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Music Monday: Silent Hill

Music Monday returns with guest contributor and Silent Hill/Akira Yamaoka superfan, Jon Salmon (@CatatonicNali).

Let me preface this by saying that I’m something of a Silent Hill fanatic.

I’ve played most of the games in the franchise and enjoyed each one immensely, despite some of the flaws present in the more recent releases.

Playing the demo of the original Silent Hill that came packaged with Metal Gear Solid was one of my earliest experiences with horror games, simultaneously stoking my interest in the genre and scaring me out of my 13-year-old skin.

I would rank Silent Hill 2 as one of my favourite games of all time and played through it at least seven times during 2012 and 2013, going so far as to essentially perfect the game by earning a 10-star rank.

I own limited edition CD versions of the soundtracks for six of the eight games in the franchise, I don’t include Book Of Memories because it’s barely a Silent Hill game, and I’d even go so far as to say that the first movie was far more competent than the usual rubbish that videogame adaptations tend to be.

The second movie however, well, the less said about that one the better.

It didn’t take me long to realise how important the sound design and music are to these games. Obviously this is, or at least should be, true of all good horror experiences but something about the use of audio in the Silent Hill franchise really strikes a chord with me.

Akira Yamaoka, the man responsible for composing the music and sound effects for the entire franchise (with a few exceptions; Downpour, Book Of Memories and one track from the original game), was also made the main producer of the series from Silent Hill 3 onwards and I would imagine this gave him license to entwine the sound design with other aspects of the game more than most sound designers can, as well as hiring a singer to provide vocals for a number of tracks.

Yamaoka’s scores mostly consists of ambient music that is often somber in tone and features a lot of dark electronic and industrial sounds, fitting in perfectly with the theme of the games. These are interspersed with guitar and piano tracks and from Silent Hill 3 onwards often feature vocals provided by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn which usually fit in with the events and themes of the games.

When I was first considering writing this article I wasn’t sure how to go about it. My initial thought was to include a handful of the most memorable tracks but to be honest if you’re interested enough to be reading this you’ve probably heard the main Silent Hill theme plenty of times as well as Theme Of Laura and You’re Not Here, the main themes of Silent Hill 2 and 3 respectively.

On the other hand although I love a lot of the ambient tracks from the games they’re not particularly meaningful unless you know the games well and understand the context of the piece of music.

For example one of my favourite tracks in Silent Hill 2, Black Fairy, plays in the otherworld hotel at the end of the game just after the major plot revelation is made. The music perfectly emphasises the physical decay of an abandoned and fire damaged building along with the mental decay and despair felt by James following his revelation.

I can fully appreciate the depth of the music but to someone who hasn’t played the game and can’t make those connections it probably sounds like weird and random ambient sounds.

So what I’ve decided to do is include a number of more obscure tracks from the various soundtracks, all of which can be enjoyed for the music/song alone without needing a great explanation of the context. Enjoy!

Our first track is Cradle Of Forest from the Silent Hill 4 soundtrack. One of only a few tracks to feature a male vocalist, Joe Romersa in this case, it plays over the game’s credits and is likely referencing children who live in an orphanage in the forest outside Silent Hill.

Secondly, Waiting For You – Live At “Heaven’s Night”. This is an interesting one because although it’s taken from the Silent Hill 4 soundtrack it doesn’t play in the game and appears to be an easter egg of sorts.

It’s made up to be a live track with an audience cheering and even goes into the main Silent Hill theme at the end as if the concert was continuing but unfortunately it’s all fabricated as Heaven’s Night is the name of a strip club in Silent Hill.

The implication is that Mary or possibly Maria, who actually works at Heaven’s Night, is singing the song for James as the lyrics appear to refer to Mary’s letter that he receives at the very beginning of the game.

Up next is Hole In The Sky from the Silent Hill Origins/Zero soundtrack. Origins is one of the few Silent Hill games I haven’t actually played so I don’t know anything about the story here but apparently the song plays over the credits following the ‘bad’ ending and from the lyrics it’s obvious that something fairly terrible is going on. Whatever, it’s a great song.

Next, Alex Theme from the Silent Hill Homecoming soundtrack. I don’t think this one plays anywhere in the game and the lyrics are pretty much explaining the basic plot of the game and setting up the character.

Alex is a soldier returning home after a military discharge and time hospitalised only to find that his father and brother have disappeared along with many other folk from the town and his mother is in a near catatonic state. As you would expect from a Silent Hill game, things quickly escalate.

Finally we’ll finish on something a bit lighter. Here Be Monsters is a track in Silent Hill Downpour that doesn’t appear on the soundtrack, presumably because rather than an original composition it’s a licenced track by Ed Harcourt.

It plays over the joke “SURPRISE!” ending, which is fairly fitting and is well worth looking up because it’s pretty entertaining.

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