Music is an incredibly important part of the way we see games. It can add levity to a tense situation or creativity to a normal one. It has the power to engross you or the ability to gross you out. A gaming soundtrack is more dynamic and grounding than a soundtrack in any other medium, and that sense of now is what makes them just so charming, especially when it’s something as harsh and challenging as the Silent Hill vinyl.
In Game Grooves, we explore the physical medium of gaming soundtracks by analyzing the vinyl/tape/CD itself and use that as a device to really engage with their ideas. From analyzing themes to techniques, meaning to subtext, dissecting their music becomes a part of analyzing the games themselves. In this regular column, we ask “What does the experience add and why should they do it in the first place?” These are just a handful of the questions we seek to answer.
Silent Hill Vinyl - What Makes It Special?
There’s something existentially enchanting about Akira Yamaoka’s work, and it has been a personal career highlight to talk to him about it. The Silent Hill soundtrack is a gut punch that keeps surprising as you slip away. It’s one of those albums that makes you close your eyes as you begin but shocks you into consciousness with its metallic clanging and harsh industrial drones.
This is something that translates oddly well to vinyl. As something that takes up physical presence around you, it innately becomes atmospheric as you flick the switch and put the needle on the disc.
The experience of listening to it on vinyl is an odd one due to its anthemic rumblings and creepy industrial sounds. The atmosphere of the game is emulated with great effect to mold the atmosphere of your room, the crackling of vinyl speakers adding even more to the subtle storytelling at work. The second track “All” is just two minutes of rumbling, alongside the sounds of a dying world, Henry’s radio accompanying the growing tension.
Someone who wants to make a more auditorily accessible vinyl might opt to skip this all together, jotting it down as a rumble of the game and not an intentional choice on behalf of Yamaoka. This vinyl is anything but accessible. It’s dynamic and strange, with jarring noises and some very pretty guitars. It’s willing to let you get lost and even more willing to jolt you awake.
There’s something almost oppressive in the listen of this soundtrack and its unyielding ability to freak you out. You have the ability to easily skip a track you don’t like on your phone or PC, but the act of listening to something on vinyl means you have to commit to the whole thing. Silent Hill can occasionally be genuinely hard to get through, but the experience proves itself to be worth it as you find yourself thinking about it long after it’s finished. It forces a certain catharsis you can only avoid by turning the whole thing off.
The physical vinyl itself holds a presence too. The cover is simply a car driving through fog, its headlights illuminating what we can’t see. It plays on our role as the outside observer to show something that is simultaneously meaningless and full of meaning. The physical disks I received were a dazzling white with demonic insignias in the middle, the corruption of something seemingly pure, only to realize nothing was in the first place.
This is a really nice vinyl to have in my collection, adding both a certain mystique and overt weirdness to it. This is not the type of vinyl you will play for your friends, but it's definitely the type you put on when you feel a bit iffy and you're alone and just want something to drown it all out. Its ability to both comfort and displace all that noise is wonderful in the right atmosphere — you just have to be the right person to understand that feeling. I would say sorry if you’re not, but maybe sorry isn't the right word.
The Silent Hill soundtrack is a bandage after a cut, whilst simultaneously being the knife that injured you in the first place. Its melancholic, and often beautiful, moments only gain their overt prettiness due to the oppressive darkness of everything else. This is likely a feeling most people are familiar with, and the catharsis it offers is practically unparalleled in modern soundtracks. You don’t need a knife to want that catharsis. It’s a masterclass in musical storytelling, using rusty pipes and the banging of archaic machines to make an odd rhythm.
The soundtrack is all about growing accustomed to that menacing feeling, only to be uplifted and resurfaced with tracks like “Tears Of” and “Not Tomorrow.” Like Silent Hill and life itself, it plays off the darkness inside us all to have the rising crescendo of violin or horns play their own beautiful melody in the middle of the darkness. It has this uncanny ability to shock you and simultaneously make you cry, its intentional cocktail of alien atmospheres and hard-to-quantify feelings stirring your brain into a frenzy.
Silent Hill has this cyclical nature to its music. The start and end are the most musically coherent with defined melodies and instrumentation. The middle ground is loaded with intentional noise, something to get lost in. There’s something existential about the way it forces that clarity at the end. This feeling makes you want to go back in and experience it all, even if the middle is jarring, uncomfortable, and not always worth it. The end of the soundtrack brings back ideas and concepts felt early on to refresh your memory and gives some purpose to it all.
What makes this work so well is its ability to make you want to replay the entire thing again. You resurface from that crushing darkness with a new perspective, a new way of seeing the music you just listened to. Like the game itself, despite its ugliness, you can’t help but get wrapped up in it all again. Despite every instinct in your body, you enter Silent Hill once more.