Written by Michael Frank
Blade is a cult classic for a reason. It features a jacked-up Wesley Snipes, loads of vampires, buckets of blood, and action scenes that purr because of the speed of the swords. It came out in 1998, and it was ahead of its time for comic book heroes and the success they would soon enjoy. Over twenty years later though, we have received the most underrated part of Blade in physical form: an LP of the score by Mark Isham released by Varèse Sarabande
It’s a score that doesn’t immediately jump out at you. It refrains from massive builds and payoffs that are given once our hero wins a battle. When you’re watching the film, it hides in the background, providing enough support to give each fight a bit more excitement and weight, without screaming “This is an action movie!” directly into your ears. It’s subtle and alarmingly quiet during some scenes. The chopping, shooting, and stabbing that Blade performs is the focus. The music keeps the film chugging along though, as it is used in softer scenes, providing atmosphere to important dialogue, scenes of friendship, and possible love affairs.
The vinyl version is much different. Hearing the score without the sounds of action layered over it is another ballgame. It highlights the intricacy of the score, the way it ebbs and flows, never reaching too high or low of a point.
Side A is softer, building to the movie’s conflicts. It is backheavy, with the synth sounds reaching new heights towards the end of the side. The last track on Side A is four minutes of building glory, only to end abruptly and without much of a fade. It’s hard to not turn on the movie immediately. The rest of this first half of music is rhythmically similar, and it’s actually quite hard to guess when there are supposed “good guys” and “bad guys” on the screen. It feels one-note and unclear in its tonality, something I actually enjoyed. It’s high pitched and cuts like a knife, similar to the film’s lead. There are clanking noises and it is the type of music you’d hear when a character is walking down a dark alley, not fighting a group of vampires. It’s an odd choice, but a good one.
Side B continues the clanking and high pitched noise of its counterpart, yet is much darker and more sinister. It is sped up by the plot of the film and the ticking clock of Blade’s quest coming to a head with Frost’s endeavors. It builds and then dies. It builds and then dies. Then it comes in stronger than ever, only to die once again at the end of the film. Isham has created a score that is missable when watching the film, yet deeply beautiful when listened to on its own. It performs much better as a stand alone project, yet certainly doesn’t take anything away from the film. Again, it’s hard to guess who is exactly on the screen, as the second side follows in the first’s foosteps. It was consuming, and I kept wanting to turn up the volume to allow it to flood my ears. It was a gorgeous black hole of a record.
Listening to this score in LP version allows it room to breathe, room to grow. It gains and morphs as the sides go on, expanding into a powerful musical beast. Isham’s score is underrated and deserving of a larger audience than just the cult fans of Blade. It’s darkly euphoric 32 minutes and a soundtrack I won’t soon forget.