I'm not exactly an expert at reviewing these, so I'll tell you now - I'm not going to comment on how well the score works in the film. Neither am I going to go into the usual Hans Zimmer issues of never leaving the comfort zone, relying on ghostwriters etc. etc. All I'm here to do is comment on the entertainment value of this CD.
Angels and Demons is one of Hans Zimmer's best soundtracks, and it corrects the few ills of The Da Vinci Code. DVC was a beautiful work, but poorly paced in places. Tracks like "Daniel's 9th Cipher", for example, drag on and on (for 9:33 in this case). For A&D, the song "Science and Religion" is a whopping 12:27 minutes long - but it somehow manages not to outstay its welcome.
I'll go through this soundtrack song by song, just so you know what you're in for.
1. 160 BPM (the track title refers to the tempo, 160 beats per minute. I play cello, and can tell you that is DAMN FAST): This is far and away the best track on the album. I won't give too much away, but it's written in an extremely catchy 7/8 beat and employs a large and extremely layered chorus (representing, of course, Religion). The percussion section in this piece gets one hell of a workout, often performing ridiculously syncopated rhythms with seeming ease (maybe that's because they're synthesized, but they sure as heck sound real). This song is a clear 10/10 for me, one of Zimmer's best action pieces yet.
2. GOD PARTICLE: Here, Zimmer uses the solo violin of Joshua Bell (which makes several reappearances throughout the album), performing the main "Chevaliers de Sangreal" theme in an eerily cold way over a chopping string ostinato, before moving into a very dramatic five-note theme. The rest of this song is not as strong, employing some obviously synthetic effects (representing, of course, Science) and ending on a pensive, piano reprise of the main theme. 6/10.
3. AIR: More of Bell's lovely violin solos open this one up, followed by a male-choral hymn evoking the more religious sections of Crimson Tide and The Peacemaker. At the two-minute mark, though, things speed up noticeably into an excellent action suite that never quite reaches the catchiness of 160 BPM, but comes darn close. Again, the chorus and frenetic percussion section both play a satisfying major role. 9/10
4. FIRE: Echoey choral effects augmented by Bell's violin meander for a little, before the choir literally explodes at 2:27 into shouting - rather than singing. It's a very spooky, apocalyptic effect and its use makes for a captivating action cue that does, admittedly, take rather a long time to get started. My favorite part of this track, though, is the well-paced music that takes up the final minute-and-a-half of this seven-minute suite. It's suspenseful stuff, perfect to accompany the discoveries of Robert Langdon. 7/10.
5. BLACK SMOKE: This is the most brazenly synthetic of all the songs on this album, and detractors of Zimmer's electronically-aided style might want to avoid this one - there are plenty of clicking, grinding and howling percussive synth effects here. It's breathless for the first three minutes, but kind of tapers out during the last half. 7/10.
6. SCIENCE AND RELIGION: The tour-de-force of Joshua Bell's violin. It's the most beautiful track on the album, with variations on the Chevaliers theme accompanied by organ and voice in an extremely echoey environment. This track evokes memories of The Thin Red Line's string adagios and, especially, the angelic choirs and neo-classicism of Hannibal. About halfway through, the music breaks into a more rhythmically flowing piece, dramatic and powerful, before the song tapers out on high-pitched, almost crystalline music. Zimmer enthusiasts will be reminded of the end of Journey to the Line. Yes, parts of this LONG suite can drag, and a LOT of the music is slow almost to the point of minimalism, but the sheer beauty of the employed instruments makes up for it. 8/10.
7. IMMOLATION: Remember those low, plodding strings of Watch the World Burn from The Dark Knight? They're back with a vengeance in Immolation, a moody piece that builds upon itself in a far more satisfactory fashion than they did in Nolan's film. 7/10.
8. ELECTION BY ADORATION: This piece takes directly from the pages of The Da Vinci Code, more so than any other on the album so far. It's mostly Bell and the organ here, performing a religious subtheme heard in DVC's Fructus Gravis, among other songs. It's nice, but never really captivates me. 6/10.
9. 503 (apparently an important number for the Illuminati - ask Bob Langdon): Essentially, it's a Bell-led remix of the monumental Chevaliers theme from DVC. 503's faster and the thumping bass that was very faintly audible in DVC is much more apparent here, but the full orchestra of Chevaliers serves the theme better, and listening to the two in succession will not be favorable for the A&D version. Despite all this, it's a necessary and welcome inclusion on the album. 8/10.
I'm sure if you're reading this, you know it already, but it's possible to download an extra track (!) for Angels & Demons from the movie's official webpage. So...
10. H2O: It's disappointingly short (for all the intrigue it's managed to whip up) and does little but restate "Air", but provides one interesting addition - a troubled, bittersweet variation on Langdon's theme. At 1:52, it never overstays its welcome. 7/10.
All in all, I award Angels and Demons a score of NINE out of TEN. My consensus is that Zimmer corrected any ills that The Da Vinci Code had. It's a darker, faster, more action-driven variation on the slow, liturgical swells of the earlier movie, and all in all a very satisfactory experience. Great film music it will never be, and its themes are not presented in the usual obvious, horn-driven Zimmer-power-anthem style, but this may be welcome for those who are not as enamored by that über-masculine side of Hans Zimmer. Like Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Angels and Demons is a perfect melding of Zimmer's bombastic, masculine action and the lovely, (dare I say) more effeminate style he has recently taken to employing.