[Exclusive - Apocalypto - First Listen]

After the success of The Passion of the Christ, director Mel Gibson embarked on a unique project. He wanted to tell a story that took place during the decline of the Maya civilization, and shoot it with relatively unknown actors speaking in a native Mayan dialect. The plot of the film is deceptively simple: Jungle dweller Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) and his fellow tribesmen are captured by the Holcane tribe and brought to the Maya city, where they are intended to be sacrificed to help stop the decline of the city. But Jaguar Paw managed to secret his wife and son away before being captured, and now he has to escape his captors and return to his loved ones. But, as the marketing campaign asks, can he outrun his destiny?

Collaborating with Gibson on the music is composer James Horner, who has scored two of Gibson's other directorial efforts (The Man Without a Face, Braveheart). For the score to Apocalypto, Horner has foregone the use of the 90-piece orchestras that he's used to working with, and in exchange has employed a small ensemble of musicians. The resulting work blends rhythmic tribal percussion, ethnic flutes, pipes and woodwinds, synth strings and brass, and vocalizations provided by famed Qawwali singer Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Terry Edwards. It's an unconventional score, but there are moments that are distinctly that of Horner's style. There are a few themes, mainly heard on the ethnic flutes, representing the love that Jaguar Paw has for his wife and son, as well as the jungle itself, and the safety that Jaguar Paw seeks within its comforting green canopy.

On Tuesday the soundtrack to Apocalypto will be released by Hollywood Records, and in anticipation of the release, SoundtrackNet is pleased to bring our readers an exclusive "First Listen" analysis of the soundtrack, along with sound clips for every track on the album.

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1. From the Forest... (1:55)

The score begins as slowly descending strings softly fade in, backed by atmospheric jungle sounds including birds and insects (much like what Horner did in the opening of The New World). A low vocalization (Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan) rests beneath it, and then the descending notes slowly fade out. Khan ominously sings, as low percussion hits sparsely play through. It's a calming track, and lowers our defenses, in time for the next track to fully shatter the peace.

2. Tapir Hunt (1:31)

The opening sequence of the film has Jaguar Paw and his tribe hunting a tapir through the jungle. Percussion hits set up a fast tribal rhythm, with occasional wind instrument effects. The vocalizations (done by Khan and Terry Edwards) vary greatly, and the two of them create a plethora of different sounds, including throat singing creating an otherworldly effect.

3. The Storyteller's Dreams (3:41)

Woods softly play an indigenous sounding melody, as the soft rustle of percussion creates a water flowing effect. Reed instruments softly come in sustaining a chord, as the woods continue their melody, and then a percussive rhythm starts takes hold. The melody continues on the flute, and then after soft synth wash (sounding a bit like a string swell), faster percussion starts up. The synth slowly courses over us in waves, and the piece comes to a close.

4. Holcane Attack (9:28)

Quite low notes slowly swell, and then after a brief pause, sustained high notes in the synth wash come up gradually, with bursts of pipe and percussion. Throat singing, pipe bursts and strings create a sense of dread. Now it's just a soft woodwind melody and the strings, creating a sorrowful tone, with occasional pipe bursts and vocalizations. A steady percussion rhythm starts up, with pounding bass drums and an ascending string melody. This now turns into an elegy of sorts, as the battle is lost, which grows and then gives way to a soft flute statement of the main love theme. More pipe bursts and vocalizations overlay the sad strings as they build upwards. Now pounding percussion comes in, along with the synth wash. The strings build up higher, with the synth wash hanging above it all. The vocalizations cease, leaving us with high sustained strings, and synth wash. Now Khan comes back, with a mournful and haunting vocalization.

5. Captives (3:06)

Strings start out the track, and then we get percussion effects, woodwinds, pipe bursts, and vocalizations all slowly entering, overlaid on top of another in a softly cyclical pattern. Halfway through, it all fades out, leaving only woodwinds and synth strings playing off each other.

6. Entering the City with a Future Foretold (6:05)

As Jaguar Paw and his fellow captives are brought to the city, they proceed through increasingly diverse areas of the declining Maya civilization. Atmosphere is created with a slowly downward moving tone, followed up by some vocalization. A lone woodwind softly cries out, and intermittent pipe bursts underlie the vocals. It's a creepy track, and the softness is shattered with a large hit. Now pipe bursts provide some rhythm, and dissonant brass swells slowly accelerate the pace, as the strings hold high with occasional percussion hits. After this builds for a bit, a percussion hit gives way to a bit of vocalization, and then another hit brings us fluttering woodwind noises, and high flutes. Another hit, and a chord is slowly built using possibly synth strings and brass. It fades out, and then a dramatic chord builds and then shifts with subtle flanged effect, as more hits and vocalization build. A burst of dissonant reed woodwinds, like those heard in Howard Shore's The Cell are heard as the captives are brought out into the main city plaza, and a few more percussion hits bring the track to a close.

7. Sacrificial Procession (3:40)

Somber tones and woods softly grow as the melody plays out. A burst of the dissonant reeds and percussion herald the start of the procession. Tension builds with what sounds like moaning brass, and pained vocalizations are heard as Jaguar Paw and the others realize what fate awaits them atop the pyramid. A double hit of percussion, and it all echoes away, leaving a soft chord that sustains, and then slowly slides downward.


8. Words Through the Sky - The Eclipse (5:11)

Ominous strings and a soft woodwind version of the love theme slowly play out as Jaguar Paw thinks of his family, and then the destiny theme is heard. Now a lone pipe calls out, alternating up and down, as a low tone carries it. Soft bass hits bring in the vocalizations, followed by the strings, while specific phonetics are emitted in sharp contrast to the soft wailing. A melody is softly playing underneath what sounds like words being sharply - yet quietly - uttered, and then the track ends.

9. The Games and Escape (5:15)

Pounding percussion, low moan vocalizations, and pipe bursts start off this track. A trailing flutter of a lone pipe, and then it all kicks in again, more pervasively this time. Clear statements of percussion rhythms and patterns create a bed for the pipes and woodwinds. A pause, and then clanging percussion with synth strings swell upwards into another percussive sequence. Low atmosphere holds its own for a while, then a rush swells into syncopated pipe bursts and percussion to create a pattern, which is soon joined by synth strings. Now a solitary flute, backed by soft string pads plays out the jungle theme, as Jaguar Paw reaches what could be a route to freedom. This is followed by the destiny theme, as he enters the jungle with pursuers on his trail.

10. An Elusive Quarry (2:15)

Low atmosphere slowly builds into a percussion break, with low chanting. It works as chase music, with lots of musical effects. The track ends with a "pah!" exclamation and the harsh shriek of a waterphone.

11. Frog Darts (2:45)

Strings bring in the jungle theme on a pipe, and it softly plays, bouncing between the pipes and the strings. Now a bit of percussion starts up, and some punctuated vocalizations trade off with synth string swells. The rhythm picks up pace, and then a burst of pipes shift the rhythm to a new pattern. Trilling flutes softly underscore the percussion and string swells that climax in an echoing metallic hit as it ends.

12. No Longer the Hunted (5:50)

Atmosphere and low bass drum hits swell in waves, and then a low grinding rocky sound is heard as it all builds up to a steady rhythm, with a bit of vocalization. A pause, and now the jungle theme is heard again back on pipes, and now all of the elements build in intensity, as the percussion gets faster. Strings and pipe play off the theme, with synth string swells. After it crests, it calms back down to a low atmospheric wash, which starts to grow as percussion pounds. A zipping metallic shriek on the waterphone and "pah!" vocalization are heard, and another adversary is dispatched. The flute comes back with the jungle theme, and Jaguar Paw goes to find his family. A flutter, and now the percussion and strings trade off ominously, and then the track ends on a soft note with a low pulse.

13. Civilisations Brought By Sea (2:20)

Pounding percussion and brass chords softly play regally, and then are joined by dramatic strings building to a climax as the final chase comes to a finish. Now the flute plays the love theme in a solitary fashion, and the film comes to a close.

14. To the Forest... (7:31)

The jungle sounds are back, in this bookend track to the album. As with the opening, descending strings slowly play as soft vocalization is heard underneath. It slowly grows louder, becoming clearer in definition. When he finishes, a flute comes in playing the love theme, which is then softly joined by strings. A sustaining note is held, and the jungle noises softly return, as well as the descending strings. The resulting effect is calm and soothing, and low bass drum hits slowly interrupt it, along with ominous vocalization. Now Khan is backed only by the steady percussion and a low sustained tone. As he mournfully fades away, the track and album come to a close.

Apocalypto will be released in theaters on December 8, 2006, and the score album will be released on December 5, 2006.

Special thanks to Matt Brant at Hollywood Records