic, no-frills release by Deutsche Grammophon. There are no biographical sleeve notes, no exclusive art. The cover shows a still from the series, a bleached-green shot of a figure working the clean-up after the disaster. The back-cover shows a simple track-listing and a picture of Jared Haris as Valery Le-gasov. The front and back stick to the same color family, but beyond that, it feels like little thought went into this. This is evident by the bright triangle of negative space under Haris’s arm. No one intentionally makes a person’s armpit a focal point. Even the inlay feels like it’s been thrown together. Liner notes do not go past production and performance credits. They run down the left side of the page, a picture of Stellan Skarsgård occupies the right. A few boxes are laid at the bottom, a series of forgettable stills from the show.

This isn’t a record to look at, it’s a record to listen to. Sound is the most important thing. And Chernobyl sounds good. The music is clean with no surface sounds.

Overall, Chernobyl is smart and effective. Anyone with an appreciation for sound design should check this album out. It avoids cliché nuclear trappings like Geiger counter sound effects while still finding an avenue to directly tie itself to the subject matter. Musically, it might be too noisy and too unstructured for people who like more traditional music. There are very few melodies on this album. But those who appreciate dark ambient experimentalism will find certainly something to enjoy here.

And despite the fact that Chernobyl is not a genre series, Hildur Guðnadóttir’s soundtrack is something that is sure to appeal to fans of horror music. The eeriness of the soundtrack, the anxiety-inducing push/pull between relaxing and restless, the bombastic builds, and the metallic timbres make this a tense, unnerving record.

One of the best albums of 2019.

Grades:

Music: Fourandahalfstars Chernoblyl Hildur Guonadottir Small
Buy Amazon Us
Chernoblyl Hildur Guonadottir Small
Buy Amazon Uk
Art: Twoandahalfstars
Packaging: Threeandahalfstars
Overall: Fourandahalfstars

About The Author
Wrylab Staff
Staff Writer
Richie isn’t ignoring you. He just can’t hear you over the music. He’s been plugged in to his headphones for decades, diving into the zine culture of the 90s, blogging relentlessly through the 00s and beyond. He knows more about certain bands than he knows about himself. His love of music is rivaled only by his love of horror. If it’s creepy and spooky, he’s into it.

Horror DNA sutures his two passions together, giving him a platform to analyze and express his feelings on horror scores, soundtracks and live performances. It’s a celebration of all that goes bump in the night.
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