I don’t give out 10/10 ratings lightly. I think I’ve given out one this year, and one last year. Anyways, Thomas Bergersen is back with his fourth chapter in his Humanity saga. My expectations were somewhat damaged by Chapter III, and so this new experience really took my brain by storm. This is, without a doubt, the best chapter yet. And we still have three more to go.
By way of quick introduction once again, Thomas Bergersen is the co-owner of Two Steps from Hell, a company that makes epic, cinematic music for movie scores and trailers. You have probably heard his work before without even knowing it. Many times, his work is used in place of the actual film score for trailers and the like, as the film score isn’t always ready at that point. He, of course, also releases his own music, not made to order.
Humanity has been such a rich experience. Thomas is a master at grand, cinematic climaxes. His music sounds towering, reaching as if to the skies and beyond. And that is exactly what he has done with Chapter IV. This album celebrates humanity’s relationship to space, starting with our journey to the moon, and then fantasizing about our future journeys to other galaxies and to making first contact. Along the way, the record celebrates who we are, to the very core of our genetic and chemical makeup.
This topic can definitely be an emotional reflection of sorts, and I was afraid that Thomas would try to emulate Zimmer’s Interstellar score to achieve this. While I may hear bits and pieces of it, the album seems to avoid that sound purposefully, even while communicating some of the same emotions. More specifically, I hear the emotions from Zimmer’s “S.T.A.Y.” on “Please Don’t Go” here, and there are other parallels. For the most part, though, the music stays out of that organ-driven, otherworldly sound.
There is one score that I hear throughout this album, though, and it is one with which I am very familiar. That would be Jerry Goldsmith’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture score. The odd melodies, majestic and star-streaming orchestral sound, and the punchy textural elements near the end of that movie (as the crew interact with the alien ship) are all here, especially in “Rocket to the Moon” and its reprise. As I ponder even further, I hear the original Star Trek television score, too, with its ethereal and unearthly female vocal harmonies. Bergersen seems to take these elements and turn the dial way, way up on them. And that is probably why I love this album so much. Bergersen is not only celebrating humanity, he is paying tribute to the past and to the stories that have made us who we are.
To be sure, though, this is not all he visits. This album has some of the most ingenious combinations of sounds and genres, bringing in all sorts of folk music sounds from all over the world. I think an example is in order. “One Million Voices” would be the song in question here, and what a song it is! This track brings in Far Eastern vocal melodies, Middle Eastern accents, American West hoedowns, and I think Celtic ideas, as well. This song, to me, ends up feeling like a cinematic, explosive theatrical version of Oklahoma, only performed by Japanese actors with a global orchestra. The hypnotic vocals build and build, and we visit all sorts of places and times to ease the tension, but the climax finally erupts near the end, and it is wondrous.
I get these feelings throughout this record. “Apollo” is a terrific song with pride and expectation in its blood. “Rocket to the Moon” (both parts) is full of wonder and the unknown. “Cruising in Space” feels very much like its name: kinetic and gigantic. “Please Don’t Go” has the cinematic emotion that I mentioned earlier, and it typically puts me to tears. A similar track would be “Dear Mr. Alien” with its emotional orchestral hook and absolutely beautiful melodies. The album closer “So Small” is such an appropriately filmic and introspective ending that I usually feel like I’m going to melt.
There is a foursome of tracks with similar names that I want to spotlight, as well. “Made from Air”, “Made from Water”, “Made from Earth”, and “Made from Fire” are their names, and they obviously represent the four elements of nature in Greek philosophy. These songs have a certain magic to them, “Air” giving us a pop-infused melody; “Water” being a slow-burning, yet quite aquatic in its melody; “Earth” feeling very green and epic and mountainous; and “Fire” having something of a burning, spine-tingling, and even tumultuous rhythm. These songs are perhaps the unsung heroes of this record.
Let’s review Humanity thus far. Chapter I was mighty and truly spectacular, exploring the beauty of our brief existence. I still love listening to that one all the time. Chapter II was almost as good, though it had a particular track that still probably hasn’t been beaten in this series; the record explored humanity’s story-telling abilities. Chapter III came along, and I felt it lacked ideas, even though I was looking forward to the more reserved tone of the album as it covered humanity’s ability to love. This new album turns our eyes towards the stars, and I think Bergersen has crafted his best chapter so far. Every track is a stunning tour of his brilliant epic style, though he throws curve balls and alien melodies in to keep things interesting. With this chapter released, I’m even more excited for the final three albums, and the inevitable physical release of all seven.
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