Akira Yamaoka – Silent Hill 4: The Room – Original Video Game Soundtrack (Mondo vinyl edition)

3 out of 5

Label: Mondo

Produced by: James Plotkin (vinyl master)

An interesting set of tracks from Akira Yamaoka accompany Silent Hill 4, the first Silent Hill game that dared to break from the somewhat established formula of the previous three games; fittingly, Yamaoka pushes his established industrial / downtempo soundscapes towards a more defined trip-hop sound, giving the score a very modern feel. But some things are lost in this translation: the score doesn’t hold as much inherent creepiness as before, nor is it as immersive, slipping back and forth between styles, and perhaps more focused on a cool sound than mood at points. The B- and C-sides of the vinyl release suffer from this the most, as we get the most wide array of “classic” Silent Hill atmospherics, some truly grooving, head-bobbing beats, and then even a straight up rock song, via the Mary Elizabeth McGlynn-led Your Rain – which is a great track, but would fit better as an opener or closer, instead feeling rather out of place as sequenced. A- and D- fare much better as they’re more consistent; though perhaps still lacking on what I would consider a requisite dread, the blending of electronic coldness and organic bass / beats is really well effected, and allowed to flourish into a dedicated album of such music, would probably be fantastic, but Yamaoka is doing his job of sitting slightly in the background to gameplay. The line I’m trying to draw there is that because the gameplay was an experiment, the overall sound is also.

Conceptually, there’s some amazing work hanging around here, such as the ghostly guitar line on The Last Mariachi, the appropriately named Fever Chill, or much of the A-side’s more industrial-tinged moodiness, and Yamaoka’s combinations with his vocalists – McGlynn, Joe Romersa – are really smooth now, not just seeming like a singer stuck on top of his music. (That’s not to denigrate previous efforts, but to me ears, the vocal tracks have often felt like “extras,” and here they do feel like part of the general vibe of the soundtrack.) And it’s possible that a different mix / master could make this more immersive – this is the first edition of the score to which I’m listened – but James Plotkin is generally pretty reliable. So fans of Yamaoka’s SH scores will definitely find familiar touches here, and the soundtrack is absolutely a worthwhile listen, it’s just a more casual affair than the former entries.

Some reviewers have mentioned surface noise on the vinyl. My ears aren’t great at spotting that, but I didn’t hear anything offensive. I also like the cover art which some didn’t, though I wish Mondo had chosen some cooler imagery for the interior / rear, which both go with pretty minimalist and dark artwork.