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Borderlands Soundtrack: As Dark As They Come (Review)

Borderlands Soundtrack: As Dark As They Come (Review)

February 3, 2010 | | 2 Comments Share thison Facebook Borderlands Soundtrack: As Dark As They Come (Review)on Twitter

From the minute Borderlands was announced, I was immediately drawn to its highly-stylized graphics. Since it was released, it’s received numerous positive reviews, and has sold exceptionally well, leading me to believe that it doesn’t only look pretty, but is also a great game. Of course it’s difficult to have an all around well polished project without having things settled in the audio department, however.

The Borderlands soundtrack is just about as unique as the game’s visual style and setting. This is dark ambient music to the core, interestingly combining both acoustic and electronic elements to create a style all of its own. With contributions from Jesper Kyd, Cris Velasco, Sascha Dikiciyan, Tim Larkin, and audio lead Raison Varner, the Borderlands audio team is not only a display of some of the top talent from the West, but also proof that under a single unifying vision, too many chefs in the kitchen can actually work, leading to this coherent and effective body of work.

Let me tell you how in our review of the Borderlands soundtrack after the jump.

Jesper Kyd starts us off with “Prelude,” a dreamy electronic track that combines organic guitars, strings, and ethnic woodwinds with moody synthesized electronic percussion and pads. The combination of the opposing organic and electronic sounds come together perfectly, setting the stage for this unique blend that is featured throughout the score. He continues with “Welcome to Fyrestone,” which features beautiful acoustic guitar melodies before transitioning into darkness with chugging electric guitars and buzzing pads in the background that build tension.

Composer duo Sascha Dikiciyan and Cris Velasco also manage to fuse organic and electronic sounds in a way that’s consistent with the rest of the team. They contribute a number of ambient tracks, including “Removing the Bandit Threat” with its evolving atmospheres and choral elements and the foreboding “Welcome to the Bunker” with its minimalistic approach and pauses of silence after each heavy-hitting thud of sound. They are also responsible for a couple intense battle tunes, starting with “Fighting Sledge’s Minions” which makes use of heavily distorted and reverberated electric guitars and phasing pads as well as “Burning Rubber and Shooting Bullets,” both of which feature bone-crushing distorted percussion that pulverizes the soundscape. Later, “Fighting Krom and His Gun” features the same brooding atmosphere with layered bongos and electronic percussion, but also adds in brass stabs and violin chops to give the piece a “classy” orchestral edge.

Gearbox audio lead Raison Varner is next at the wheel with “Enter Skag Gully,” which is one of my favorite tracks on the album. Strings carry the melody from melancholy to sometimes beautiful sections, sounding like something out of the Diablo universe, but Varner adds these horrific bass swells that act as a demonic heartbeat. He follows with another effective track titled “Fighting Off the Skags,” another dark piece that combines electronic percussion, acoustic guitar, and this strange filtered voice that carries the melody. It creates an unnatural sound that is both interesting and unsettling. “Traversing the Deep,” another highlight, is dominated by these gritty bass pad swells that sound like they were sampled from the T-1000 theme from Terminator 2. It’s a gnarly effect for sure, and the scattered ambient pads and brief fragments of melody are really effective in creating an ominous sound. “Welcome to the Trash Coast” is something straight out of a horror film with a droning bass pad and seemingly random string runs and crescendos that sneak up on you.

Varner also gets the last word as far as the soundtrack proper is concerned. “Assaulting Krom’s Canyon” is the longest track on the album, approaching the 5-minute mark, and plods along at a marching pace, slowly building in intensity, while “Battling Krom’s Minions” features a flurry of rhythmic percussion along with brass swells and an ethnic woodwind that cries out from the distance. “Traveling to the Vault,” on the other hand, is a haunting track with female vocals. A repetitive woodwind goes back and forth between two notes, and a lot of brass is used to lend the track a regal sound. It’s another one of my favorites. “Destroying the Destroyer” is the final track, and offers no closure with its tense string stabs, crunchy synths, and abrupt ending.

Tucked away at the end of the album are 6 bonus tracks from the various contributors. Kyd starts with “Bring Your Guns,” which works in a didgeridoo along with ethnic woodwinds, percussion, and voices that provides for a unique listening experience. Dikiciyan and Velasco are responsible for 3 of the 6 bonus tracks, including cinematic “Borderlands” and the otherworldly “Exploring Overlook” and “The Threat at Overlook.” The last two bonus tracks come courtesy of Tim Larkin, starting with one of my favorite tracks on the album, “The Old New Haven,” which opens with a filtered saxophone melody and a groovy synth bass that get a little jazz thing going. “Exploring the Mine” is another great track with melodic string stabs, ambient pads and chimes, and extremely compressed percussion that sounds almost muted, reflecting the suffocating depths of a deep and dark mine. I loved both of Larkin’s tracks, and wish he had been featured more prominently throughout the rest of the score!

Overall, I can’t help but be impressed by this album’s unique sense of atmosphere and the amazing level of consistency that the team achieved despite the number of contributors. While there aren’t any melodies here for you to hum, if you’re into atmosphere, and I mean dark and bloody atmosphere, then I can’t recommend this album enough. Everyone on the album performs wonderfully, and while I already knew the majority of the composers on board, this was my first experience hearing Raison Varner’s music, and I must say I’m impressed and am looking forward to more!

The album packaging features a fold-out booklet with some artwork and a comprehensive list of credits. My biggest complaint here is this sticker that seals the top of the jewel case closed. Not only is it nearly impossible to remove, but doing so leaves a seemingly permanent layer of gunk along the top edge of both the front and back of the case. I ended up replacing the front and back of the jewel case to avoid having it stick to the neighboring CDs on the shelf. That’s okay though, you’ll want to pick this one up for the music. You can find the Borderlands soundtrack at Sumthing Else Music Works.

Did you have the opportunity to play Borderlands yet and check out the new expansions? Did you have any idea playing the game or listening to the soundtrack that there were so many composers involved?

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