When John Milius decided to make and direct Conan The Barbarian, he told composer Basil Poledouris that it would be an almost wordless opera. As the, in my opinion, inferior Excalibur had already used Carl Orff's 'O Fortuna,' Milius requested a score in a similar vein that would fill the audience with archaic sense of dread and evoke a more primal, more visceral time. So, Poledouris proceeded to compose this Thor's Hammer of a masterpiece.
The opening piece(Anvil Of From) heralds its arrival with the deep pounding of drums. The main theme, when it comes in, is not a fanfare or heroic march but brooding long horns droning above an insistent string and timpani motif. But it's not all blood and thunder.
There is a stoic tenderness alongside the brutality with rising strings and proud horns.
Later in the score, Poledouris' 'Love Theme' is a melancholic, oboe led piece with aching counter melodies ascending and descending around the main theme.
What makes the score stand out is the individuality of each track. It is deeply homogenous but also memorable for its contrasts and deviations. There's the other-worldly glass harp of 'Atlantean Sword,' the optimism and sweeping vistas of 'Theology,' the pompous regality of 'The Orgy,' and the final, sad emptiness of 'Orphans of Doom.'
And it all stands as a symphony in its own right. CTB is so at home with the imagined era it paints that it's hard to listen and not think of desolate, unforgiving landscapes, saturnine warriors wielding ancestral blades, hordes of pillaging warlords, and hot blood on snow.
Still powerful, bruising, delicate and haunting in equal measure, this is truly the soundtrack to a lost age.
Listen to the extended version here: