Review Summary: A bold move into the future.
The loss of Bungie studios and longtime composer Martin O’ Donnell came with big consequences. 343 Industries took over the legendary game series “Halo” and hired the respectable composer Neil Davidge to fill in the void. There was an understandable amount of pressure in the making of the soundtrack but Neil was up to the task to bring some familiarity as well as adding a lot of his own flavor. With the help of the Chamber Orchestra of London and numerous other professional musicians Neil Davidge created a behemoth of a soundtrack.
Volume 1 of the Halo 4 Soundtrack is a slightly more generic yet consistently virtuous portion of the music. With a delicate use of electronics, deliberate drumming, and a talented orchestra and choir, the first volume is decent but does not bring anything particularly unique to the Halo series. It rather complements the action in the game highlighting a positive mood to keep the Master Chief (main character) from going astray on his adventure into the unknown. Volume 2 is unearthly in comparison but this is because it is dramatically more experimental. To get the full experience it is highly recommended to hear both parts since together they create the full scope and dimension of Neil’s unique version of the Halo universe.
Obviously Neil Davidge doesn’t bring back the magic that Martin O’Donnell produced to invigorate the series, but the barrage of marvelous detail, eccentric beauty, and talent that was gathered can easily be heard and commended. There is a stark contrast between the consistently forceful and militaristic sound (similar to the soundtrack in Halo Reach) and the dynamically eerie moments that mix well together in Halo 4.
The choir is very fitting particularly when they chant in an alien tongue during the game’s peculiar sections such as the intense fighting with the Prometheans (Master Chief’s main enemy). There isn’t as much experimentation as the fans may have hoped for but Neil’s personal exploration of the Halo universe shines through the soundtrack’s best moments. The juxtaposition of the game’s sinister moments and perplexing sci-fi elements blend well with Neil’s influence from famous composers such as Howard Shore and John Williams in the track “Arrival”. “Gravity” a track from Volume 2 equally takes influence from John Williams with an excessive use of the brass section but reformed in an epic fashion to accommodate Master Chief’s return to combat.
“Awakening” is easily one of the best tracks that also serves as a superb opener with blazing horns and relentless pounding from the drums which act as an excellent supporting structure throughout the entire soundtrack particularly in Volume 1. Another standout is “117”, mostly composed by Kazuma Jinnouchi, which has the perfect blend of mournful strings and electronic beats.
Volume 2 is the opposite of the first volume by ushering in a wave of nostalgia yet distinctiveness. Tracks like “Convoy” impersonate what made Martin O’Donnell’s soundtracks memorable but also introduce a deeper aspect of melancholy and a thrilling sensation similar to the well-known movie composer Brian Tyler.
Although there are tracks that are a little too similar to each other, the crisp sound and frequent use of the synthesizer successfully emphasize the more enigmatic and fantastical elements in the sci-fi game. Neil occasionally uses unusual bells and chimes to strengthen the exoticism of Master Chief’s enemy the Prometheans.
This is an intense soundtrack with a very masculine and robust approach that is carried throughout both volumes. The dramatic shift in sound feels like one tentatively peering into the future of the unknown. Neil Davidge makes Halo 4 unforgettable by addressing some of the strong points that earlier soundtracks to the series had while adding some of those outlandish and divine sounds that fans have craved in the past. His attempt at reinvigorating the mystery and splendor of Halo is a solid effort that is successfully held together by incredible talent and attention to detail promising a strong future for this extraordinary sci-fi universe.