Rumours of a Silent Hill reboot skyrocketed since the announcement of Sony’s Playstation 5 showcase, streamed on Twitch and YouTube on the 16th. Without the promise of a new instalment in the series, we were left lusting over what was. So, I’ve decided to revisit this favourite holiday-spot in the best way I can – by ranking all of the soundtracks! Trust me, comparing the likes of Yamaoka and Licht was no easy task and I didn’t take it lightly. Join me as we wander down the foggy path into a nightmare of noisy delight.
In order to rank them, I’ll be looking at how the soundtracks hold up on their own and choosing a personal favourite track from each.
#9 – Silent Hill – Book of Memories: Daniel Licht
Listen. Book of Memories isn’t a great game. The atmosphere is jilted, the story feels unfinished and loose, and the gameplay is a far-cry from the style the franchise is associated with. But, I have to give credit where credit it due. Licht takes the flesh of this and rinses it for all it has, creating a solemn ambience in his music. At its best, Licht’s use of slow piano churns your emotions into something dull and lustly, and at its worse it relies on repetitive rhythms in uninspired cutscenes which lack the introspective depth of the originals. The soundtrack is beautiful and horrifying, but against the ranks of Yamaoka, it doesn’t fair too well.
Favourite track: “The Steel Boss” – enigmatic and overpowering, Licht grabs your attention and refuses to give it back with this track. There’s a sense of playfulness which lives up to the lighter atmosphere of the game world, and the pulsing steel sounds match the animated metallic monster you’re battling whilst this pumps in the background.
#8 – Silent Hill – Downpour: Daniel Licht
In terms of listenability, this one holds up as a fantastic atmospheric album. Korn open this OST with a grungy bang. Licht’s pieces are emotional and oozing with lustrous, demented elegance, playing with that fantastic fear threshold that Silent Hill tinkers on the edge of. There isn’t much to fault in regards to Licht’s composing, but as a Silent Hill soundtrack it doesn’t reinvent much from what we’ve come to expect.
What Downpour does right is homage the brilliance of past games throughout – we have the moment the radio plays the sombre notes of Silent Hill 2’s “Magdalene”, reading “Hey kids, is Silent Hill a ‘special place’ to you?” in a leaflet, to the jukebox playing out the theme of Silent Hill 1 in the iconic coffee shop. There was clearly a lot of love poured into this game and soundtrack, and it oozes that passion throughout.
Favourite track: “Murphey’s Theme” – Korn were the perfect choice to introduce this game. With just the right mix of atmospheric nightmare and catchy rock-riffs, this theme solidifies itself in the Silent Hill hall of fame as a relistenable classic.
#7 – Silent Hill – Shattered Memories: Akira Yamaoka
Shattered Memories saw the boundaries between reality and the Otherworld strengthen. The rusty, blood-splattered world was swapped for ice-cold mazes. Similarly, the soundtrack is more structured and predictable. The game itself might be a miss for a lot of people, but Yamaoka soundtracks always hit a homerun. Mary Elizabeth McGlynn‘s vocals haunt the industrial rocky beats, with atmospheric radio-waves sounding straight out of a science-fiction flick. Individually, each track is a composed piece of eerie brilliance, but together they lack the purposeful structure giving us that ‘wow-factor’.
Favourite track: “Always on my Mind” – like so many of Yamaoka’s tracks, you could listen to this all day everyday and still find something new. The soft voice of Mary McGlynn haunts the trippy ’90s electronic base, it’s almost as though she’s leading you straight to the chopping board and you’re willing to go.
#6 – Silent Hill – Homecoming: Akira Yamaoka
Like the other post-Team Silent games, Homecoming has a reputation akin to marmite from fans of the series. Some applaud it for its attempt to retain the poetic misery of the originals, whilst others cite the clunky combat and action-themed loading screens as disparate from the psychological subtlety the series gained attention for. One thing that does hold up is the soundtrack. Yamaoka reinvents sounds associated with the series, adapting them to fit the storyline of familial love and loss, entangling childlike melodies and depressing hums which tug on the heartstrings.
However, these gorgeous sounds feel all but lost in the end product. The songs seem vacant in their scenes, missing the sense of intricate, purposeful design found in the originals. So, whilst this soundtrack is beautiful, I’m ranking it low for its use in the series.
Favourite track: “Witchcraft” – a numbingly bittersweet melody which never gives away too much, swelling with emotion before it sweetens and lifts. When that classic jingle kicks in, it feels like crying for hours and then having a single moment to breathe.
#5 – Silent Hill – Origins: Akira Yamaoka
Using established piano melodies, Yamaoka crafts a soundtrack rife with the duality and crushing psychological horror driving the Silent Hill Universe.
The synthesised electronic pulses and deep organs add a touch of science fiction, and the overall mood is lighter, which ties in well with the straight-talking main character Travis. The trip-hop aura vibrates through the world like its own beating pulse, combining illegible whisperings and the metal-core clunking beats which have become synonymous with the series whilst still adding its own identity (something which seemed disparate and rushed in Homecoming‘s OST).
Favourite track: There were so many contenders from this one, but I went with “Ripe Black Soul” – vibrating guitar melodies and a slow, seductive drum draw you into a nightmare you don’t want to wake up from. I love how effortlessly dark this track is, wedging itself into your subconscious and letting your imagination do the work.
#4 – Silent Hill 4: The Room: Akira Yamaoka
Silent Hill 4’s: The Room took a different path from previous games by having the player experience first-person sections confined into a locked room. The soundtrack remained traditional, maintaining a rockier edge than later instalments which brimmed with distorted sirens and droning. Lodged between these beats is unexpected moments of brooding introspection, slow, subtle chimes lulling us into a sleepy sense of security. Like Henry, locked in his own room where nothing can hurt him. Until it does.
Favourite track: “Resting Comfortably” – there’s a reason this particular track is repeated for hours in YouTube videos. Yamaoka retains a sense of helpless hope and wonderment amid the dejected hum. It’s got that sad sensation of beauty – like looking back and your past and realising you should have done more. To make you feel like that with music is a talent, and this is Yamaoka at his finest.
#3 – Silent Hill 2: Akira Yamaoka
In my restless dreams, I hear this soundtrack. Wrought with rising emotions and abnormal flows, Yamaoka crafts a contemplative nightmare. Pair this with the impeccable audial storytelling and you’ve got one of the greatest OST’s of all time. Silent Hill 2 is the agony of guilt and the wrenching perpetual trauma a mind can hold, and the OST could not have been a more perfect encapsulation of that. Culminating with its final chapters of betrayal and suffering, Yamaoka entangles each noise and entwines them with ungodly organs screeching in an impassioned close. We are left reflecting on what we’ve learnt, where we’ve come from, and where we’ll go now. Through the graveyard, into the water… maybe into space, if you’re lucky.
Favourite track: Every snippet of sound and movement is memorable. But, for me, nothing tops the moment after you’ve watched the video-tape and “Black Fairy” drones, left to explore the now empty, decrepit hotel. If one sound could encapsulate human suffering, the feeling of falling with nothing to catch you, it would be this.
#2 – Silent Hill: Akira Yamaoka
What doesn’t this soundtrack achieve? Absolutely groundbreaking upon its release, Yamaoka’s place in music history was has been set in blood-stained stone since. By combining rhythmic electric guitars and noises taken from samples, Yamaoka had created a sound so synonymous with its game that it changed horror soundtracks completely. The bassy, metallic noises are unearthly and resonate with the unemotional thinking of a monster; clunky pipes clash and thrash in impassioned boss-fights, until it is all subdued into a gentle hum which breathes of deadly innocence.
Playing this record with the lights off is an experience unlike any other. You’ll find yourself questioning the shadows and calling out – “Hey, have you seen a little girl? Short, black hair?”
Favourite track: “Claw Finger” – don’t be shy, enter the Balkan Church… take respite from the horrors you’ve endured… we promise, nothing can hurt you here. Numbingly shy of being horrifying, this track lets you breathe whilst you to the horrors of what’s to come. It’s balanced, beautiful, and bloody entrancing.
#1 – Silent Hill 3: Akira Yamaoka
Yamaoka and Mary McGlynn take teen angst and transform it into demented, ethereal harmonies. Organs drone atop heavy drums and loop into sombre piano melodies, spilling into religiously-charged tunes. Travelling from track to track you’re suddenly haunted by the voice of Claudia beckoning you into that town, Silent Hill. Get to about half way and the mechanical purring begins.
This OST, like all of Yamaoka’s, is a journey in itself. The dialogue is pertinent and purposeful and sends shivers down my spine every time I hear it. When I want to experience Silent Hill, I turn to this OST and let each moment play through, like foggy, deranged memories I refuse to let go of…
Silent Hill 3 takes the top spot for me because it feels like a game in itself. It’s a soundtrack of innate storytelling, rife with passion and emotion which makes me want to pick up this classic and never put it down.
Favourite track: “End of a Small Sanctuary”, playing at a moment of softness towards the start. Hearing this reminds me of those fond moments loading up the game, spending as long as possible in that first mall scene just to hear this track play over and over.
Not featured – P.T.: Ludvig Forsell
Forsell had the task of picking up after legends Licht and Yamaoka. Not only that, he had to create an ambient Silent Hill soundtrack without letting us in on the trick until that title screen faded in and we all collectively lost it. Forsell stuck with moody diegetic sounds and low radio-statics atop a base of vibrating breath. Listening to it back, you can hear industrial elements slotted everywhere. The scraping of metal slowed down to a reverbing thrum, hidden siren calls in the hovering static – it all tells us that Forsell knew exactly what he was doing (just like everybody else involved).
After the sludge of puzzle-solving and daring to turn every corner, after that radio-dialogue closes up and footsteps pass through the fog, after an intermission of cold silence and steaming breath floating up into cold, black space. Only after that Forsell let Yamaoka’s guitar melody fill our eardrums with pleasure and our hearts with hope.
Lingering, understated, and another nail in the coffin of our sadness that Silent Hills will never see the light.
So… that was difficult. If you love Silent Hill as much as I do, consider listening to the Time Hop podcast. Let me know what you thought of my rankings below! Which would you have placed at the top?