Music Review: Halo 4

I recently had time to kill at the local library and, since I did not want more books to add to my already too-large reading stack, I decided to peruse the music section. I went a little crazy, actually, but one of the CDs I came home with was the soundtrack to Halo 4.

If anyone doubts the production values that go into producing today’s video games, listen to this soundtrack some time. It’s not hard to imagine this going with any sci-fi or action movie Hollywood could crank out. Neil Davidge is probably a name you’ve never heard, and that’s too bad. His track titled “Haven” is ripping my heart out. He may never be taken as seriously as James Horner, Howard Shore, or John Williams, largely because of the genre. Somehow, at least for now, video game soundtracks aren’t taken as seriously as movie soundtracks.

Of course the fact that I’m listening to the soundtrack indicates that may be changing.

It should. Far too many movie soundtracks these days are little more than compilations of popular songs. Where’s the creativity in that? There are some composers crossing over, and that’s good too.

The Halo 4 soundtrack varies in mood and style, from techno-rock to symphonic. Not everyone can pull that off. Davidge does it nicely. This is immensely listenable music, with more depth and variety than much of what I’ve heard by Two Steps From Hell. Granted, they’re composing for yet another genre: movie trailers. I suspect they could do well with a full-fledged soundtrack, too.

But Davidge is already doing it, and doing it well. His soundscapes are full and lush, and yet can also set tension with the barest of orchestrations. “Solace”, for example, begins sparse and pensive, gradually growing into something richer, turning the tension into redemption that never quite loses its touch of anxiety.

I’ve never played Halo 4 that I recall. I have no previous emotional connection. But I am seriously considering buying this soundtrack for its own merits. Unlike some soundtracks that rely on tonal harmonies alone to set the mood, this is melodic, listenable music that can stand on its own. It underscores a first-person shooter game, and so there are those driving, action elements to it, but its scope is much grander, hoping to achieve much more than could mere heavy-metal background like some. It’s science fiction, of course, so there are synthesized, “tech” elements to the sound, but the symphonic core is never far away.

I’m obviously impressed. You might be, too.

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