Akira Yamaoka – Silent Hill 3: Original Video Game Soundtrack (Mondo Remaster)

5 out of 5

Label: Mondo

Produced by: James Plotkin (vinyl remaster)

Silent Hill 3 was the first “modern” Silent Hill game in my mind. While everything that this game is is absolutely indebted to the prior entries, the first game was somewhat defined and guided by its technical limitations, just as the second game was kind of a proving ground for what the series could be, also finding its way on the PS2 platform. By the time of SH3 – 2003 – games were just starting to turn that corner where narrative elements from games like Silent Hill 2 could be combined with graphical leaps forward (gained by more familiarity with the system), creating experiences that didn’t necessarily require qualifiers like “It’s great… for a video game” when trying to pitch other people on the medium. I’m sure I’m skewing this simply from my perspective as a gamer, but around this time was when I feel like gaming started making that march towards full-on cultural acceptance; a world in which my parents might be aware of E-Sports and understand that Halo is a video game.

I recognize that SH3 isn’t many people’s favorite from the core series, but it remains an important experience for me – a game that freaked me the hell out, and had me immersed in its story, and did so in an incredibly cinematic fashion that made me wish to have played it with someone beside me, being affected in their own way. It felt very accessible, very relevant, but also very personal. And all of that is beautifully communicated through Akira Yamaoka’s score, which stands toe-to-toe with the prior soundtracks, while evolving the SH “sound” into something that’s still modern, and haunting.

With the prior scores using tension and creepiness as their undercurrents, and sticking with a rather industrial, electronic edge, on Silent Hill 3 Yamaoka firstly promotes the vocals (primarily from Mary Elizabeth McGlynn) to the forefront of the experience, appearing on almost half of the tracks, and also makes this a very organic affair of guitars, and drums. Certainly the clatter starts to creak its way in, initially in the form of grooving, gloomy beats and then, towards the end of the score, more “traditional” SH elements, but this is a much less digital affair, and the emotion that comes with that does have an omnipresent tension, but the lyrics and tone are much more focused on sadness, and loss. This is so tied into the game that we have snippets of narration from it wended throughout the whole score; the two experiences are one.

McGlynn’s performances (and her lyrics) and fantastic throughout; these no longer feel like bonus tracks just for opening or closing credits but, again, are integral to the story and vibe. Similarly, no track comes across as just spot scoring for a stairwell or alley – every song belongs in its sequence, and has something to “say.” As we tip-toe onto the final stretch of music, Yamaoka’s awareness of this evolution of the sound seems undeniable: more electronic and familiar SH sounds come into play, leading up to the surprise of “Homecoming,” the return of the mandolin-led SH theme, then modernized by Joe Romersa’s emotive vocals and a full band setup.

The Mondo pressing of this is the first of their SH scores where I do hear some surface noise (particularly on the vocal tracks, which feel a bit distorted), but they luck out since such affects kinda work on a Silent Hill score, and the packaging and splatter vinyl, plus glowing and well-written liner notes from Alexander Aniel, help to smooth over that flaw.