Midsommar could be the best horror score since Psycho

Scene from MidsommarI’ve rarely been as enthused about a film score as I am about Bobby Krlic’s score for the horror movie Midsommar. Not since Bernard Hermann’s biting strings in Psycho has background music given me such goosebumps. Krlic, who goes by the name The Haxan Cloak on his solo projects, has composed a powerful, visceral score that blends dark dissonance, ancient folk music, and ambient sounds. And Krlic’s relationship to the film may be a unique one. Director Ari Aster wrote the screenplay while listening to The Haxan Cloak’s music.

Chants and Ancient Traditions

Midsommar concerns a young woman named Dani, recovering from a family tragedy, who joins her boyfriend and his companions on a trip to Sweden. Ostensibly traveling to observe a rural cult’s joyful midsummer festival, they soon get caught up in the strange rituals. In an interview with Pitchfork, Krlic and Aster discuss the impulse behind the score. Vocal artist Jessika Kenney brought her knowledge of devotional singing and chants to the production. Old Icelandic and Nordic sounds infuse the music, with a dash of Middle Eastern.

Krlic researched ancient Scandinavian music and instruments, drawing on his collaborative relationship with Bjork. All of these elements ground the cult’s ritual music in the feel of ancient traditions. The other half of the time, Krlic underscores scenes with background music that alternates between dreamy and frightening enough to raise the dead. This see-saw is a technique that Krlic attributes to his childhood watching films like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver.

Midsommar’s Theme of Dissolution

At the climax of the opening sequence, Dani’s sobs merge with dissonant, static strings, played with minimal vibrato if I remember right. When the visitors see the elaborately decorated interior of the barn-like “dorm” for the first time, luscious music swirls enticingly. One commenter accurately described the score as equally mesmerizing and terrifying, like being “in heaven and hell at the same time.” I love this other quote from Dazed magazine:

There’s a strong sense of deterioration to the score, like sanity slowly unravelling, expressed through ominous, drawn-out synths that progress into guttural, primal screams…

The film starts out in deep winter with undercurrents of unease that break out into trauma. The transition to bright, cheerful summer provides a false comfort, underscored by the camera turning on its head so the vehicle with our travelers rambles down the road upside down. The movie will recall The Wicker Man for many viewers.

The Haxan Cloak

Krlic’s music as The Haxan Cloak mixes electronica, dissonant strings, drones, industrial, and dark ambient. He has released two albums and three EPs, and is working on a new album. For an especially ominous mood, check out the track “Burning Torches of Despair” from his eponymous 2011 album The Haxan Cloak. The Midsommar soundtrack is scheduled for release on July 5.

Interviews with Krlic

Here are several interviews with Krlic about the score:
The Quietus

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