Soundtracks on Vinyl: Silent Hill (1999) - Reviewed

It goes without saying the Silent Hill video game franchise (particularly the first three games) is arguably my favorite of all time.  Originally airing in 1999 on the Sony Playstation, the story of a fictional American town where nothing is as it seems and everyone has something to hide, Silent Hill conjures up the atmospheric industrial and ambient terrors of David Lynch and the visceral grotesque horrors of Jacob’s Ladder.  For the first time, the survival horror game wasn’t just about button mashing against deadly monsters.  Rather, it was a dread soaked psychological descent into madness where neither you the player nor the characters weren’t sure what was happening to them.  Finally, Resident Evil met it’s match if not the successor in terms of becoming the pinnacle of the survival horror subgenre.

Key to the survival horror experience in addition to the creepy vistas of the ghost town immersed in choking thick fog with inhuman monsters and demons of the flesh (or mind?) running amok is the sound design.  Thanks to the great Akira Yamaoka, Silent Hill contains a wide variety of sound engineering in addition to a thoroughly expressive and unsettling electronic soundtrack.  Often consisting of either industrial loops, ambience or old fashioned rock and roll, it’s a wholly immersive sonic experience which provides an essential component to the listening aspect of the gameplay.  Sounds are also key to detecting enemies, as your avatar is adorned with a radio which emits an eerie frequency whenever an adversary is near.  There are times during the game where I want to just hit the pause button, close my eyes and let Yakaoka’s soundscape take me on a journey.  It’s that rich and texture of a soundtrack!

For years the only way to obtain the soundtrack to this now classic game series was to fork over exorbitant amounts of money for an import compact disc from Japan, some of which have only gone up in value over time.  With the elite vinyl releasing label Mondotees however, Silent Hill recently received it’s first-time ever vinyl pressing, housed in a custom gatefold sleeve with two discs pressed with a ghostly looking snowfall tie-dye platter or the chose to purchase a standard black vinyl.  Naturally, this limited-to-500 copies pressing sold out instantly and is now going on eBay in the hundreds.  I was lucky enough to snag one before it sold out and it’s a wonderful addition to this Silent Hill fan’s collection.  That said, this long-awaited vinyl release is not without it’s share of controversy however.

Though everyone knows Akira Yamaoka is the longtime sound designer and composer of the Konami Digital Entertainment based videogame series, recent changes within the company that have long since become infamous among gamers including Hideo Kojima’s much-publicized exit from the company have invariably affected this Mondo release.  Instead of giving credit where it’s due proper, Mondotees due to licensing agreements have left Yamaoka’s name off of this vinyl release entirely, crediting the release to Konami Digital Entertainment.  Fans of the series are of course up in arms over this, proving the fallout of Konami is continuing to have a negative impact on further releases of their library.  While I won’t junk my still prized possession over this, it is an injustice which Konami should be ashamed of. 

Preventing the man who created arguably some of the best videogame soundscapes in the history of the medium from receiving fair credit for his efforts is completely unacceptable though I can understand the compromise Mondotees had to make.  Their hands were tied with this one, left with the options of either no vinyl at all or simply drop Yamaoka’s name from the credits.  One day this rights/credit snafu will be corrected but until then it unfortunately does take the overall score of this otherwise great vinyl release down a peg.  There’s really no reason for this issue of excluding the composer’s name from the liner notes to exist beyond it being another obscene absurdity from Konami.

Despite the issue of credit and the limited release, those lucky enough to have obtained one of these sets should nonetheless rejoice for having arguably one of the greatest survival horror soundtracks of all time in a lovingly detailed and remastered 180 gram record.  Regardless of the aforementioned issue which will make or break the deal for many, Mondotees continues to do splendid work with their sleeve design, their pressings and the overall selection of music itself.  Perhaps one day the other albums will come out on vinyl also, hopefully having sorted out the credit issues with Konami by then.  For now, I’m just happy to have such an ornate special edition soundtrack to what is still likely going to remain my favorite videogame series of all time.


- Andrew Kotwicki