Review Summary: The quiet of the stream.
While not necessarily surprising, it’s strange to think of how intricately intertwined a simple piece of artistic expression can become with the right kind of person, and all it really takes is the perfect subtle combination of elements. That, and timing.
Considering how self-reflective a species we can be, the occasional personal epiphany (or crisis) comes up from time to time, and the impending end to a decade certainly warrants a little look inward – for better or worse. Am I surprised by where I find myself after ten years, or disappointed? Am I who I thought I would be, or is this everything I knew I always have been? Truthfully, I don’t have any real answers, only the endless haze of memory forever dwelling in the back of my mind. And – chief among them – one such memory comes in the form of Team Silent’s greatest masterpiece.
Silent Hill 2
released on September 24th, 2001, just over eighteen years ago
… and yet I can remember playing the teaser demo disc clear as day. Still an only child at the time, finding myself sat on the floor of my parents dark living room while my mother dozed on the sofa behind me (a relatively common occurrence given that she worked nights) often meant I was left to my own devices most evenings. Be it reading, watching TV, or enjoying the limited number of PlayStation releases I had at my disposal, I enjoyed the solitary independence of being able to choose my own amusements with little parental interference. My father enjoyed collecting the Official PlayStation Magazine’s of the era, and as such a deluge of unwanted game demo discs would usually find their way into my possession, which I would delve into during these evenings to sample new releases on the horizon; one of which, of course, would contain my very first exposure of what would become my favourite game of all time.
”I got a letter.”
To this day, Guy Cihi’s delivery of one of James’ very first spoken dialogue – frankly – f**king haunts me. Experiencing Silent Hill 2
for the first time, most (and rightly so) will immediately remember Monica Taylor Horgan’s beautifully delivered opening monologue, the iconic Letter From Mary
. Longingly tempting our protagonist to return things to a ”special place”
, the letter provides the perfect symbolic driving force to begin James’ journey, but instead of the eager sprint into the town from his chosen parking space one might expect, James is instead introduced having already retreated into a dingy nearby restroom. Gazing intently into the reflection that stares back, the darkened features and tired sigh that escapes him leads to an absentminded step outdoors to look upon the foggy town below: ”I got a letter.”
A hollow, blunt juxtaposition of the elation that should
be felt in rediscovering a dead loved one is instead replaced with indifferent disbelief, and guided by the sure hand of Akira Yamaoka’s introductory ‘White Noiz’.
Accompanying the monologue, ‘White Noiz’ stretches forward with cold, quiet suffocation, practically devoid of melody save for the reverb-laden samples and ambiance that enhances the game’s famous wealth of atmosphere perfectly, and with one simple brushstroke the world of Silent Hill 2
is intoxicatingly established. As a young mind who really
shouldn’t have been playing even a demo disc of what was soon to follow (it included some of the horrifying Apartment section for f**k sake…), perhaps some of the subtleties of the opening scene were lost on me back then, but regardless of age I was immediately in love. Whatever the final destination the finished game would hold, James’ teased journey proved wonderfully compelling. There is nothing
that prevents our protagonist from retreating home, despite the absurdity of his supposed circumstances; he entirely chooses to be here to see his journey through to the end, and it is this very potent mixture of disbelieving delusional desperation that keeps James walking forward. And, as such, so do we.
”Could you really be in this town?
From a credentials point of view, Akira Yamaoka’s ability as a composer had already been fully put on display throughout Team Silent’s debut piece, the original Silent Hill
. Acclaimed by many as providing a crucial foundation of music and sound design, the soundtrack encapsulated the game’s themes perfectly, valuing subtlety and delicately building layers of tension atop the game’s already impressive visual design. While this is all true, however, it is with very little exaggeration that Yamaoka’s following body of work would entirely
eclipse the original, and this is in large due to the emotional weight that many of the tracks within the soundtrack carry. For example, meeting Angela early in the game initially seems a point of hopeful direction, and ‘Forest’ certainly allows glimpses of this optimism in light sprinkling of music box melody, but finding this awkward, nervous character within the lonely graveyard is instead embellished by ‘Forest’s far more sorrowful string arrangement.
Indeed, it is this very same loneliness that so palpably infests much of James’ journey. Take ‘Ordinary Vanity’s droning samples and clunky, uncomfortable backing that creeps back and forth, unnerving the player while still beautifully melodic, or the wonderfully iconic piano-driven ‘Promise (Reprise)’ that poses as optimistic, yet lingers sadly afterwards. Elsewhere, ‘The Day of Night’s gorgeous swells of ambiance with light chiming keys smothers with an unrelenting feeling of isolation, akin to being adrift at sea. Truthfully, the soundtrack is rife with many a glimpse into representations of James’ ever enduring solitude (and accompanying unstable state of mind), and it wouldn’t be at all a stretch to label much of Silent Hill 2
as downright depressing because, well… it is
depressing. And heavily so. Focusing on our would-be “protagonist”, James is practically anything but; almost completely devoid of any charisma or likeable personality traits, the stilted dialogue delivery and awkward mannerisms paint James as relatively forgettable, and yet at the same time entirely allow for a character that evokes real, true emotion
As James continues through the abandoned town, Yamaoka’s soundtrack embellishes every step of the way. In moments of panic or violent outbursts, the snarling ‘Angel’s Thantano’s or thundering ‘Ashes and Moon’ rear viciously to meet the moment, while moments of respite through the seductive ‘Heaven’s Night’ or the achingly sad ‘Magdalene’ flawlessly accentuate the journey’s downtime. Frankly, the essential listening experience of the soundtrack will (of course) always be through the game’s story, utilising the emotional story beats that add so f**king much
to the pure, relentless sorrow that the likes of ‘Laura Plays The Piano’ or ‘Theme of Laura (Reprise)’ captures so astoundingly, but the soundtrack does
stand comfortably on its own, and admirably so. From a more casual listeners point of view, one could be forgiven for simply just enjoying the album’s track listing, savouring the twangy rock backbone of ‘Theme of Laura’, ‘Love Psalm’ and ‘Overdose Delusion’, or allowing the soothing ‘Pianissimo Epilogue’ to carry a troubled mind away to calmer territory.
”In my restless dreams.”
Eighteen years from its release, Silent Hill 2
still maintains the very same hold on me since sitting in the solitude of a quiet evening, long ago, my younger self entirely entranced by James Sunderland’s predicament. Attempting to imagine my following adult years without Team Silent’s magnum opus is a blatant impossibility by this point; there have been too many solitary evenings where the half-habitual half-obsessive act of playing/watching Silent Hill 2
was simply the only way to make things… better. With so few alternatives I have to compare to Akira Yamaoka’s accompanying soundtrack, either through my own emotional connection or a heavily biased judgement of quality, coming back time and time again is an inevitability I doubt will ever let go.
Truthfully, if there isn’t anything else I have come to associate with the lonely meanderings of a body of work dead set on unearthing the deepest facets of my psyche, it is at least the comforting realisation that even within the darkest corners can lay the smallest comfort. With Brian Reitzell’s fantastic work on NBC’s Hannibal
being one of the fewest alternatives I can muster, Silent Hill 2
and the accompanying Akira Yamaoka soundtrack is exactly the perfect medicine to soothe where no other can even come close. A brutally beautiful piece of art in every lasting moment.
”Put your head back. Close your eyes. Wade into the quiet of the stream.”
”For me, it’s always like this.”