Magnet, The Wicker Man – Original Soundtrack

Amanda Petrusich

By Amanda Petrusich

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

According to legend (and a book about the Gallic Wars, written by Julius Ceasar), ancient Druids once routinely erected giant wicker figures, strapped in human sacrifices, and burned them down in effigy, as a homicidal homage to Pagan gods. Neo-pagans have since ditched the murderous bits, but still build big wicker men and set them on fire — see the annual Burning Man festival.

The eerie soundtrack to a cult horror classic

In 1973, British director Robin Hardy released the cult horror classic The Wicker Man, which follows a devout Christian detective to the remote Hebridian island of Summerisle to investigate an anonymous missing-girl report. Alas, there is no missing girl, and the detective is eventually tucked in the belly of a wicker man and sacrificed by the neo-Pagans now occupying the island, who believe he will save their harvest. (Neil La Bute directed a considerably less successful American version in 2006.)

The soundtrack to Hardy's film was unavailable until 1998, when Trunk Records dubbed a mono version from an abridged cut (like the original negatives, the master tapes had been mysteriously misplaced), complete with dialogue and audio clips from the movie. Composed and arranged by Paul Giovanni and Magnet (a band birthed solely to perform Giovanni's work for the film), the original soundtrack consists of traditional British folksongs, nursery rhymes and original pieces, culminating with the creepy Middle English round "Sumer Is Icumen In," warbled by the cast as the detective, screaming Psalm 23, is burned inside the Wicker Man.

In 2002, Silva Screen Records released a stereo version, drafted from the (now found) original tapes, including the previously unreleased "Gentle Johnny." Giovanni's strange, vaguely sinister treatments of folksongs influenced an entire generation of British folksingers (and, subsequently, a new class of freak-folk strummers), and have been revived by former Pentangle players Danny Thompson and Jacqui McShee. Magnet's unsettling blend of recorder, mouth harp, acoustic guitar, violin, concertina, harmonica, bassoon, piano, fife and Nordic lyre, coupled with Giovanni's deep, billowing vocals, is ancient and unsettling without feeling unreal — making it the perfect accompaniment to an archaic tradition, revived to horrific ends.