Horror on the Orient Express

Composer: Alex Otterlei
A.O. Music
Available now

This music tells the story of the legendary Orient Express, embarking upon its fabled romantic, luxurious journey from London to Budapest. The voyage however, gradually transforms into a hellish nightmare as passengers one by one horribly fall victim to an unknown evil, hiding somewhere on board.

I was a little uncertain as to what this release was the soundtrack to. When I first sat down to listen to it I couldn't fathom out whether it was the music to an animated movie, a computer game or just a fan's labour of love for a role playing game. In all honesty I have to admit that I'm still not sure.

The sleeve notes and illustrations make it look like an arty animated Japanese movie and there is a line that states: "This album is inspired upon the legendary Call of Cthulhu campaign set Horror on the Orient Express, published by Chaosium." But that really didn't mean anything to me. I am in my mid-30's though, so you'll to excuse me if I a seem a little out of touch.

But, to be quite honest, I don't care what this is the soundtrack too. Alex Otterlei's music conjures up images all of it's own. His score stands as a work in it's own right. Close your eyes and you can picture so many elements. Otterlei's score manages to bring the Orient Express screaming to life - without leaning on any preconceived clichés to drag you into his world. Through his music you can see and feel the most famous steam locomotive thundering across the countryside, through tunnels, and rattling into stations.

I've been a soundtrack fan since the early 80s - and can be quite a bore on the subject. But never have I been so moved by an opening track as I was by this album. Arrival of the Orient Express sent shivers down my spine. I could clearly see a pitch black night, with a light on the horizon - a light that got brighter and brighter until the Orient Express went thundering past, sounding it's whistle.

The Orient Express's theme is wonderfully constructed - you can almost hear the sound of the track under the wheels and the piercing whistle being blasted from the locomotive every now and then. Other tracks, like The Voyage Begins, conjure up images of the train cutting up the track as it races across lush countryside.

Sadly though, tracks that should have provided dark emotions, like Headless Lady in Topclass Bar, didn't give quite the right atmosphere. This is nothing to do with Otterlei's score, but the rather limited synthesised sounds. This recording is begging to have a fully orchestrated recording. It's a shame that this didn't have the financial backing of one of the big studios. Although, to be fair, in tracks like The Unnameable Undone, the limited use of a single brass instrument is incredibly effective. The Horror Strikes also manages to pull out all the stops too.

I also loved the fact that just when you think it's all over, Otterlei returns with an oompa-pa surprise - you'll know what I mean when you hear it.

As a stand alone soundtrack, this is a work of beauty. Keep your eyes and ears opened for Alex Otterlei in the future - this is one up and coming composer I'm sure we'll be hearing a lot more of.

Nick Smithson