Half-Life 2 Soundtrack
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Description: Like most in-game soundtracks, the music to Half-Life 2 is probably best experienced while deeply intertwined in the throes of the game. The music for the long-awaited follow-up is a mixture of dark, eerie, futuristically gothic electronic ambiance that is less a combination of actual songs than it is an amalgamation of aural mood swi Like most in-game soundtracks, the music to Half-Life 2 is probably best experienced while deeply intertwined in the throes of the game. The music for the long-awaited follow-up is a mixture of dark, eerie, futuristically gothic electronic ambiance that is less a combination of actual songs than it is an amalgamation of aural mood swings, most of which reside in the deepest, darkest pits of the imagination.
While the combined time of the soundtrack clocks in at just a few hairs over an hour, the bulk of the 43 "songs" rarely crest the 2-minute mark, thus making this more of an exercise in snippet collage/cue arrangement/sound byte conglomeration than anything else. Which isn't to say that it doesn't succeed on its own merits outside of the game, it's just that thanks to the brevity of the tracks, it works less as a cohesive soundtrack and more like a collection of interrupted musical thoughts. For example, tracks like the "Valve Theme [Long Version]" (the title of which is something of an oxymoron given that this installment is only 1-minute and 46-seconds in length) isn't so much a theme in the tradition sense as it is a wash of oppressively sparse tones culled together to create an unwavering empty void. It's the closest one could possibly ever come to capturing the empty blackness of a doomed soul without actually venturing into such terrain.
But lest we get ahead of ourselves, let's start at the beginning. The somewhat quizzically entitled "Adrenaline Horror" begins the album, sounding not quite unlike an outtake from Peter Gabriel's Birdy, his genre defining entry in film score composition. Yet the song really has little in common with its title, which implies on-the-edge-of-your seat intensity, but conversely delivers almost somnambulistic ephemeral dread instead. [Editor's note: it quickly dawned on us that the titles of the "songs" that appeared on our media player could quite possibly be incorrect. However, a quick search online—even on the official Half-Life 2 website--yielded no additional information on the soundtrack, so if the titles of the songs we are referring to are erroneous, it is due to no singular fault of our own] The next track, "Vague Voices, seems to do a much better job of instilling a sense of impending doom thanks to a pulsating electro bead and gurgling chunks of synth that collide with a militaristic rhythm cadence that would fit perfectly into any B-grade action film chase sequence. Likewise "Klaxon Beat" keeps the BPMs charged near the red, mixing staccato rhythms with windswept emptiness.
The album retains its sense of somewhat up-beat energy on "Space Ocean," which manages to mix turgid synth rumbles with syncopated snares to create a rambling surge of sound that makes you nervous and fidgety. "Cavern Ambience" continues the trait of labeling songs with titles that almost contradict the nature of the music that follows. To my mind, "cavern ambience" would be sparse, empty, almost hollow, wet and sticky, frigidly humid, if you will. Instead, in the Valve realm it denotes up-tempo beat attitude and mildly clashing electro surge. "Apprehensive Short," bucks the trend and actually lives up to its name, being just that, a short, apprehensive tinge of atonality. It bleeds into "Bass String Short," which gurgles and slimes its way into the mix with a feeling of industrialized organicism. "Hurricane Strings" continues to emit dark, evil ambiance thanks to the schismatically charged synth washes that sear through on a slow burn note. And "Diabolical Adrenaline Guitar" manages to not feature a single note of scathing metal guitar shred as the title would lead one to believe. This almost nonchalant approach continues for the next several mini-movements before being broken up by the quasi industrial dance shift of "Alien Shock," which sounds not unlike something Ministry or NIN might have cooked up on the fly ten years ago.
"Drums And Riff" has the distinction of being the shortest entry on the album, clocking in at a lightening 8-seconds even, it consists of some of the most bone rattling piano . "Dimensionless Deepness" is one of the few tracks that seems to have been appropriately titled, as its razor wire spiral grind bleeds into temporally abrasive shards of metallic glisten that accurately paint an aural image of what it's like to be lost in an expanse of indescribable blackness. That just two tracks later we're treated to the blip-n-burble of "Jungle Drums," which also consists of what sounds like rusted tailpipes being banged on with broken spatulas as swirling space-age techno sprinkles about is a shining example of what this soundtrack is all about (as we stated earlier, it's less of a cohesive soundtrack and more a collection of disparate sound cues that all have a similar electronic thread linking them together; that thread being one of doom, dread, and despair, in case you haven't been paying attention).
"Traveling Through Limbo" continues the upbeat darkling machinations thanks to cascading drums and echo filter shifts that mingle with driving synth pulsations. The "Credits/Closing Theme" continue the upbeat motif, opting for a speed-track rhythm that vibrates over bursts of mock electro guitar and futuro jazz on speed. There's a brief reprieve of ambient "silence" on "Threatening Short," which returns the listener to the void of layered silence before "Dark Piano Short" kicks in with another up-tempo syncopated rhythm accompanied by dark synth passages and echo bounce enhancement.
The remainder of the album flitters and flutters between scathingly ominous electronic compositions that mix turgid, lumbering chunks of synth with metallically detached elements of manufactured nothingness to create the feeling of being trapped inside a humongous, heartless, and cold machine like environment that revolves around windswept emptiness, meditative white noize, and deceptively lulling background wow and flutter (there are a few exceptions, however, such as the downright peppy "Track 34" which is the most upbeat, happy sounding track on the entire album and if it were longer than 1:03 one could almost imagine it pulsating from a club in Ibiza).
The Half-Life 2 Soundtrack is an intriguing endeavor, to be sure. On the one hand it presents an hour's worth of creepy, oppressive electronic ambiance that actually works well on its own merits. The 43 sound cues surprisingly fit together to craft a somewhat cohesive whole, albeit one that would undoubtedly illicit nightmares to those who choose to listen to it whilst falling off to sleep. Which brings us to the other hand. By itself, removed from game play, more often than not this soundtrack becomes innocuous background music. This is largely due to the fact that many of the cues are developed around noting more than empty spatial noize, layers of tones coming together to create an almost singular electronic drone (not quite unlike the ambient experiments of Brian Eno in the late '70s). ... (more) (less)
Manufacturer : Valve
Release date : 16 November 2004
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