It's no secret that Junkie XL (aka Tom Holkenborg) was no stranger to applying and composing music to film when he came to score Divergent in 2014; I remember hearing his track "Dealing With The Roster" way back in 1998 in the movie Blade (I was 10 years old then) and latterly I had been fully aware of his collaborations with the likes of Harry Gregson-Williams and Hans Zimmer in the years leading up to this score. I think this however was the first time I came to recognise him in a light of his own as a film composer and actively hear the additions he had clearly been responsible for in scores such as "Man of Steel" and "The Dark Knight Rises". Those percussion ensembles are just huge and so very well crafted in those films and while the mix for Divergent is more aggressive, in your face and with less ambience, they seem almost bigger! I can't speak with 100% accuracy here, but I'm pretty sure it was Holkenborg who was writing and compiling those big ensembles in those ollaborations and I kind of feel like it was perfected here.
While Divergent (and it's following sequels) got mixed reviews from critics and audiences alike, I personally really enjoyed the concept and found myself entertained throughout, I do however think the score has a lot to do with this! Holkenborg successfully interprets the mood and tone of the film and takes us on a real musical journey of adventure, recklessness, youth, sorrow, regret, triumph, strength, love and failure through the use of soaring strings, brass, thundering drums, percussion, synths, piano, mallets, guitars and a bargemen of ambient sound design.
It's not seen all that often, but I also love the fact that a conversation was had with Ellie Goulding in regards to bringing her in as a featured soloist on the score; given her tracks "Beating Heart", "Hanging On", "Dead In The Water" and "My Blood" were already heard during the film, I think this really helped to connect the picture musically that she be heard during the score too, it worked great! While they are often repeated, her sustained ethereal vocals can be heard in the following cues; "Tris", "Choosing Dauntless", "Capture The Flag" and "Sacrifice"; all of these cues voice the playful, coming of age sections of the story really well.
The score (much like the film) gets straight to the point and introduces our main character Tris via it's first cue, which of course is named "Tris". We are quickly introduced to a variety of emotive triggers for Tris during this track, after only listening for a few minutes, the audience should have been able to pick up on sorrow, hope, conflict, strength and definitely adventure; these attributes are very relevant as her character unfolds. This leads very quickly into "The Test", which is for the most part a soundscape with percussive elements backing the picture, but it's also the first time we hear a snippet of those thundering drums which I have come to love about this score. They seem to underpin that fight or flight feeling and are heard throughout the score in moments of strife or threat (See cues "Fear", "Dauntless Attack", "Choosing Dauntless" and "Fight The Dauntless")
It's not just all about the percussion though, the pacing and tension Holkenborg creates through the use of ostinato really have you on the edge of your seat. One particular pattern caught my attention early on in the score when I heard "Erudite Plan", we hear mallet percussion playing a pattern which is backed up by guitars, strings and light ambiences, it's energetic but also kind of relaxed... What really got me though was when I then heard these patterns re arranged in "Dauntless Attack". It's the fact that the cello section takes the rhythm which gives it a really dark edge, then add in some percussion, brass stabs and bending string lines and suddenly it all becomes very tense! While on the subject of tension, another noteworthy cue is "The March" which opens with an obnoxious synth bass pulse which just doesn't stop as were taken on yet another journey! The cue just builds and builds with the addition of repeated rhythmic string patterns, aggressive guitar strums (which I believe were performed by Junkie XL himself) and again, that thundering percussion. They didn't mess around with the volume levels for this film, it was mastered loud and I was really on the edge of the chair in the cinema!
Before highlighting my favourite cue, I want to speak about one more... It's the longest of them all and it's called "You're Not Gonna Like This", I don't want to call it a medley cue of sorts, but I think what I love about it so much is that it's a story in itself with so many ups and downs throughout. If you were to pitch a collection of ideas to a Director for a film you were scoring, I'd be giving them something along these lines. Off point perhaps, but in many ways, it reminds me of Hans Zimmer's cue "I Don't Think Now Is The Best Time" from the "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" score... It has crucial emotions, heavy rhythm, atmosphere, dynamics and it gives a real sense of action, struggle, sadness, triumph and romance within the sonic world of the film. I love the clarity and how piercing the strings are, I mean those legato notes get pretty loud at times but it just works... We already heard the gravity of this during the opening cue "Tris", but it is pretty consistent throughout.
So what cue do I love the most, well it's hard because there are many but "Fight The Dauntless" has takes first place. It's a weird one and its perhaps a little difficult to explain as to me, while the cue would work for the end credits, it doesn't really fit into the film itself... The easiest way I can think to describe it, is that of a soundtrack version of the score itself; or perhaps something that has been created using the key themes, rhythms and sentiments of the score, but presented in a different light, it seems to stand on it's own two feet to me. The cue is beautifully presented with crystal clear production and coming back to those drums again, I love that you can feel the force of the kits. If you listen closely at the 03:10 mark, I get a real sense of the air movement just before the players make the hit, you can really anticipate the performance and that just adds so much energy to the track as it bursts into it's epic finale.
Give it a listen folks, it’s a really great score to drive to, work out to and just generally kick back with!