Review Summary: A subtle creeper with hidden riches.
Shadows of the Damned was a very exciting snapshot in gaming. Imagine a supergroup with a handful of your favourite musicians. Now imagine it turning out to be everything you wanted, and more. That’s what this game was. Suda51: creative eccentric, better known for his genre-bending innovations for games like Killer 7 and No More Heroes; Shinji Mikami: the horror legend responsible for Resident Evil’s highest, creative and boundary shifting, moments; and Akira Yamaoka: the composing genius behind Silent Hill’s scores, all collaborated on this game to create a gloriously tongue-in-cheek third-person shooter with hearty lashings of horror at its core. It was a homage to all art forms, tapping into creative inspirations from movies, art, books and, indeed, video games. I fondly remember being blown away by its unique art direction, fantastic level and sound design, and grinning from ear to ear at the likes of The Evil Dead inspired level. It’s a game which became the greater sum of its already massive parts, and rarely has it been matched since.
From a compositional angle, how did Yamaoka approach this fresh IP？ Well, for one, those expecting a skin crawling rock ‘n roll soundscape, prepare to be somewhat surprised. Akira’s traditional use of moody and poignant atmosphere is still very much present but it’s one that wiggles its way into your cerebral cortex when you’re not looking. “An Ordinary Life” is a fresh change of pace for Akira, with its romantically entrancing Middle-Eastern influences, making you feel like you’re placed in the harsh conditions of a desert than a vacant lakeside town. But the genius of this album’s introduction comes from “An Ordinary Life” and its follow-up track “Take Me to Hell”, which kicks into a driving metal riff, a reverb-saturated backing-guitar that rustles in the underbelly, and Mary McGlynn and Troy Baker’s excellent vocal duet. It’s a stark contrast of sounds: on the one hand you have a track that uses a duduk wind instrument and sets a tone of welcome and warmth; the next it has you thrown into the mists of a grinding, cold and dangerous set-piece that eventually evolves into a bombardment of harmonic and melodic fruition. It’s a genius move on Akira’s part because it annihilates any preconceptions of what you were expecting from this fresh artistic jaunt – and better still, represents nothing of what’s to come after it.
The key to Shadows of the Damned
’s sound is found in its use of percussive and wind instruments; the jangling sounds caused by bamboo wind chimes or of an idiophone to get an unsettling rickety creak, nestled underneath the ominous piano keys and house-styled ambience, is what leaves the lasting impressions here. Shadows of the Damned
embraces Akira’s respected roots of abrasive electronics but adds a dynamic of naturally organic, wooded clanking sounds that develop a nice distinction to the rest of his works. It’s a refreshing breather from his usual fixture of rock styled ambience, putting both feet into a more low-key ambient album that uses trickling water sounds – reminiscent to a Burial’s LP – to lay the foundations of this frightfully sombre calm. The use of reverb and phaser effects are a permanent fixture throughout and has an overwhelming ethereal quality which suits the overall themes and tones of the game itself, and ultimately, it’s a joy to sit through. Every track is densely populated and requires a few listens to appreciate the vast amounts of things going on in any one piece, showing just how heterogeneous this composer can be at times.
It has to be said though, while thoroughly engaging, there is a hiccup that resides in all of this: bar “Take Me to Hell” and “Till Death Do Us Part” for their full-throttle approaches, there isn’t a track you can really latch onto. Whereas with one of the earlier Silent Hill OST’s where you could pull out a few tracks that moved you, there’s a certain lack of that here. So, if you’re a fan of the slightly angrier, more accessible compositions to Akira’s work, it might not completely fulfil your needs. At the same time, it’s an album that deserves a little patience, and if you’re willing to put in the graft, the rewards are waiting for you at the end of it. All in all, on the larger scheme of things, it can’t be overlooked that this was an ambitious change of diversity for Yamaoka, and the tone he sets here is distinct and mesmerising. But most importantly, it shows him shining brightly over his legacy with Silent Hill.
PACKAGING: Standard jewel case, with a purple slipcase.
SPECIAL EDITION: N/A