Review Summary: I don't even play very many video games.
Splinter Cell - Chaos Theory was a sick game dudes. I always enjoyed the uniqueness of the Splinter Cell series. Instead of running and gunning all your enemies down through a fairly restricted game map, Chaos Theory required you to be more thoughtful and tactical in order to complete your mission objectives. The other cool aspect of the game was the fact that it was scored by respected electronic artist Amon Tobin. In the game, the soundtrack fit what was happening perfectly. Each lumbering synth tone crept along with you, and when you had to pull out your automatic rifle and start blasting some terrorists, the drill n bass started pumping some adrenaline into the mix. However much like film scores, video game soundtracks can be a tedious listen when taken out of the context of the game. Amon Tobin’s Splinter Cell - Chaos Theory Soundtrack
falls into the same trap.
Too much of the album amounts to nothing more then atmospheric noise, and not in the held tone or harmonic timber of other electronic music. The airy tones are met with bloops and bleeps and often meander without any sense of direction, as with the first few minutes of opener, “The Lighthouse”. In game, this is perfect background music for putting sleeper holds on a guard. However, in album form this quickly becomes boring. “Theme From Battery” encounters this same problem, but luckily the track is saved with a nice injection of melody compliments of a violin and guitar sampling. While “Ruthless” works as one of the more interesting tracks on the album, the four and a half minute, “Ruthless (Reprise)” is too understated and serves as a tedious listen. “Hokkaido” is also too airy in its first half, as washes of tones do nothing until the cello enters the fray to give the track some weight. The song finally lifts off when a chiming beat tightens up the song into sense of movement.
The beats are definitely what save this album from the trash bin. The epic closer “The Clean Up” and the previously mentioned “Ruthless” are the best examples of this. The drill n bass beats come fast and furious and propel the songs into a frenzied sense of direction. The beat oriented tracks have a strong sense of necessity and progression to them. The airy, ambient sections in these songs become more important as they segue into the sections of drum machine mayhem; and this is what the rest of the album lacked. Especially in the drill n bass subgenre of electronic music, there needs to be a sense of balance. Similar to other genres, such as post-rock, this music is best served with a balance between tension and release. The better albums in the genre, such as Aphex Twin’s Richard D. James Album
or Venetian Snares’ Rossz Csillag Allat Szuletett
had a perfect blend of tension and release. In Splinter Cell - Chaos Theory Soundtrack
the tension isn’t quite there. The ambient sections generally don’t have a sense of tension or progression to them. While the drum machines work as perfect release points, they come off as underwhelming without the necessary tension build up.
Perhaps the blame shouldn’t rest on the shoulders of Amon Tobin. Perhaps it should rest on the inherent difficulty of translating a great score into a great album. After all, this is a great score when held within the context of the game. In the virtual realm of the game, the music doesn’t need to build as much tension or provide as much release because the game itself creates this for you. Which is why it fails at being an album. Without the aid of the game to beef up the emotional response of the audience, the music becomes noticeably weaker. So in conclusion, I would not recommend this album, however I would recommend this game.