Saturday, January 25, 2014

Soundtrack Suggestion: Silent Hill 4

Silent Hill 4
by Akira Yamaoka
Vocals by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn and Joe Romersa

Silent Hill 4 had two discs, but only the first disc is covered in this review.  The second disc was an audio drama called "Inescapable Rain in Yoshiwara" and is not applicable for this review.  Fans of the Silent Hill series would definitely be aware of how different this soundtrack seems to be compared to the first three.  The presence of vocals in many songs is quite evident, and while this does not lessen the mood or atmosphere of the soundtrack per se, it does limit the usability of those tracks for one's games.

The soundtrack is composed of 22 tracks, with many of the tracks oddly actually not being present in the game itself.  The dark foreboding and oppressive atmosphere of the songs remains present and strong, retaining the distinct identity introduced in the first  few soundtracks of the Silent Hill brand.

The album opens with Tender Sugar (Track 01) which would have been a great piece for a game had it not had the excellent vocals by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn.  This same sad judgement call would have to apply as well to Cradel (sic) of Forest (Track 11), Your Rain (Track 15), Room of Angel (Track 21), and more so with Waiting for You (Track 22) which is a live performance (complete with audience applause and cheering).  As this is a review on the viability of the Soundtrack on being used in table top games, let's mark these tracks as non-usable this early save for those who are willing to risk having vocals disrupt the game.

Waverer (Track 02) opens with an engaging beat formed by the snare drum and cymbals, but then quickly shifts to a dissonant set of disturbing piano chords.  The total combination, however, nicely works to a spooky effect. Fortunate Sleep - No One Disturb Her Dead (Track 03) carries the same feel but utilizes syncopated beats and piano keys with an echoing effect giving the piece a nice haunting quality.  

Melancholy Requiem (Track 04) is a strong favorite of mine from this soundtrack, that combines haunting with an almost positive "You Can Do It" feel which is perfect for opening sequences in a game.  Admittedly, the Silent Hill 4 game uses this as the game's beginning song as well.  The song does have a sudden shift to an almost introspective feel near the end, but all in all it still works out nicely in a loop.   This track isn't as awesome as Drops of Shame (Track 06) however, which very delicately uses piano keys to contrast the base beat created by an almost industrial percussion.  Perfectly loopable and immersive. Silent Circus (Track 08) nicely bookends Melancholy Requiem, and can almost be used as good scene change track.  Not to dark,but not to happy either.

Confinement (Track 05) is a harsh guitar riff that makes me thing gang members.  It would do good for scenes of conflict though.  Resting Comfortably (Track 15) would have been pretty awesome to contrast Confinement had it been longer than 51 seconds.  It is, however, a wonderful piece to use for any moment of hope and light in an otherwise dark game. The Last Mariachi (Track 16) is deliciously disturbing, with a guitar focused motif that tries to create a harmony, yet gives the impression of something just not quite right.  A great atmospheric piece especially for unexpected moments.  Underground Dawn - Never Come (Track 18) seems undecided if its a background piece or if it is supposed to be a live performance.  It seems to be both, and thus wins a slot in the WTF area.  Fever Chill (Track 19) would be the elevator music version of that WTF moment. 

The Suicidal Clock Chime (Track 07) feels weaker than most tracks.  It was created to sound like the chimes of a distant bell, with the distortions almost making one thing it was tolling underwater.    Traversing the Portals of Reality (Track 09) feels very jarring given the rest of the soundtrack.  It isn't a bad piece, but it does feel a bit closer to a weird pulp movie.  Doesn't loop as well either.  Into the Depths of Self Discovery (Track 10) feel like the slow approach of a relentless threat.  The music builds in a careful pace that unsettles without distracting.   Not my favorite, though.

Nightmarish Waltz (Track 13) reminds me of how horror was approached back in the 80s, with a distinct harmony created with the synthesizer and a repeating motif in its approach.    In contrast, Pulsating Ambience (Track 14) is an excellent piece, with the synth nicely punctuated by a steady heart-beat of a percussion.  The occasional wah just adds to the piece nicely.  A nice nod towards a brighter moment in a sea of darkness.  Wounded Warsong (Track 17) ups the danger with a spiraling leitmotif that, if faster, would sound like an alarm siren.  The song is versatile enough to be a combat track if the gm wanted a battle that had a tactical feel.

Remodeling (Track 20) is a throwback to the industrial beats introduced in the very first Silent Hill soundtrack, but has hissing sounds that make me think of mechanical crickets.  The final result reminds me of those 1940s information videos.

Overall, the soundtrack has potential for many games, but what bothers me is how there aren't any tracks that work for sad, depressed, dramatic moments.  The music seems so caught up in sounding different and disturbing that I feel they lost a lot of opportunity for more emotive pieces.  But yes, it remains a worthy addition to one's soundtrack collection for game masters who want to push their games another step forward.

Silent Hill 4 OST track suggestions:WTF moment: The Last Mariachi (Track 16), Underground Dawn - Never Come (Track 18), Fever Chill (Track 19), Remodeling (Track 20)
Introspective/calm moment: Weaver (Track 02), Fortunate Sleep - No One Disturb Her Dead (Track 03), Melancholy Requiem (Track 04), Silent Circus (Track 08),  Traversing the Portals of Reality (Track 09)
Tense/mystery moment: Drops of Shame (Track 06), The Suicidal Clock Chime (Track 07),  Into the Depths of Self Discovery (Track 10)
Combat music: Confinement (Track 05), Wounded Warsong (Track 17)
Hopeful moment: Resting Comfortably (Track 15), Nightmarish Waltz (Track 13), Pulsating Ambience (Track 14)
Drama/sad moment:  None

Best Used In:  Dark games. Modern setting feels more necessary here, although I can imagine this being effective for post apocalyptic settings as well.  Not as flexible as Silent Hill 2 or Silent Hill 3, but definitely more flexibility than Silent Hill 1's soundtrack.

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