Silent Hill: Shattered Memories Original Soundtrack
|Konami Media Entertainment
|Game Soundtrack - Promo / Enclosure
|1 CD - 21 Tracks
|November 25, 2009
|Ambient / Ambient: Electronic / Cover / Electronica / Electronica: Downtempo / Electronica: Trip-Hop / Industrial / Instrumental / Region: Japan / Rock: Alternative / Trip-Hop
Any discussion of video game soundtracks is brief by default. Music is not the main reason, though as a rule it doesn’t carry any message, rarely causes emotions and generally is the last thing to arouse debates. The major difficulty on the way of music to become a separate culture (and it hasn’t become yet, no matter what they say) and a serious topic for discussion is in complete depersonalization of its creators. Who are the people responsible for the music score of game universes, whose fingers touch the keyboards, press the guitar strings or turn the knobs on a mixer? How do they look, how do they live, about what do they think? An average portrait of a game composer looks like this – some mysterious person without any, even fictional, biography, almost never-seen, but who is writing something (this activity is also a murky secret). Then we hear something in the game; sometimes it’s even cool, but one way or another soon it all disappears, everything is lost and forgotten; even the very best things in game music are rarely published and find their listener out of the context of an interactive project; even more rarely these works make its creator famous.
Akira Yamaoka, one of the most important figures in the Japanese electronic entertainment industry for the last decade, has been consciously doing all his best so as not to fall under a definition of “a mysterious person”. Yamaoka is clearly a bit non-Japanese, cause he wrote purely European music in spite of hell. He criticized Japanese composers treating music composing solely as business, accused his own game industry of immaturity, had a performance with a symphony orchestra like Steve Vai, produced and ruled the game development (a unique case for a composer), broke stereotypes in every possible way and on the whole stood out dramatically. The influence he has exerted on the rest of the world perhaps is even stronger than the modern Japanese composers like Nobuo Uematsu ot Joe Hisaishi have had. Yamaoka is copied by thousands of newbie guitar players and composers, he is worshipped, his tracks are used on Russian TV (though breaking the law), a ballet was staged to his music… Nowadays Yamaoka seems to be more popular than such prominent Japanese composers as DJ Krush and Ryuichi Sakamoto put together.
It's surprising that Yamaoka earned his colossal fame not putting any special promotion efforts – he hardly had performances outside the country, didn't release solo records and didn't participate on collaborations with other artists. That all is why because all his career was connected with a sound designer work for Konami company and he had several work limitations to the freedom of his creativity. But he was OK with it; so it resulted in outstanding music and sound for the first four games of Silent Hill series, which ascended him to the rank of stars. And as it often happens with genius people, after an unprecedented rise Yamaoka bumped into difficult times. Konami made him write one and the same music again and again for already tacky and taken under American developers’ custody franchise of Silent Hill, the composer’s talent was quickly fading away and at first Yamaoka descended to selfcopying and then to evidently shoddy work, an example of which is a soundtrack to Shattered Memories, a loose remake of the original game of 1999, not only lacking of any sense and old charm but roughly designed of ancient samples in a try to make only heaven knows what. Shattered Memories is a first Silent Hill soundtrack, about which really nothing can be told. It’s not a trip-hop and not even an ambient – it’s an unskillful heap of crappy digital tools, absolutely plastic, flat sound, some abstract electronics - not because of its conception (it’s hard to believe there is any) but abstract by chance. Dare I say it, but we witness Yamaoka’s end as a composer.
Akira Yamaoka has always paid special attention to album preproduction. Official soundtracks of the first four parts of Silent Hill have always been something more than just a music from the game recorded on CD, they’ve been separate and carefully designed music stories. Starting with Silent Hill: Zero a reverent attitude towards compiling his own music gradually begun to vanish, and in the following Silent Hill: Homecoming there appeared to be simply nothing to compile: raw music material, unattractive graphics for CD cover, that was why Konami never released a full-extent album – they preferred to distribute the soundtrack for free to buyers of U.S. online store Gamestop. Shattered Memories shared the same fate.
There is not even one full-fledged piece of music in Shattered Memories. All the contents of the soundtrack are tiny fragments, pathetic demos and recycled scrap. In Silent Hill: Zero and Silent Hill: Homecoming an averaged length of a track was hardly kept but still kept within “a bit more than 3 mins” limits, a typical composition from Shattered Memories doesn’t hold out even till two minutes. And if instrumental tracks in Silent Hill: Zero still could be described as pieces of one complex puzzle, here the whole picture cannot be seen at all. In Silent Hill: Homecoming there were two very good instrumental compositions and two at least not bad ones, but in Shattered Memories even this minimum is not fulfilled.
Always On My Mind is the only song here, which still falls under a definition of trip-hop (though a very cheap one) and like O.R.T. it starts with an ambient prologue, but then, unfortunately, their roads part. Beautiful and melodious O.R.T., which is an entry track in the game Silent Hill: Zero (not in the album) was the first new track by Yamaoka after a 3-year break between SH-games releases. No wonder it should have performed special functions. The developers of Shattered Memories decided not to apply an old method of using a song in the opening credits that’s why Always ON My Ming is just ordinary and highly carelessly made composition with Mary Elizabeth McGlynn’s vocal. A pulsing synthesizer, a depressing melody, obviously off-key piano and wildest swings between piles of synthetic sounds (just like in a not very successful album “Sound of the Universe” by Depeche Mode) and some dull minimalistic insertions. The historic meaning of Always On My Mind is only in the fact that it’s the darkest Elvis Presley cover song and on the whole the first official cover-version in Silent Hill history.
A cheerful track When You're Gone is the shortest rock song Yamaoka has ever written and this fact comes to the track’s rescue – for the allotted three minutes maestro simply doesn’t have time to screw up by squeezing something needless in the composition in order to plug the holes of the arrangement. A melancholy Acceptance with a piano accompaniment is just another one “lullaby” fail. On the whole don’t be surprised if you’ve already read one third of what is written here in a previous review of Silent Hill: Homecoming – if something changed, then only for the worse. Writing about it again is depressing, and listening is even embarrassing. (You can scold me for my involute turn of phrase and lack of any proof reading of this text but almost of the same Yamaoka can be accused.) Hell Frozen Rain closing the album is the fourth song (the magic number didn’t help either) is also written by an old template “heavy music for the finals” but at the same time it’s trying to break the rule: the concentration of guitar riffs stolen without any changes from his own old tracks exceeds all limits here by at least a hundred-fold.
Instrumental sketches in Shattered Memories are similar to the first musical experiments of young Russian game composers. Childish Thoughts reminds of a bad hip-hop backing track, melody from the Creeping Distress is desperately trying to stir to pity but it freezes too quickly and rounds up in no time. Hostility has some dreadful (not in the sense of fear but very-very poor) marching drums. Moreover Yamaoka starts to play with symphony motives, rather unskillfully I should say, in Angel's Scream and Forsaken Lullaby with the melody in the latter being brazenly stolen from the cult Weather Storm by Craig Armstrong. Such a borrowing could be noticed earlier in Yamaoka ‘s “classic” works too, but then it was delicate and sophisticated and now so low-graded as in Shattered Memories.
It could have been a bit more interesting if Shattered Memories soundtrack had been a collection of remixes for SH-tracks from the all parts – then there would have been no complaints. But these tracks are not remixes, these are nothing but cheap, amateur caricatures. Considering that nowadays an amateur composer may well be writing a quality professional music, sound of Shattered Memories looks especially dull. It’s interesting that a lot of composer’s fans traditionally engaged in self-deception and convincing themselves, that nothing dreadful has happened to SH music, suddenly noticed a stitch-up and begun to complain about it in forums and blogs. The most unpleasant thing is that on the background of Shattered Memories a soundtrack to Silent Hill: Homecoming looks quite decent, and music from Silent Hill: Zero seems to be at least brilliant (though it’s far from it). When this review was being prepared some stunning news appeared - Akira Yamaoka has left Konami after 16 years. Can we sigh with relief and be sure that no mistakes will be repeated in the near future? Difficult to guess, but who doesn’t hope for the better?
For over a decade, composer Akira Yamaoka’s work with the Silent Hill series has been considered one of the most spectacular collaborations in the video game industry. The first “Silent Hill”, released for PSX in 1999, radically changed the role of game music – rather than simply serving as a background element, it became an integral part of the player experience. Yamaoka created an innovative spectrum of sounds to accompany the game’s action, and both music and game worked symbiotically to create Silent Hill’s characteristic sepulchral horror mood. On subsequent Silent Hill releases, Yamaoka’s musical genius continued to impress gamers. By combining a vast array of musical genres (including dark ambient, industrial, trip-hop, rock, metal, and a variety of electronic styles) with a number of experimental elements, the composer has created a sequence of memorable soundtracks that encapsulate the series’ uncanny atmosphere of anxiety and constant tension. But unexpectedly, with the release of Shattered Memories, the newest Silent Hill installment, this era has come to a close.
It’s worthy to note that Silent Hill is not a Japanese production these days. In 2007, the series was taken over by American developers, who have produced Silent Hill: Origins (2007), Silent Hill: Homecoming (2008), and the newest release. Before this shift, the Silent Hill franchise was created by Team Silent, a Japanese development team, and Yamaoka played an integral part in supervising and guiding the project. While Yamaoka scored the American-produced games, he had little creative input in the development process. Consequently, the soundtracks for these recent titles suffered; these recent works are not nearly as attuned with their respective games. Regardless, the composer has continued to release interesting (if not nearly as groundbreaking or experimental) music for Silent Hill, and fans have continued to anticipate new releases.
When plans for Silent Hill - Shattered Memories were announced (the game is a loose remake of the classic Silent Hill 1, and is developed for the Nintendo Wii), Yamaoka was hired to compose the soundtrack, as usual. Soon after completing the task, however, the composer announced that he was leaving Konami. And thus, Shattered Memories OST has turned out to be his final creation, and can be viewed as a summary of his musical contributions to the famed SH saga.
Problematically, the Shattered Memories album is still not officially available. It was included as a bonus to game preorders in the American region, but has not been released as a standalone disc. Hopefully, this will change in the near future. The album features a few brand new pieces, as well as newly-arranged fragments of tracks from the early Silent Hill installments. However, fans that praise the first three soundtracks may not be entirely satisfied with Yamaoka’s goodbye material. Unlike the original arrangements, these new pieces are not scary. Rather, the OST underlines the wintery aura which dominates the world in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. The reason is simple: in this alternate version, Silent Hill is no longer covered in blood – now the city is blanketed with ice.
The track “Ice” is characteristic of these wintery pieces; it illustrates the stiff icy world with piercing vocals and choral background voices. “Snow Driven,” combining percussion and synthesizer sounds, builds the vibe of loneliness in the wintery environment, while the drowsy keyboard in “Hibernation” expresses the feeling of winter lethargy. In this way, Shattered Memories is a big change of pace - never before has Silent Hill’s music been so focused on playing the role of a musical backdrop. This background music, however, is livened by a diverse array of instruments, many used by Yamaoka for the first time ever.
Shattered Memories’ gameplay must require quite a few stints in sacred places. The church organs in “Forsaken Lullaby” and the bell in “Searching the Past” have to be included for a reason! “Devil's Laughter” and “Angel's Scream” are the tracks that make the most electrifying impression. The former is based around the menacing sounds of demon laughter, while the holiness of the second song is stressed by the choir and the audible roar of a fallen angel. The album’s abundance of instruments manifests itself in other tracks, as a variety of instrumental parts take center stage – from dynamic ketteldrums (“Endless Depth”) to flute solos (“Creeping Distress”). Of course, ambient elements can be found on the album too – the concert of crickets at the beginning of “Raw Shock” is a good example.
Mary Elizabeth McGlynn – a singer that’s been involved in the series since Silent Hill 3 – returns, lending her voice to four songs on the album. Her cover of Brenda Lee’s 1972 song “Always on My Mind” and the Rock ’n’ Roll-ish “When You're Gone” are decent, but the real attention grabbers are “Acceptance,” a ballad, and “Hell Frozen Rain” (which features the characteristic guitar chords of the original Silent Hill 1 intro!). Such echoes of previous SH soundtracks occur throughout the album - the similarity of “Childish Thoughts” to “Tears of...” (from the Silent Hill OST) is evident, while the rhythm of “Different Persons” mimics that of “Meltdown” (from the Silent Hill: Origins OST).
Yamaoka has surprised us, yet again. Shattered Memories OST will probably evoke mixed feelings from fans, as the album breaks away from the signature style of the series’ first soundtracks. This new work is much more accessible, surreal, and uncharacteristically gothic. The pieces on an album are a cohesive whole, and fulfill their role of acting as a background for the game’s plotline. Even though it’s not a Team Silent work, the soundtrack maintains the same level of quality we have come to expect. The Shattered Memories OST, as the composer’s farewell album, is a praiseworthy piece that successfully sums up his career. Yamaoka’s freelance career will undoubtedly bring new opportunities and collaborations, and us fans are definitely looking forward to his future albums.
I'm fairly certain that Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is going to divide both the gaming community and Akira Yamaoka's fans right down the middle. A "reimagining" of the original Silent Hill title, Shattered Memories takes the familiar town and completely covers it in ice and snow, providing a familiar yet eerily different environment to explore. Harry Mason gets a psychological and physical makeover, while the title further changes some key gameplay elements that were abundant in previous entries (like removing combat altogether) and adds a psychological profiling element that changes the game's flow as you play based on decisions you make, even the minor ones. Oh, and just in case you were wondering, if you spend time looking at in-game posters of chicks in bikinis, Cybil will sport a low-cut shirt that shows off some cleavage. FYI. That said, a reimagining of the game means a reimagining of the soundtrack, and as far as I'm concerned Yamaoka has delivered on all fronts. For traditional Silent Hill diehards this may not be the album you've been waiting for, but those with an open mind will find more than they could have dreamed of with this soundtrack.
Let's cut the foreplay and talk about the pink elephant in the room. (What, you don't see it? Really? It's right behind you!) There are four Mary Elizabeth McGlynn vocals. Again. And, granted, they originally come off as painfully dark and forced, but after a couple of listens I got totally hooked on "Always on my Mind" and found that even the cheesy rock riffs of "When You're Gone" hit home. The final two vocals close out the album very well, with "Acceptance" bringing back warm memories of "Room of Angel", albeit in a less oppressive way, and "Hell Frozen Rain" is equal parts somber and rockin' with some not-so-subtle nods to previous Silent Hill melodies strewn around for good measure. These vocals might not be everyone's favorite types of tracks, so if you want to skip 'em, you should probably skip 'em. I don't. Whatever way you want to shake it, they're shamelessly better than the vocal tracks in Silent Hill Zero (save maybe "O.R.T.") and are worth checking out. Somehow keeping the four-vocals-per-album tradition alive feels fresh this time around amid all the new instrumental music. Dare I even say that the vocals reach back to the greatness from The Room and Homecoming? Oh, I dare say it doubly so.
Instrumentally, this is definitely not the Yamaoka any of us are used to. You're not going to find another "Witchcraft" or "Love Psalm" on this disc, nor should you want to, really. What you will find here is something quite different than his prior Silent Hill soundtracks, and this is a very, very good thing. I dearly love all of the past full CD releases from the series, but when it's time for a change, it is time for a change. I'm willing to bet that Yamaoka knew he would leave Konami after this project was complete, so it's hard not to look at this as his swansong, one last deathly hurrah for the town of Silent Hill before he moves on to greener pastures.
The exploratory chilling piano motifs of "Creeping Distress" set the scene for the album's more location-specific tracks, but Shattered Memories has some seriously intense moments. The sampled screaming in "Angel's Scream" keeps the track plodding along at a hellish pace before breaking into a full angelic choral outro that completely changes the mood of the song as it fades. To tie in with a new gameplay element, Yamaoka incorporated digital phone rings into "Another Warm Body", a piano-led track that hearkens back to "Creeping Distress" with its tone, yet gives it more of an apprehensive and tense vibe than its predecessor. Strangely, "Childish Thoughts" reminds me of a distorted version of one of Masakazu Sugimori's Gyakuten Saiban "Investigation" themes with a Silent Hill twist; it's something truly different than what I would have expected from Yamaoka.
There is plenty of mood-setting BGM like "Searching the Past", and the scattered and shuffled "Forsaken Lullaby", but Yamaoka knows that there needs to be terrifying ambient tracks for a Silent Hill title to be a true Silent Hill, reimagining or not. The relentless "Devil's Laughter" is equally claustrophobic and harsh, while "Raw Shock" brings in backbeats with its ambiance to give the tune a scary trip-hop feel. On the vividly white and cold side of things, "Ice" is as dark as it is beautiful, and the spacial drums and icy synths on "Snow Driven" bring forth the snow-capped images from the game perfectly. "Lives Wasted Away" belongs on a Twin Peaks soundtrack more than any of the other Angelo Badalamenti-inspired tracks from the series, with no small thanks to its tremolo-infused guitar and purposefully loose jazz drumbeats. At least Yamaoka still gives nods to his inspirations, even if the total end result is quite different than his previous efforts.
If you're looking for a quick Silent Hill fix or are expecting Silent Hill 2, part deux, you surely will not find it here, and I can promise you that you will be at least somewhat disappointed if you enter this listening experience with that mindset. However! If you are looking for a fresh listening experience that borrows the dark moods, but not necessarily the sounds, from the Silent Hill world with a cool twist (literally), Shattered Memories will suit you just swimmingly. The music makes me want to sit down and play through the entire game, and for someone who only plays video games when there is a penumbral lunar eclipse (true story), that says a lot. I wish Yamaoka the best in his future projects / endeavors / drinking binges, and I can't wait to see what happens with his music from here on in. Well, I guess we all have to wait to see what aces this king will pull from his sleeve next, but while I'm waiting I'll be gratefully listening to the Shattered Memories soundtrack and appreciating the changes Yamaoka has brought to the series' audio for what may be his final Silent Hill soundtrack. Give it a chance!!!
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, developed by Climax Studios (who had previously worked on Origins), was Akira Yamaoka's last work on the series before he left Konami to join Grasshopper Manufacture. A "reimagining" of the first game, Shattered Memories significantly altered everything about its source material, from the story to the gameplay. Likewise, Yamaoka provided an entirely new score for the game, complete with four songs from McGlynn, one of them a cover of a country song previously performed by Elvis, among others. The score recreates the old as new throughout, and its new qualities proved divisive among Yamaoka's fans. The score was released in the US as a bonus for people who bought the game, and then again in the Silent Hill Sounds Box.
Exemplifying this transformation, "Always on My Mind", the aforementioned cover, opens the disc. Yamaoka transforms the original — an upbeat song tinged with melancholy — into a brooding trip-hop track in the minor, complete with a pounding electronic bass line and oddly dissonant interjections from the piano. The arrangement and lyrics fit together only uneasily, the latter still retaining the original's sensibilities, but McGlynn's performance manages to tie them together convincingly, although a sardonic edge remains exposed.
Other ties are more directly linked to the original game. "Devil's Laughter" recalls the title "Devil's Lyric" from the first game, and aside from the echoing trombone sample, it could easily fit into the first game's score. The "laughing" sound from Homecoming makes another appearance here. It also appears in "Hostility", but altered to be almost unrecognizable under the waves of atmospheric noise. Timpani and cymbals carry the majority of the track. The backing polymetrical rhythm of "Hibernation" resembles the louder pounding material from the first game in its insistence, but the see-sawing guitar that appears at the end is clearly a mark of the more recent Yamaoka. It cuts through the noise but prolongs the track's tension.
Notably, the score makes more use of recognizable instrument samples in addition to electronic and altered sounds. Note the timpani and cello in "Searching the Past", its steady undercurrent garnished with sporadic electronic tones. The timpani also appear in "Endless Depths", adding a traditional element to a track otherwise primarily rooted in industrial noise, and "Angel's Scream" is likewise grounded by strings. After a minute of these string chords clashing against the underlying noise track, a cymbal clears the air for sampled choir. "Forsaken Lullaby" twists cliched string and drum patterns with its constant rhythmic uncertainty and sudden shifts. And while distorted piano features in "Another Warm Body" and the McGlynn song "Acceptance", "Childish Thoughts" features a clean piano against a jazz-inspired background of bass and drums. "Creeping Distress" has a jazzy side as well, with its vibraphone and flute accents.
Some of the soundtrack's best material is saved for the end. "Different Persons" may be based on a collection of rather standard rhythmic patterns, but the waves of sound that emanate from the beat are anything but ordinary: falling piano arpeggios fading in and out, an inhuman voice sample, and synth lines that seem to trip and stumble over each other while trying to form a progression. And then it stops. In "Ice", a female vocal turns restlessly on a shifting bed of choir, never quite resolving. The laughing from earlier returns, quietly mocking the singers, but it is silenced, along with the lead vocal, as the choir quietly intones its final chord.
"Acceptance" is a slow lullaby in the vein of "Room of Angel". The opening, in slow broken chords, brings the first movement of Beethoven's "Moonlight" sonata to mind, and like that famous piece, the perpetual movement gives the accompaniment an unsettled quality. It bears a resemblance to the first game's "Not Tomorrow 1" as well. The delicate arrangement shifts almost imperceptibly as the song progresses, and the strings and backing vocals remain quiet and subtle. The final song, "Hell Frozen Rain", is a driving rock number, featuring a prominent reference to the first game's "Silent Hill" in its guitar solo interlude. It concludes the album well.
Throughout Yamaoka's score to Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, the familiar elements on the surface mask unpredictable developments. Noise tracks akin to the original's are augmented and developed using the techniques Yamaoka has perfected throughout the series' run, and hints at further developments. Many of the tracks are shorter than usual, however, and loops and fade-outs are more prominent than in the more connected Silent Hill scores, and the placement of the McGlynn songs at the beginning and end of the album, a pair in each location, leaves them feeling disconnected from the rest of the album. After completing this score, Yamaoka left Konami, leaving this as his last Silent Hill score. In synthesizing the old and the new, it is an excellent final chapter.
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Always on my Mind (feat. Mary Elizabeth McGlynn)
When You're Gone (feat. Mary Elizabeth McGlynn)
Searching the Past
Another Warm Body
Lives Wasted Away
Acceptance (feat. Mary Elizabeth McGlynn)
Hell Frozen Rain (feat. Mary Elizabeth McGlynn)