Silent Hill 2 Original Soundtracks
Silent Hill 2 Original Soundtracks
Konami Music Entertainment
October 3, 2001
Buy at CDJapan
Following up on the success of 1999’s Silent Hill, Konami soon started work on a sequel for the PlayStation 2. Silent Hill 2 retains the titular setting of its predecessor, but with a new protagonist and an increased focus on atmosphere and story rather than shock value. It was a remarkably mature game, and is considered by some a high point, perhaps the high point, of the series as a whole. Akira Yamaoka returned to create both score and sound, developing elements that had been merely glimpsed in the first game’s atmospheric ambience, and the resulting score has become the most popular to date in the series’ history.
The score for the first Silent Hill was predominantly ambient, without defined “pieces” of music as such, and on disc the tracks were merged into a coherent (if somewhat chaotic) listening experience by fading bits of one into the next or by contrasting loud pounding with quieter synth chords. Silent Hill 2‘s soundtrack maintains this approach, at least in part, but the pieces are much more easily defined as such, and fitting the game’s movement away from immediate shocks, there are fewer loud tracks and thus fewer immediate contrasts. The album feels more well defined as a result, and its story mirrors that of the game, drawing the listener in more deeply as it progresses.
The influences of rock and trip-hop hinted at occasionally in the first game’s score are prevalent here, and there are only a handful of ambient noise tracks reminiscent of the first game’s score. Stylistically, however, this marks a progression rather than a complete change of direction. The opening, “Theme of Laura”, is in many ways a direct successor to the first game’s “Silent Hill”, and even though it fits into genre of rock rather than the latter’s trip-hop influenced hybrid, it retains the same expressive and melancholic qualities that made its predecessor stand out. Its instrumentation is just as unique as the first, including vibraphone, mandolin, and violin in addition to the standard electric guitars (played with heavy reverb) and drum set. It is both hard-hitting and melodic, and that forms the principal source of its broad appeal. The theme is to this day the most famous and well-remembered piece of music from any game in the series, and Yamaoka has referred to it in later scores from time to time. In “Theme of Laura (Reprise)”, fragments of the melody are played by violin and then vibraphone over perpetual piano ostinati.
This minimalist flavor appears throughout, inspired as the score is by the generally repetitious genre of trip-hop. “Promise (Reprise)” builds up its ostinati (piano, synth, and vibraphone) in layers, with the occasional interjection from synth choir. “Terror in the Depths of the Fog” opens with a simple drum loop, to which layers of synthesizers and guitars are added. A bass line eventually gains prominence, as the percussion is reduced and then removed. Then it comes back and the line repeats until fade out. The following “True” also builds from a simple rising piano line, which is repeated throughout, adding a drum loop, then another piano line with vibraphone accents. Following a contrasting section, cello and vibraphone intone mournful melodic fragments. The whole is carried on a background of two quiet chords for synth choir. The composition shines not in its basic construction (which is simple) nor in its harmonic progression, which in its repetition serves to ground the other elements, but in its handling of all of these and its use of sound to achieve the greatest results from the simplest of materials.
The material of any music begins at the level of instrumentation, and Yamaoka fills Silent Hill 2‘s score with echoing, reverberating synth pads, vibraphone, electric piano, bell-like sounds, and anything else that gives the impression of a wide open space, contrasting wildly with the game’s claustrophobic corridors and enclosed rooms. The entire score attests to Yamaoka’s sensitivity to timbre. In “Null Moon”, the detuning of what sounds like electric piano reveals a set of bells. “Ordinary Vanity” features a lurching 5/4 electric piano ostinato, with other elements in other meters layered on top. “The Reverse Will” opens with a quiet synth chord that suddenly bursts into a trip-hop inspired piece with a driving, if downtempo, beat with record scratching, synth, and flute. A backmasked voice that sounds much like the scratched record is of a girl reciting bits of the Christian Lord’s Prayer. “Ashes and Ghost”, one of the relatively few ambient noise tracks here, combines what in the first soundtrack would have been several different tracks, each developing out of the preceding in a sort of stream of consciousness. Also ambient noise, “The Darkness That Lurks In Our Mind” opens with a loud drum stroke, and some lurching sounds that gradually grow closer, then breathing and a pounding drum akin to the first game, all in polymeter. Then it cuts off suddenly.
It is immediately followed by the heavy metal track “Angel’s Thanatos”, distorted and grungy with its repetitive riffs and rhythms and its hollow-sounding drums. The next rock track, “Love Psalm”, is much more akin to the first game’s “She”, using a much cleaner guitar sound and the same 70s aesthetic. In later games the same style would be adapted for McGlynn songs, particularly 4’s “Your Rain”. “Overdose Delusion” is harder hitting, but still melodic. In its last section, the various riffs are gradually layered one over another in a thick cloud. The finale, “Promise”, is as close as anything in the entire soundtrack gets to being in a major key. Another rock-based track, it feels like a reflection of the main theme, and indeed refers to it during a transitional section. Despite its generally positive feel, its tone is ambiguous, and it closes on a suspended chord.
The Silent Hill 2 soundtrack is the perfect sequel, building upon its predecessor’s strengths and improving its weaker aspects. Yamaoka crafted a polished, cohesive, and diverse album that draws one in deeper and deeper as it progresses. Although based on elements of rock, metal, ambient, and trip-hop, its music tends to defy classification more often than not. The sound of the album on disc is top-notch, and this serves to accentuate Yamaoka’s impeccable aural design. Whatever tracks here that are not impressive on their own still further the disc’s overarching development, putting it into the rare category of video game soundtracks without any filler. It is and remains a milestone in video game music.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Ben Schweitzer. Last modified on August 1, 2012.