March 18, 2009
Buy at Official Site
After a period of relatively little work on video games in the mid-2000s, Klepacki returned to the industry with two Star Wars game scores in 2006 and Universe at War: Earth Assault in 2007. The following year even saw him working again on the franchise that had made him famous, collaborating with James Hannigan and Tim Wynn on Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3. In his online notes on his fifth solo album Infiltrator, Klepacki recalled his excitement of being a part of the game, and how it inspired him to “crank[…] out ideas left and right and tapping into the sound of Red Alert and Red Alert 2.”
Disappointingly, Klepacki only got to contribute a handful of metal tracks to Red Alert 3, which turned to be easily the soundtrack’s best portions. Mentally back in the universe of his earlier Command & Conquer scores, Klepacki “was left with this overflow of some cool ideas for songs that could fit into this world, as if it could have stylistically picked right up from Red Alert 2.” Infiltrator would become the outlet for Klepacki’s unused Red Alert 3 material and a conscious return to the sound of Red Alert and Red Alert 2. The result turned out to be Klepacki’s “favourite complete album.”
Klepacki has good reason to be particularly proud of Infiltrator, as it narrowly edges out his 2004 solo album Rocktronic to take pride of place as his best solo album to date. Like Rocktronic, Infiltrator is consistently strong from beginning to end, but both the song writing and the album recording are even better on Infiltrator. While Virtual Control and Awakening of Aggression had seen Klepacki moving away from his Command & Conquer sound, Infiltrator captures that trademark blend of genres without slavishly re-enacting Klepacki’s C&C soundtracks. While Klepacki’s metal contributions to Red Alert 3 could have indicated that Infiltrator would follow a similar musical path, the album showcases that Klepacki had a much more stylistically expansive vision for the game.
That’s not to say that Infiltrator doesn’t have some satisfyingly bonecrushing riffage on offer. In fact, the album announces its intention to rock hard right from the start with “Militant Funk”, one of Klepacki’s heaviest blends of hard rock and funk/hip hop. Everything that made Klepacki’s earlier tracks in this genre so memorable is on display here as well – it’s a concise, punchy track that shows Klepacki at his grooving best. An intense, rousing opener, “Militant Funk” sets the bar high for the rest of the album, and fortunately, Infiltrator consistently lives up to this opening salvo. “Ownage” and album closer “The Reaping” are no holds barred hard rocking tunes that start with the amplifiers dialled up to maximum and keep chugging onwards from there. “Ownage” is the more aggressive of the two tracks, with a metal edge that gives the track a blistering intensity that stands out even among the rest of Klepacki’s consistently strong hard rock output. It helps that Infiltrator features the best guitar sound of any of Klepacki’s solo albums so far. A more militaristic, march-driven episode during “Ownage” inevitably recalls Klepacki’s Red Alert classic “Hell March”, but the track lays a scale-storming guitar solo on top of the goose stepping rhythms. The solo brings to mind a similar passage on Awakening of Aggression‘s “Kill” – only this time, the solo feels like a natural part of the track.
To bring some variety to its flow, “The Reaping” throws in clever syncopations that still maintain the track’s white hot energy, before the song heads off into a gloriously head-banging finale. While almost exclusively focusing on hard rock and metal elements, both “Ownage” and “The Reaping” also effortlessly include some brief slapped bass leads that serve to give the music an even stronger edge. Among these enthusiastically rocking tracks, “Bulldozer” pales a little bit in comparison, but is an absolutely convincing cue in itself. The song’s Red Alert 2 flair is no coincidence – as Klepacki points out in his notes on Infiltrator, “Bulldozer” uses the same guitar, drum and amplifier sound as that game score. However, “Bulldozer” not only recycles the sound of Klepacki’s game soundtracks, but makes another, more interesting reference to those works – the track is also a succinct, coherent summary of Klepacki’s Command & Conquer style at large. The cue opens with a stomping drum rhythm and lumbering, uncompromising guitar riffs that suit the track’s title perfectly, but then the music seamlessly segues into a funky passage with a cool bass line, and later into a synth-driven interlude over echoing metal clanging. It’s an impressive miniature version of both the eclecticism and the consistency at the heart of Command & Conquer’s music.
“Bulldozer” is not the only track on Infiltrator that consciously reaches back to Klepacki’s Command & Conquer heyday and celebrates the still highly individual sound he created for these games. “Odd Funk” is a electro/funk hybrid that features some surprisingly catchy synth melody leads floating on top of its electrified funk rhythms. However, what long time fans of Klepacki’s work will enjoy particularly about this track are the orchestral hits that complement the distorted staccato funk/synth parts – both are nostalgic reminders of Command & Conquer and its stylistic freshness. Even tough Klepacki deploys his Command & Conquer formula without too many changes here and elsewhere on Infiltrator, the album still manages to sound original, because few other Western game composers have tried to replicate the formula, let alone with the same success as Klepacki. “Get On It” is another journey across different Command & Conquer scores, combining powerful techno beats with militaristic aggression and melodic, atmospheric synth leads that lend the music greater depth and scope, befitting a battlefield scenario where the fate of nations hangs in the balance. As on the rest of the album, Klepacki judges and implements his tempo changes flawlessly.
“Odd Funk” and “Get On It” highlight the electronic, mostly hard rock/metal-free side of Infiltrator, and true to form, Klepacki continues to play with this aspect of his music on other album tracks. “Infiltrator” and “The Edge” are similar in the way they mix funk and hip hop rhythms with hard grooving synth elements, and then juxtapose this rhythmic undergrowth with futuristic, lighter synth melodies and timbres. As a result, both tracks retain the album’s high energy level, but at the same time help to relax the music a bit and add variety to the album flow. “Infiltrator” develops particularly well, segueing into a quiet, spaced out mid-section before building again over intensifying beats and a catchy, descending synth melody lead. Speaking of Infiltrator‘s album flow, like some of Klepacki’s other solo albums, it groups the album’s less aggressive material around the album’s midway point to achieve coherency across these tracks, and to also allow the album to cool down a bit before ramping up again for the home stretch. This strategy helps Infiltrator‘s most individualistic tracks, “Construct” and “Chillin” – programmed back to back – to form an organic part of the album. “Construct” is a particularly fun track, written by Klepacki as an homage to one of his “heroes of compositions”, Vince DiCola, most famous for his Transformers (1986) and Rocky IV scores. Klepacki establishes the required 80s flair with ease through a catchy synth chord progression and an anthemic drum kit rhythm, which in combination give the music the right degree of cartoon heroism. The stomping drums also allow Klepacki to subtly introduce heavier elements into the mix, such as the electric guitar which takes over in the track’s second half with a ripper of a solo.
Lastly, “Chillin” does exactly what the title promises, while benefiting from Klepacki’s penchant for colourful and varied arrangements that give the music space to breathe and develop. Just listen to the funk guitar motif mixed in with the deep bass and relaxed synth beats to give the music just the right amount of cool smoothness, or how “Chillin” moves into a funkier groove in its mid-section with some ear-catching syncopations. It’s worth pointing out “Chillin”’s similarity to “Cosmic Lounge” on Klepacki’s solo debut Morphscape, and how “Chillin” avoids that earlier track’s muddled, overloaded arrangement, instead creating music that is both relaxed and densely layered.
It’s easy to summarise Infiltrator as a first-class return to the Command & Conquer sound that Klepacki pioneered almost 15 years earlier in his career. Still, it’s not a simple regurgitation of his earlier video game work – the guitars and drums rock harder on Infiltrator, while Klepacki successfully tries his hand at a couple of tracks (“Construct”, “Chillin”) that don’t necessarily push the boundaries of his body of work as a whole, but still add some colours that one wouldn’t have found on his Command & Conquer scores. With consistently excellent song writing and not a single filler track in sight, Infiltrator manages the balancing act between eclecticism and coherency even more successfully than Klepacki’s previous solo albums. For fans of Klepacki’s Command & Conquer soundtracks, Infiltrator is the best place to start exploring his solo career.
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Posted on April 21, 2014 by Simon Elchlepp. Last modified on April 16, 2014.