Review Summary: The title resonates harsh truths.
“Always On My Mind” says more about the direction of this entire franchise than words ever could. Akira Yamaoka, once a revolutionary innovator of game soundtrack development, has clearly rolled over on 2009’s Shattered Memories
OST. It’s a sad analysis if I’m honest, but Akira’s career reflects Silent Hill’s downfall in an eerily similar fashion; like he’s been systematically linked to the franchise and made to wither away with it. Like Silent Hill itself, his creative flare depleted with every game. Once fresh ideas turned into derivative crutches: his professional relationship with Mary Elizabeth McGlynn reaching levels of essential reliability than melodic spice; high-budget orchestrations and exotic instruments being used as safety blankets; and a bedrock of the rock ‘n roll formula ultimately turned this once unique composer into a textbook caricature of his former glory days. My words sound scornful, I know, and the reality of the quality pertained on Shattered Memories
is serviceable, but we’re talking about one of the greatest game composers of all-time, so these words hold some sort of reservation when comparing this to his earlier works.
The positives to Shattered Memories
ironically fall onto the fact it’s a reimagining of the original Silent Hill game, but like the game itself the execution is more underwhelming than the paper it’s written on. This OST is a re-treading of the past; a hybrid of the deeply disturbing industrial ambience of 1999’s psychological classic mixed with Yamaoka’s overproduced rock and melancholic signature tropes of latter day works. The bleak, moody electronic loops that once scratted and scraped along the original score are present here but are coated in a glossy sheen: bright and exuberant piano notes paint over the rusty, gritty bodywork with an abundance of orchestrated instruments – no better representation of this than on “Forsaken Lullaby” with its booming cello and beautifully emitted clarity from the organ which dominates the track’s sound. Which I guess falls on your preferred preference of style; on the one hand it’s awesome to hear these older ideas back in action after so long, but the downside is that they feel like teasing’s when you look into the tracks more thoroughly. These elements sit on the backburner and feel like they’re only put into the songs because of the game’s concept, while his modern stylings continue to take the limelight. If you like the more poignant and conventional orchestrations of his newer scores you’ll be pleased with what this offers, but for a fan of his electronically despondent and isolated attempts it feels a little anaemic. It’s not autopilot all the time mind you, there’s a pleasantly subtle peppering of dungeon-synth on the likes of “Blackest Friday” and “Endless Depths”, which gives off a really cool 1996-RPG vibe to some of the pieces here and makes as a decent addition to the game’s usual blueprint, but all in all, it’s nothing that hasn’t been done (and better) before.
Another minor niggle I have with the score, before getting into the prime beef of the issue, is the games aesthetic choice of ice and snow. I feel Akira has missed an opportunity as the music doesn’t quite suit the cold chill the game tries to portray. As this sticks to the playing field of his last few works, it’s the usual industrial sounds and clanks you’d typically hear from a Silent Hill game, and I feel that if he’d stopped and gone back to the drawing board to match the new visual design it could have worked wonders for both the game and his career. Of course, my biggest problem with this OST stems from the four Mary Elizabeth featured tracks. At this point a fixture to his scores, her inclusion on here couldn’t come across anymore stale and corny. With the exception of “Hell Frozen Rain” for holding a more naturally solid and catchy melody, the remaining tracks are pretty bad. The EBM electronics which rumble under the godawful cover to “Always On My Mind” are a shock to the system, made worse by the fact the entire song feels like a really out of place and desperate attempt to try something new. This is all topped off by the other two tracks which suffer from a colossal stagnation as they pump out the usual Yamaoka blues-rock shtick. Not to mention the fact all four songs suffer from terribly cliché and angsty lyrics.
It’s a shame to know this was the last soundtrack Akira worked on before passing the torch on to the late Daniel Licht, and his fantastically composed Downpour
soundtrack, but in all honestly, it’s a good job he did because he’d been writing music for these games for 10 years and it really shows as much here. There’s some solid instrumentation present and it’s an enjoyable listen when you segregate it from the rest of his work but compared to the first four albums this sounds like a complacent drawl going through every motion in the book, made that much worse with Mary’s tracks. A solid album, sure, but hardly ending on the high-note Akira deserves.
FORMAT/EDITION: SILENT HILL: SOUNDBOX///̶/̶C̶D̶/̶/̶D̶I̶G̶I̶T̶A̶L̶
PACKAGING: Housed in a hard-cardboard box with 10 slimline CD cases and 1-page artwork for each.
SPECIAL EDITION: Contains the unused track “Childish Thoughts” which never made it to the final version of the game.