Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Riz Ortolani—
Day Of Anger


Released 1970 on RCA
The Seth Man, June 2011ce
Italian composer Riz Ortolani’s career flourished slowly but steadily in his homeland during the mid-fifties scoring low-budgeted television shows and film productions. But in 1961, his work on the documentary “Malesia Magica” predated a watershed moment two years later when his co-composed music with Nino Oliviero for the soundtrack of the notorious documentary “Mondo Cane” rose to prominent notice when its title theme “Ti Guarderò Nel Cuore (More)” was awarded a Grammy as well as an Oscar nomination for Best Song. With his reputation now internationally established, the work came fast and furious: Ortolani’s first western soundtrack, “Shatterhand,” followed in 1964 and for the next several years five further soundtracks for films of the old west variety, alongside two additional documentaries by the makers of “Mondo Cane”...

Then came “Day Of Anger” -- One of his finest and most finely-tuned works. Although the soundtrack album was slightly flawed by aspects of its presentation, its contents remain outside of Ennio Morricone some of the most intense recordings ever recorded for a spaghetti western soundtrack.

The assembly of the “Day Of Anger” soundtrack was first hampered by the lag in the overseas export of Italian western films alongside their accompanying soundtracks. First released in Italy as “I Giorni Dell’Ira” in December of 1967, a stateside release for both film and soundtrack did not appear until 1970. But when it did, it was rife with anomalies: the original mono recording was rechanneled into stereo, several tracks were remixed and all occasional sound effects were excised. The programming of tracks remained the same but since the majority of them were littered with about as many rehashes of two themes (“Day Of Anger” and “Till The Last Shot”) as the film itself was with bullet-ridden corpses, by side two a pervading sense of more-than-déjà vu and the album almost approaches the realm of little more than an exaggerated EP. On re-extended-play-times-four.

But still, WHAT an EP: Eleven wholly instrumental tracks of spaghetti western bombast and mood swing-sets galore, “Day Of Anger” is pure sonic Techniscopic enchantment unchallenged by its imposed cut and paste/switch and bait policies. Informed as much by Morricone’s spaghetti Western soundtracks as his own predilection for lush string arrangements and aggressive, shrill horn sections pitched at severe tempo changes, Ortolani also employed prominent use of an electric group comprised of two guitars, bass and drums that gave the proceedings a distinctively rockin’ flair that becomes all-too evident when the record kicks off with the explosive title track, “Day Of Anger.” This is the shortest fuse for the biggest blast and is one of the craziest intros for a Spaghetti Western main theme, ever. A supremely agitated, reverbed and spidery electric guitar run delivers then cuts out for a quick series of bombastic drum rolls while slashing, screeching horns blast over and over again. The guitar repeats its hasty zigzag, cutting out for more horns and drum rolls. And again. And then a re-hammering home of the drum rolls and horns four more times. Oh, but it’s fucking relentless and just when you come to your senses, the smoke clears with a reverbed electric rhythm guitar squashed to the back of the mix by a lead guitar chiming on 12-string Rickenbacker like a fuzz-less 1967 Davie Allan reverting to his twanging of yore. Pressing on at mid-horse gallop tempo, string section vignettes start swelling while horns blast in choppy tempo’d crescendo to cause the string section to slide away in mutable pitch. The horn section and twangy guitar segments trade off in renditions of the theme until finally, the rhythm guitar gently repeats along with the strings until it all recedes into silence.

Sharing the same title of an unrelated track on Morricone’s “A Fistful Of Dollars” soundtrack, “Without Pity” is the album’s first dramatic underscore. Sparse horns and tympani resound low until a sudden pressure drop into searing strings and reverbed guitar accents while tense horns abruptly dart in and out. After the strings and guitar merge into an unresolved end, a solo trumpet blows mournfully through “A Clear Night,” a slow and somber orchestral piece that captures a Morricone-esque build to a gunfight prelude (or a collapse into aftermath, for that matter) as all is desolation and melancholy string sectioning. “The Killer’s Arm” is a quick two-parter featuring solo electric guitar Spanish riff latticework abruptly and roughly dampened into hand-pressed silence until a reentry of the brass-led part of the “Day Of Anger” theme from the album’s onset a mere three tracks ago. “Till The Last Shot” is a reprise of “A Clear Night” rendered in gunfight aftermath (or prelude, for that matter) mode with guitar and horns trading off in front of continuous strings rendered as a slow, swaying pendulum effect while drums nail it all to dirge tempo. Cutting away for a brief and reflective guitar solo, the theme is then propelled forward with severe horn fanfaring. Continuing in the reiteration zone, a shorter and sloppier version of “Day Of Anger” frantically bursts in with explosive drum rolls and crescendos until everything drops off into several seconds of silence before embarking into the main passage with tempestuously shrieking horns -- horns that drown out even most of the twang guitar and backdrop of strings until a crescendo reins it all in to an abrupt halt.

Side two reprises much of side one’s material, with a near identical version of “Till The Last Shot” and a return to the pendulum swing of blanketing strings sustaining over twanging rhythm guitar and the same crawl-tempo drums. The only difference here is that strident horns are positioned to ridiculous blaring extremities of trills and thrills that drive you up and over the nearest wall. “Violence, Hate” is a strategically placed number and one whose moody, quiet gravity runs counterpoint to the surrounding trebly horn discharges. A drum-less piece primarily underscored with swirling orchestral strings, tympani and more of those rough and unexpected hand-muted guitar nuances punctuate the air until no soon does it begin to build than it concludes immediately. The sedateness follows with “A Clear Night” as a lonesome harmonica resurrects the “Till The Last Shot” theme accompanied by a string section of supreme melancholia. “A Strong Man” is another track comprised of two parts: The first a mild, orchestral, near-sub-“House Of The Rising Sun” passage while the second is -- you guessed it -- yet another replay of the main theme of “Day Of Anger” with additional banjo strumming in call and response like a burro to the main theme’s unbroken, bucking bronco. A twangy rhythm guitar and then: just banjo, guitar and bass until a flourish from the string section draws it to a close.

Finally, a fifth version of “Till The Last Shot” not dissimilar to the previous two resounds to round out a soundtrack of oft-repeated and reshuffled motifs. As the album liner notes state: ‘You’re sure to love listening to this album again and again as it brings all the stirring motion of Riz Ortolani’s brilliant score into your home.’ True: it is stirring, it is brilliant but the operative phrase here would have to be ‘again and again’ because after an initial play, you’ve already heard two songs up to four or five times so even after you listen to it ONCE you’ll feel like you HAVE heard it ‘again and again’...Simply because you have. And by the looks of it, will for some time. Because “Day Of Anger” was not only a harsh soundtrack for 1967, but also for 1970 when it was first released in the USA; for 1972 when its main theme was used in the Hong Kong martial arts film, “Ma Su Chen”; and even for the media oversaturated 21st Century when Quentin Tarantino used the main title theme in “Kill Bill Vol. 2.” I wouldn’t even be surprised to see its constant reuse in the future not only in film soundtracks but supermarkets, malls, high school proms and the Dubai version of Westworld (upon its completion in 2020.)