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Volume 27, No. 11
November 2022
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The Black Adam Project, Part 1
A deep dive into Lorne Balfeā€™s superhero score.
By Erik Heine

Superhero films continue to thrive in 2022, with The Batman, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Thor: Love and Thunder all finding success. However, the latter was released in May, which feels like a year ago, leaving audiences hungering for the next person with incredible powers. The Oct. 21 release of Black Adam has filled that void, finishing first at the box office in its first two weeks.

The film features music from Lorne Balfe, whom I had the chance to interview regarding his work on the year’s highest grossing film, Top Gun: Maverick, in May of this year. Following that interview, we discussed a future project where I would have the opportunity to perform some score study and analysis of his music. That project, having been granted unprecedented access to the score materials, has turned into a two-part feature for FSMO. In this first part, I present the primary themes that are used in Black Adam. Next month’s installment will feature highlights from the underscore of the film, which contains close to two hours of music.


Black Adam Theme
The film’s central character, the (anti-)hero Black Adam, has his own theme, as one would expect. The theme is in C minor, but uses both A-flat and A-natural and B-flat and B-natural, fluctuating between the various forms of the minor mode. The cue is marked at q=85, “With drive and swagger,” clearly referring to the power and arrogance of the character. The initial accompanimental gesture is syncopated, 3+3+2 in terms of eighth notes across a measure of 4/4, rather than the expected 4+4 or 2+2+2+2. The theme is also built around layers, gradually growing until all parts are present.

Following the syncopated bass line, the first thematic layer enters in the cellos and basses. It is a four-measure melody that repeats, easily crossing the bar line to begin again on tonic. Of these four measures, the first three end higher than where they began, while the fourth begins and ends on the same pitch. All the notes belong to C Aeolian except one: in the third measure, the melody leaps up from C to A-natural before returning to A-flat. Although Adam may have moments of heroism in him, he is still primarily an antagonist.

The second layer is played by 12 horns and a solo cello. Similar to the first layer, the opening three measures of the second layer all have something in common, while the fourth measure differs. In Layer 2, the rhythm is exactly the same in the first three measures, as well as the first three notes, but the end of each measure is different. The first measure ends E-flat-D-C, the second measure E-flat-F-D, and the third measure E-flat-D-E-flat. The fourth and final measure upsets the now-expected rhythm by beginning on the downbeat of the measure, and although the last note falls on beat 3, like the previous measures, it somehow feels different due to the syncopation specific to the measure.

When Layer 3 enters, Layers 1 and 2 drop out. Layer 3 contains two components: melody and text. The melody is a two-measure descending gesture, while the text repeats every four measures. The melody also contains two separate lines harmonizing it, breaking the first choir into three SATB mini-ensembles. The Latin text and translation are as follows:

Iratus est furor eius                                His fury is angry
Ejus cor verberat calidum                     His heart beats hot
Armis eius pierced                                   His arms pierced
Sarguis eius insanit                                 His coffin causes his insanity 

After one complete statement of the text, all three layers sound together, with the marking, “Huge,” at the top of the score. Following three four-measure statements of the layers, a musical “break” occurs featuring new harmony and new text in the second and third choirs. The harmonic progression is A-flat major/F major/C minor/G major-minor 7, or VI-IV-i-V7 in C minor. The text appears below. 

Est tranquillitas saevit                           There is a calmness raging
In per cruentam                                       Through the bloody palm
Palmam ferrum in manu                       Of the iron in his hand
Battali an eius regat                               His battalion rules
Onnes ad imperium                                All to the command
Iratum est furor eius                              His fury is angry
Eius cor verberat                                     His heart beats

The text in this “break” presents a slightly different side to Adam, one that reveals him to be calm and methodical, not always acting on rage and revenge, but certainly able to do so.

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