Both Scott Walker and Ingmar Bergman can certainly be described as literary within their respective fields. It’s a loose descriptive that usually means that the work has depth, scope and a cerebral quality beyond what you usually get from the genre. Walker’s songs were not only verbose, as he rattled off lyrics at a canter, but they weaved and explored through diverse fields and concepts.
When it comes to conceptual exploration, however, you’d struggle to find a finer example in film history than Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. In this regard, the classic film was primed perfectly for Scott Walker to take on in a sonic form. With his song of the same name, Scott Walker pretty much recaptures the entire plot of Ingmar Bergman iconic 1957 film, so much so that if you haven’t seen the Swedish cinematic masterpiece, then the song might be one big spoiler.
Walker’s work was pretty much always cinematic owing to its billowing orchestral scope. On this occasion, he chooses to reimagine the Bergman soundtrack, turning it into some almost Morricone-esque minor key orchestral pop.
Like all of Scott Walker’s best outings, the track lingers in the perfect rarefied air just before bravura becomes over-the-top. Much like the film, it is dark, mysterious and blistering with searing artistic intent. The Scott Walker 4 LP from which the song is taken is profuse in this style all the way through, landing it in the cult classic status.
The film itself was conceived by Bergman during a crisis of faith, and as a result, it allegorically tackles themes relating to religious doubt, a loss of faith and death. In the film, death takes on a physical form, and the battle with accepting its presence is played out literally in a chess match, as Walker’s lyrics suggest, “Anybody seen a knight pass this way/ I saw him playing chess with Death yesterday/ His crusade was a search for God and they say/ It’s been a long way to carry on.”
It was lyrical wizardry like this and the wide-ranging world of arts from which Walker drew inspiration that led David Bowie to say that he was his “idol since [he] was a kid.” As Bowie added, “He really didn’t want to abide by the rules of the genre. He kind of opted out of rock very early on in his career. It just seems he wanted to expand in some very unusual ways. And that was pretty much what I wanted to do. And it was always guys like that that I admired.”
Few songs epitomise his mantra quite like the Bergman-inspired classic ‘The Seventh Seal’.