For a composer, horror music is a tough nut to crack. The fundamental notions of this relatively hermetic subgenre and its evolution have led to a situation, where it’s pretty easy to compose a good soundtrack, yet one has to perform difficult acrobatics for the score not to disappear between other, just as dreadful soundtracks (while also what scares us is often the new and what we don’t know). Contemporary artists thus reach into the depths of sound design and recruit hordes of possessed violinists, percussion players, vocalists. In its previous incarnation, The Evil Within tortured us with an aura of dense, overwhelming music made by Masafumi Takada. What now? And who now?
Music in The Evil Within 2 was the responsibility of Masatoshi Yanagi, one of sound designers working on the first installment in the series. This information is a very important one, because one of my first thoughts after listening was how heavily it involves, and how well it incorporates, sound design – apparently, for Yanagi dark ambient is a piece of cake. The mastery is not purely technical; from time to time, the soundtrack brings out gems so beautiful that it begs the question why they were not more present in the listener’s ears. More often, though, there isn’t much to praise for, and moreover, the idea of using sounds of environment in the soundtrack is not a new notion. Fortunately, even despite the lack of originality, the sound design aspect still does its job: it haunts us, glues the atmosphere together and will definitely contribute to any cardiac arrests during gameplay or stand-alone listen-throughs.
To the rescue comes the legacy of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
The matter is very similar when it comes to the more „organic” part of the horror, namely when the instruments have not been heavily processed (at least not more heavily than current audio standards need them to be). The violinists go crazy – sometimes with flutes and brass, drummers hit anything they can, and vocalists whisper with the enthusiasm of religious zealots; other times, they paint an apocalypse not undeserving of Bloodborne. Both electronic and „organic” music do what they need to. When they’re supposed to scare – they scare, in need of suspense – they deliver, and when the ground under our feet collapses (even literally) – they bring it out as well. And it is all alright. Unfortunately, it’s just „alright”. It works, but we have heard it already. Many times, in fact. This safe decision of lack of originality and the corresponding wasted potential is probably my biggest complaint about The Evil Within 2’s OST. Masatoshi Yanagi stops himself in between clichés and a tiny revolution, and so the final product is OK, but many glimpses of neglected innovation can be seen through the cracks. It is unoriginal also because Masatoshi Yanagi happens to quote Masafumi Takada from time to time, not only on the game’s narrative’s command. I felt like I was reading a book from which I remembered only certain paragraphs, not whole chapters. Hard to blame it on the nature of the horror subgenre.
This certain „indecisiveness”, between originality and lack of it, is even more disappointing, considering the fact that a huge musical novelty in The Evil Within 2 is the emotional sphere… which hasn’t been developed satisfyingly enough. Four years ago Masafumi Takada haunted us with never-ending suspense which could only rise up. Here, Yanagi, on storyline’s and narrative’s orders, fluctuates between the nightmares and short trips into the emotions of our protagonist. Much to my dissatisfaction, he does it in a very unimaginative way, and the lack of flight – even considering the main character’s personality – might cause big difficulty for a soundtrack veteran to indulge emotionally in this score.
In the first The Evil Within, the reflective part happened through Debussy’s immortal Clair de lune.
Fortunately, to the rescue comes the legacy of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, which developers have incorporated into this instalment in the series. In the first The Evil Within, the reflective part happened, as in a Pavlovian response, through Debussy’s immortal Clair de lune. Here, it’s Tchaikovsky and his Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op. 48. Pleasantly adding to the torturing-nightmarish appeal of the whole album (and game), it adds a sphere of delicateness. It’s a pro, although not necessarily for Yanagi, but more for the game’s audio director (Shuichi Kobori, who, nota bene, had a little bit of his own input in the very music of the soundtrack). The Evil Within 2, as a game, was constructed with a broader audience in mind than the first part. Such is the case with the music – of course, any deviance from status quo is risky. I wouldn’t be as disappointed if Masatoshi Yanagi’s „onomatopoeias” didn’t display such ambitions of novelty. It’s a pity, but there’s not much to do – fortunately, we can always get lost in the Psychoplasm.