Black Widow – Lorne Balfe

Writing music for a Marvel movie must be a dream for a lot of film music composers. Many high-profile composers have composed music for at least one of them, including, of course, Alan Silvestri, who wrote the music for most Avengers movies, with their superb main theme. One of those Avengers is Natasha Romanoff, also known as the Black Widow. She has appeared in many movies, but now it is finally time for her own story to be told in the movie Black Widow, with Lorne Balfe as the designated composer.

Romanoff is a heroine without any superpowers. She is a highly skilled former assassin from Russia, and ,while having been an Avenger for a long time, she never had a full-fledged musical theme. It was up to Balfe to give her one, and what he came up with is wonderful and brilliant at the same time. The foundation for her theme is that it would be something she would have listened to when she was young, so Balfe wrote a Russian lullaby for her and based her theme on it. The melody in “Natasha’s Lullaby” is sung wonderfully by a Russian vocalist and shows Natasha’s human side beautifully. Halfway through a piano joins in, together with a choir, to make the piece even more gorgeous than it already is. 

The melody of the theme appears a couple of times during the movie. In “Natasha’s Fragments,” the melody is performed on a guitar. Where these first two tracks are more timid and slow, “Natasha soars” is the opposite. The theme’s melody in that cue receives the full orchestral treatment, and by that I mean a full orchestral treatment. Marvel made the decision very early in the pandemic to postpone Black Widow until better times, but, fortunately, the recording of the music was done just days before the lockdown, and instead of heaving the regular amount of musicians in the orchestra, Balfe opted for an Abbey Road record by having 116 musicians recording at the same time. Most of the time film music recordings go through some post-processing to make them sound heavier and bigger in scale than they actually are. For this movie, the sound editor probably still did the same, but with such a huge orchestra you can hear a natural massiveness in the music, and “Natasha Soars” is the perfect example. The lullaby’s melody is elevated to a grander level with the ‘soaring’ part being performed by the brass section, creating a massive wall of sound. The rest of the huge orchestra provides all kinds of rhythmic patterns and textures underneath it, and the music gets even better when the choir joins in. This track is not only the highlight on this album for me but at the moment of this review the highlight of 2021. 

Natasha’s theme is not the only brilliant one on this album, however, since the theme for her stepsister Yelena is almost as superb. Where Natasha’s theme is based on a lullaby, her sister’s theme is more like a lament, as can be heard in the track that bears her name, “Yelena Belova.” It starts with a choir singing a mysterious line, and it sounds like it is sung from a distance until the massive orchestra joins in and the choir starts to sing the same melody with lyrics this time. Her theme can also be found in other tracks like “The Pursuit,” and an emotional variation of it in “A Sister Says Goodbye,” performed on a piano.

In addition to the two sister themes, there are more excellent cues to be found on the album. There is an antagonist theme, which can be heard in “Drekov,” and “From the Shadows.” There are also more stunning Russian vocal tracks to be found on the album,  like “Last Love” and “A Calling”, but many other tracks are meant for action sequences. Each of these is masterfully done. You can frequently hear a three-note pattern in them, which has ties to the Natasha theme, and maybe to the Yelena theme as well. It also gives the fast-paced music the Black Widow identity. The three-note motif is first introduced in “Latrodecus,” and many other tracks have it as well, such as “The First Bite Is the Deepest” and “The Descent.”

Lorne Balfe is starting to use a method that develops some stunning themes first and then incorporates them brilliantly into the music for a show or movie. I started to notice this with his music for His Dark Materials, and you can also clearly hear it in his music for Black Widow, and really works. There is not a single dull moment in the soundtrack for Black Widow. Each of the tracks is a wonderful listening experience, from the vocal tracks, through the action sequence music, to the emotional pieces. I mentioned in my The Tomorrow War review from two weeks ago that that score was the best action score Balfe has ever written. That feat is short-lived, because the music for Black Widow is surpassing that by a long shot. Better yet, it is, in my opinion, the best score Balfe has ever written until now.

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The highlights are in bold.

  1. Natasha’s Lullaby (3:24)
  2. Latrodectus (2:40)
  3. Fireflies (3:13)
  4. The Pursuit (2:52)
  5. The First Bite Is the Deepest (3:05)
  6. Last Glimmer (4:19)
  7. Dreykov (3:33)
  8. You Don’t Know Me (2:01)
  9. Yelena Belova (3:36)
  10. From the Shadows (3:44)
  11. Hand in Hand (2:46)
  12. Blood Ties (2:54)
  13. Whirlwind (3:28)
  14. Arise (2:13)
  15. Natasha’s Fragments (1:54)
  16. A Sister Says Goodbye (4:14)
  17. I Can’t Save Us (1:51)
  18. Red Rising (3:57)
  19. The Betrayed (5:37)
  20. The Descent (2:04)
  21. Faces to the Sun (1:50)
  22. Natasha Soars (2:19)
  23. Last Love (1:59)
  24. Into the Past (4:55)
  25. Broken Free (3:09)
  26. A Calling (2:10)

Total length: 1 hour and 20 minutes
Hollywood Records (2021)

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