In the car, at work, in the shower, eating a sandwich... lately the mundane acts of my daily existence have taken place on an alien landscape, surrounded by unseen creatures who bray and howl in perfect accompaniment. Though these aren't animals of flesh and blood, but a combination sweeping notes and jarring chords artfully arranged by the creative mind of Alex Otterlei. He was kind enough to send me a copy of his latest work, the Xyanide Official Soundtrack, and it's haunted me ever since.
I never really thought about videogame soundtracks as anything more than a pleasant background noise, ignored as I focused yelling back at the TV after dying in a fiery explosion just before reaching the final boss. Yet take them away and the game world suddenly becomes hollow. Its magic lost, the visual backdrop resolves itself into no more than a rough assemblage of polygons and texture maps. Music provides a feeling of weight and depth that at its best is more than just filling a void of distracting silences. It's as much a part of the experience as the flow of bullets from enemy fighters or the villagers in a hero's home town; something that's often only appreciated in its absence.
In the preview of Xyanide I praised the game for the often neglected custom soundtrack option, but the truth is I've hardly used it. Experiencing this space shooter with random tracks (or even silence) and then coming back to how its was originally orchestrated I've realized that what I was playing before was an unfinished symphony. Xyanide's soundtrack isn't just pleasing to the ear. It carries the story of the struggle of the executioner Drake against the demented witch Aguirra, while the raw instruments combined fused to complex rhythms mirror the flow down the long, twisting tunnels, working in tune with the sounds of laser blasts and fiery explosions. When a sub-boss is about to appear, you know it as the music smoothly increases its pace and alters its rhythm, gearing you up for this thrilling encounter.
It's also riveting out of its intended context. Each track carries its own instruments and composition, which evolve and grow as it plays, never leaving behind the underlying beat that brings it all together. All of these pieces are evocative and distinct, yet manage to blend into a unified score that's dark, rich, and menacing as a fine red wine that carries the scent of blood. This is especially true in the single version of "Embodiment of Vengeance" that's enhanced by the deep and sonorous voice of Kyra Veldkamp. At the same time the quick pace combined with heavy guitars, drums, and more electronic instruments fill each song with a tangible texture that makes them distinct from similar videogame soundtracks, which now seem all too simplistic.
These tracks have also been given a presentation equal to their stature. From the mix of angelic and demonic that graces the cover, to the cd-rom extras that allow you to play the songs straight from the menu, and show off videos like the "Embodiment of Vengeance" single cut from the cinematics of Xyanide to some fast-paced exclusive game footage. All watched over by the looming presence of a massive mecha.
Not a bad way to lighten the drudgery of everyday existence.