Game Music, Reviews

This is Hell: Shadows of the Damned Promotional Soundtrack (Review)

June 18, 2011 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook This is Hell: Shadows of the Damned Promotional Soundtrack (Review)on Twitter

When Akira Yamaoka left Konami for Grasshopper Manufacture last year, everyone wondered what Yamaoka’s unique outlook on music as a sound design element would mean for Grasshopper Manufacture’s characteristically unique projects. While Yamaoka did contribute a couple tracks to No More Heroes 2 under a pseudonym, Shadows of the Damned, Grasshopper Manufacture’s new collaboration with EA Games is Yamaoka’s first full score with the company.

With that in mind, when it was announced that fans who pre-ordered Shadows of the Damned would receive a download code for a 12-track promotional soundtrack, I was even more interested. What would it offer, and would it live up to Yamaoka’s name, which has been extensively used to promote the title?

Find out in our review after the jump.

First off, a track list is in order:

01 Theme of Shadows of the Damned (featuring The Damned)
02 Shedding Stars
03 Walk if Off
04 Last stop, windows up
05 This Way comes
06 Fathomer
07 Smile for a Broken Dawn
08 Showdown at High Moon
09 Cold Turkey
10 Broken Bones, Broken Promises
11 Dropped Off Between Stops
12 Clawing at the Veil

As I mentioned, there are 12 tracks which total up to about 30 minutes of music. Some of them are short, but all of them are worth your attention.

Let’s start with the game’s theme, “Theme of Shadows of the Damned (featuring The Damned).” While it’s not the most original title, it’s important to note that this track ‘features’ The Damned, and is not entirely written and performed by The Damned (a popular Gothic rock band out of London). The Damned’s website lists Yamaoka as a writing partner on the track with three of the band’s members (vocalist David Vanian, guitarist Captain Sensible, and drummer Pinch) performing as studio musicians. In other words, it’s a collaboration, opening with some dark and twangy electric guitar work reminiscent of 90s alternative metal acts like Alice in Chains (my favorite band). It’s appropriately dark and brooding, sounding like a combination of Yamaoka and the band members’ talents…

And then a female voice enters the mix! None of the artists listed on The Damned’s website are female, so I can only assume this is Mary Elizabeth McGlynn whose sings a few verses and harmonizes with Vanian at various points. In all this is a pretty killer theme track that brings to memory the glory days of 90s alternative rock. And it’s damn long, coming in at over seven minutes in length, making for a fairly epic opening to the game and soundtrack.

As far as the remaining 11 tracks go, Yamaoka treats us to a range of atmospheres from the disorienting “Shedding Stars” with its glassy synths and startling bass drums that hit like a hammer to the completely chaotic “Walk it Off” with its disturbing combination of instruments that all seem to be playing at their own separate tempo. “… This Way Comes,” on the other hand, brings in exotic and seductive woodwinds that sound like something Pedro Eustache would tantalize us with, while “Showdown at High Moon” introduces choral elements in a strange and distorted country western kind of style.

“Last stop, windows up” is one of my favorites, incorporating jazz instruments with an upright jazz bass, jazz percussion, and some psychedelic piano work. “Fathomer” and “Cold Turkey” are pretty straight forward trip-hop experiences with their cool percussion, although the former adds an unsettling touch with some creepy bass synths and the latter’s strange groans and loud volume alert you to the fact that something is definitely not right. Even more trip-hop comes in the form of “Dropped Off Between Stops,” which uses odd ringtone-like chirping sounds as a melodic element.

“Smile for a Broken Dawn,” on the other hand, is as close to ‘beautiful’ as you could hope for with beautifully layered synth pads that are immediately reminiscent of Jean Michel-Jarre’s Oxygene albums.  The final track, “Clawing at the Veil,” starts with one of the most frightening soundscapes on the album with its otherworldly groans and deep metallic percussive sounds, but the track takes a more new age turn with some synth pads and bongos.

This music is all fantastic, and I’m sure it works wonders in the game. The bottom line is that it has me more interested in Shadows of the Damned than I was before I listened to it, which I think speaks to Yamaoka’s talents. His ability to use completely different instrumentation to create a cohesive atmosphere that is fitting of Hell is quite an accomplishment, and his theme song, written in collaboration with The Damned, stands out as memorable, although I admit I’m a huge fan of 90s alternative rock.

Best of all, this 12-track digital soundtrack is available for free to those who pre-order the game. It’s out on June 21, 2011, so you don’t have much time left, but if you’re interested in the game and are thinking of picking it up once it’s out, just pre-order now and check out some of Yamaoka’s music while you’re at it.

Are you looking forward to hearing Akira Yamaoka’s music in action in Shadows of the Damned next week? What do you think of his eclectic approach and his collaboration with The Damned?

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