Review Summary: Diablo's back, and he's got an amazing soundtrack to back him up.
Fear is such a peculiar thing. In its nature, it is a negative emotion which is often linked to a negative event, and is commonly associated with things that are unknown to people. Interestingly, this emotion can also be turned around and used as a positive incentive for gamers in order to make a game more compelling and immersive. Frightening games are pretty standard nowadays, just think of F.E.A.R. or Dead Space. These games have the technology on their side, because they can make use of various graphical effects for a heightened shock effect. However, back in 2000 when Diablo II was released, there were no amazing graphics to back up the game. So, one had to be creative with the resources that were available at that time, meaning that they had to put all the shock effect into the sounds, seeing that the graphics were pretty limiting. Of course you can make extensive use of sound effects, and to be honest the sound of bones scraping over the floor is pretty scary, but this can only go so far before it becomes a parody of itself. Because of this, Blizzard North knew they had to deliver one hell of a soundtrack. So, they hired composer Matt Uelmen to create a truly haunting musical piece of work.
The Diablo 2 soundtrack can be roughly divided into four parts, representing the four acts that the (original) game has. Each of these acts has its own distinct kind of atmosphere, and they differ a lot from each other. They do however have one thing in common: their soundtracks are all creepy as hell. Except for the final two tracks 'Coda' and 'Roger and Me' which are relatively upbeat, the composer did an amazing job at keeping the whole soundtrack dark and grim, but also creating a lot of diversity between the different acts and their respective songs. What is so special about this soundtrack is that it is amazingly ambient, even while only listening to one song at a time. As a soundtrack, it is a massive piece of work, fully representing the paranoia that the game was trying to inflict on its players, but one can do nothing else than be amazed when listening to it as a whole, considering that Matt Uelmen has managed to create an atmosphere this scary with the use of just a few instruments and musical effects.
As a whole, this CD truly shines. Even today, 11 years after its release it still bears that grim touch that it used to have when the game was just released, and even without thinking about the absolute horrors that it was usually meant to announce, most of it will surely give you the chills, except for the last two songs. Take 'Jungle' for example, that manages to create an atmosphere of actually being lost in the jungle by just applying a simple but haunting djembe beat. 'Tombs' gives off a sort of evil that you might expect from a classic dungeon crawler game, and makes excellent use of string instruments to make you shiver every single time they pop up. The excellent album opener 'Wilderness' openly displays the composer's philosophy with its simple but effective guitar chords and slamming drums. This song shows that good music doesn't require complex musical arrangements. It is truly amazing how Matt Uelmen manages to create so very much out of so little musical complexity, to create song after song with the application of just a few musical instruments and to keep them so interesting and immersive while maintaining the dark and scary atmosphere.
As I previously mentioned, the soundtrack does suffer from a few hiccups in terms of musical style. The outtakes 'Coda' and 'Roger and Me' do not fit in at all with the rest, and as such make for a pretty awkward listen after you have just gone through the scary stuff. However, Matt Uelmen has done a good job at placing them at the back of the CD, so it makes sense that when the world is rid of all evil, the soundtrack gets a little more upbeat. In the end it turns out to be not that much of a problem, but they do stand out as the odd twins.
Of course, one can not overlook the nostalgic value of this soundtrack, but I can safely say that it is able to accomplish all of its goals independent of the actual game, the nostalgic feeling this will surely conjure up with a lot of people is just a side bonus and does not affect the actual quality of the material. So, as a truly haunting experience, the Diablo 2 Soundtrack
is everything you would expect from a soundtrack accompanying such a classic game, and then some more. I still have one complaint: Who the hell thought that it was a good idea not include the beautiful Tristram theme on this CD?