Experimental, Game Music, Reviews

Dark Window (Review)

October 21, 2015 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook Dark Window (Review)on Twitter

It’s always interesting to hear a composer go outside of their established genre of music. This sometimes happens in order for a composer to flex their creative muscles, while other times it can be the result of pursuing a passion project. Ben Prunty is probably best known for his sci-fi genre music. In particular his work on the soundtracks for FTL, Gravity Ghost, and Star Crawler. While he has produced a few albums that aren’t related to games, they still maintained a similar tone and style to his game soundtrack work. So when I heard that one of Prunty’s latest solo projects was an experimental horror album, I had to take a listen.

The album, titled Dark Window, is an eleven track album that aims to capture the spirit of horror movies, urban legends, and just good old-fashioned ghost stories. Each track has a title meant to suggest the scene that the music is accompanying. Since this is at its core a concept album, this review will be focus on how well the tracks hit the mark for evoking an unsettling horror experience. 

Right from the start it’s clear that Prunty is not going for the type of horror music that we’re used to hearing in games. While a lot of horror themed scores tend to go for dissonant and over dramatic orchestra stings, these tracks present a much more ambient and electronic sound. The opening track, “Teeth,” has a lot of morphing ambient tones and textures as well as pulsing bass and percussion parts. This is an album that pushes more for making you feel uneasy, rather than trying to shock you or make you jump.

Other tracks like “Basement” and “Urban Legend” stick to more slow-building ambient textures. These pieces in particular evoke a lot of the more suspenseful experiences in horror games and movies. The latter of these tracks takes a more experimental route that reminds me of the music from the early Silent Hill games. In particular there’s some interesting audio effects like a distorted wind sound, that enters at unexpected moments and really adds to the tension of the music.

One of the more bizarre sounding entries on this album is “White-Haired Shadow.” The piece features a collection of warped vocals, a detuned music track, and a creepy voice whispering to the listener. My favorite moment from this piece is the ending, where the music cuts off to let the phantom voice speak uninterrupted and is then immediately followed by a dissonant and eerie string pad. It’s an unnerving track and it’s easily one of my favorites on the album.

Not every piece on Dark Window is a cluster of dissonance and chaos. Later tracks like “Interlude – Old Stories” has a wonderful, if still a bit eerie, set of melodies. The track makes use of chimes and plucked strings for much of its melodic material, which is a nice change of pace from the wilder and unsettling tracks. It’s also more reminiscent of the music of classic 80’s slasher films like Halloween. Overall a great piece with a discernible, but still quite eerie, melody.

Something that Dark Window does very well is present the sounds of different types of horror. “Cold Universe,” for example, has a much more subtle build up and construction that evokes the moods of quieter sci-fi environments. The track really comes across as lonely and desolate, a perfect mood for an empty and possibly haunted area of space. This is much different from the previously mentioned “Teeth” track, which has more momentum and energy akin to Prunty’s FTL soundtrack.

One of my other favorite tracks is the album’s finale, “The Sky is Dead.” It opens up with alternating resonant tones and percussive hits. Other elements and slight tweaks to the existing sounds worm their way in. While the various tones call and respond to each other, you can hear the sound of wind blowing through trees. It’s a very quiet piece, but it nails all the elements of a good suspense track. It leaves you hanging onto every tone and sound that enters the track. A little before the 4 minute mark, an eerie sustained chord enters very quietly underneath the other instruments. It slowly builds up as the other instruments drop out for almost a full minute. Eventually the piece settles back down to nothing but the sound of the wind and what sounds like distant moaning. A great ending track for a very unsettling album.

Dark Window is a wonderful tribute to the various soundscapes of horror movies, games, and ghost stories. Each track has a dark and eerie vibe all its own and there’s a surprising amount of variety across the whole album. Ben Prunty is exhibiting some great experimental composition on Dark Window that sounds distinct from much of his previous work. Hopefully this lands Prunty a gig or two on some horror game projects in the future. I know I’ll be using this album in my haunted house remix for Halloween. Horror fans should definitely check this album out. You can find and purchase Dark Window on Ben Prunty’s Bandcamp page.

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