The Silent Hill series, especially the first four installments, have become iconic among the fans of horror games. Emotionally driven stories, haunting monster creatures designed by Masahiro Ito, and above all, music by Akira Yamaoka are the strongest features of these productions. For each of them Yamaoka wrote ear catching cues based on guitar, piano and synthesizers – so to mention the iconic main theme from the first Silent Hill installment or the lyrical Promise (Reprise) from Silent Hill 2. However, in this article we will not focus on such parts of these soundtracks.
Silent Hill is a horror series and, as it is commonly known, horror games are made to scare us. Music pays an important role in that process. Very low- and very high-pitched, modulated or harsh sounds evoke a sense of danger to the listener. It is what is left of the primal era, when such sounds were associated either with predators or something unknown, and unknown causes anxiety. Composers for horror films and games often find that fact useful by building up the tense atmosphere using strings. Yamaoka however decided to use electronic instruments.
Akira Yamaoka created the frightening sound universe.
The first installment was released in 1999 and, after so many years, still gives us the creeps. The music takes part in that as well, and in the first Silent Hill it is really harsh and disturbing. By using simple techniques, the composer was able to make me feel like with my heart in my mouth in locations like the alley, where after crossing the gate with the “Beware the dog” label, we enter the terrifying alternative world for the first time, as well as the school filled with creatures resembling children with pincers instead of hands.
Escalating, metallic hits in All, trance-like beat mixed with something that sounds like a processed siren in Over and Devil’s Lyric. A rhythmic pulse and dissonant synthesizers combined with high-pitched, unsettling sound in I’ll Kill You or complete cacophony in My Heaven. The perfect accompaniment to evade (or fight) the specimens from Ito’s bestiary. Silent Hill OST is the scariest in the entire series in my opinion, and for sure it was scary and unique at the times the game appeared.
Silent Hill is a horror series and, as it is commonly known, horror games are made to scare us.
The second installment of the series mainly focuses on the tragedy of the story, hence its soundtrack is more melancholic and polished, and less harsh, although containing perfect scary cues as well. Trance-like rhythm in Ashes and Ghost and The Darkness that Lurks in Our Minds, noisey grindings in Black Mind or pulsating bass loop in Silent Heaven are the darkest parts of the Silent Hill 2 OST, which flavour this story of guilt and personal tragedies with the mixture of tension and anxiety.
Silent Hill 3 in turn has got not many spine tingling cues in its soundtrack, and if there are any, they are unsettling openings to the actual tracks (yet existing on their own in the game), like A Stray Child or Innocent Moon. The exceptions are based on a tribal-like, disturbing chant Prayer and dark, distorted Heads No.2. In the game however we can hear lots of unpleasant synthesizer loops, which are so characteristic for the series.
Silent Hill OST is the scariest in the entire series in my opinion.
Silent Hill 4: The Room is pretty similar. The sequences of creepy sounds are used here as openings or endings of certain cues, like in Waverer or Room of Angel. However, The Last Mariachi deserves close attention, a variation of the iconic Silent Hill theme, played in flamenco style with a synthesizer drone in the background. When hearing this cue in the game menu, it introduces us to the world of gruesome, mysterious murders committed from beyond the grave, though the game itself makes us feel scared not with its soundtrack but rather with its sound design.
The music takes part in that as well, and in the first Silent Hill it is really harsh and disturbing.
From Silent Hill 3 on, the scores focus more on tracks with typical song structure, especially considering the fact of cooperating with Mary Elizabeth McGlynn on vocals. It does not change the fact that Akira Yamaoka created the frightening sound universe, which accompanies the psychological horror games, that inspire various game developers to this day, who try to combine fear with interesting story. The combination of disturbing sounds with evocative visuals and intriguing gameplay makes a perfect recipe for players scared to death.