Knights of Badassdom
Composed by Bear McCreary
Sparks & Shadows
Set against the super-niche world of live-action role-playing (LARP), Knights of Badassdom‘s social misfits approach their real-ish fantasizing the same way they approach their bong hits and guitar shredding: with a dedication that verges on “too much.” Yet Joe Lynch’s horror comedy, which finally earned a limited release after years of production woes, never feels in sync with its geek influences. In more appropriate terms, this isn’t a film that wears its heart on its sleeve because it’s hard to pin anything to a sorcerer’s robes.
The well-documented production foibles of Lynch’s film don’t seem to have reached its music, as Knights of Badassdom’s score brings a fanboy enthusiasm to its anachronistic combination of Renaissance and metal soundscapes. Long a fan favorite in television since his work on SyFy’s Battlestar Galactica revamp, Bear McCreary is no stranger to film music — this isn’t even his first collaboration with Lynch — and his splices of two distinct modalities never come off as conflicted or misguided in a film that’s, well, pretty conflicted and misguided.
“The Kingdom of Eliphaz” begins with highland bagpipes, wood recorder and classical-styled guitar accompaniment. It’s a bit much at first, and were it not for the film’s robed dorks constantly smacking one another out of their flowery affectations, McCreary’s medieval stylings would be gilding the lily. The court music, however, is only a springboard for a more aggressive influence on McCreary’s work here: metal, and metal of all varieties. When the shredding begins in “Eliphaz,” driving lead and rhythm guitar give a sharp kick to the bagpipes’s motif, a once-melodramatic cue now in double-time with drum crashes and bass pedal. The bagpipes make way for a hardcore metal breakdown complete with drop-tuned guitar strings and a unison orchestra. The resulting combination is a fully-functioning orchestral-shred machine, reminiscent of the tenacious moments in Ramin Djawadi’s Iron Man score and even the sublime territory in Metallica’s S&M collaboration with Michael Kamen.
McCreary’s opening number reveals a fascination with rectifying two supremely technical genres and multiple avenues through which to combine them. McCreary understands that using heavy metal chords as a base to develop period melodies works far better than transitioning from a lute into a slide guitar solo outright; it’s how a track like “Demon Apes” can move from metal/violin splices to ghostly wails in seconds. “The Game Master” recalls the face-melting whines of a Kirk Hammett ballad on its back-end while the crux of the track indulges in a celtic carousel waltz that McCreary fuses with a slow version of “Eliphaz’s” bagpipes. “Out of Game” begins with a noble, sexy horn riff that sounds like it could be a lost Batman theme until it moves from its funereal melody in the oboe to some pretty forgettable wheel-spinning in the guitars and tom-toms.
McCreary isn’t just content with consolidating these diametrically opposing soundscapes, as he preserves some of their innate and even unavoidable aesthetic differences. “Slightly Badass’s” stoicism is undermined by smart-assed acid guitar, while “The Sigilum Dei Aemaeth” begins with some horror tropes in abrupt slams and its strings’ tremors before crunchy guitars stab their chromatic half-steps. In the more “aggressively metal” numbers, “Joe’s Power Ballad” features a wandering riff that sounds ripped from Mastodon’s Leviathan before aping the sounds of 80s hair metal. “At the Gates,” which closes out the film, is more or less an extended jam on a springy bass groove with vocals from brother (and occasional Battlestar collaborator) Brendan McCreary that don’t sound far off from Wolfmother’s Andrew Stockdale or a poor man’s Robert Plant. (Surely, thou didn’t believe the film’s constant references to “Evermore” were pure coincidence, fair squire?) The metal band arrangement “Your Heart Sucks My Soul” receives not one but two versions on the disc, the former “Garage Version” featuring a combination of Megadeth-esque vocals over a forgotten Godsmack jam that’s as about bad as it sounds. The latter cut is the longer and, as often goes in metal, the superior version. I have no idea who the “he” is that’s destined to rise from the abyss, but I’ll be first in line to compliment our new hellish overlord on his great taste.
In an interview with The Nerdist, McCreary claims to have divvied up his score thematically according to faction. Court music for the nerds, distorted guitars for the rockers, abrasive orchestra for the demons, etc. Taken separately, its themes feel like flashes in a bottle. More broadly, Knights of Badassdom is a score defined and enhanced by its film’s niche appeal and more successfully, McCreary’s interest in technically-minded genres as insular and off-putting as chamber music and death metal. It also might be one musician’s answer to that age-old high school question of why dragons and goth makeup always seem to go hand-in-hand.
— David Klein