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Baroque Original Soundtrack :: Review by Chris

Baroque Original Soundtrack Album Title: Baroque Original Soundtrack
Record Label: DigiCube
Catalog No.: SSCX-10021
Release Date: May 21, 1998
Purchase: Buy at eBay


As one might expect from a score for a horror game, the Baroque Original Soundtrack predominantly features menacing ambient themes. These themes aren't ambient in the way that most Resident Evil, Silent Hill, or Parasite Eve tracks are, however. Most of the themes are based around highly experimental genres and many of the themes don't have any melodies at all. As well as dark electronica, there are prominent appearances of industrial music and noise music (a genre that originated from Japan that uses sampled non-musical sounds in a way considered 'unpleasant' by most people) throughout the score. One might not expect the majority of this to come from Masaharu Iwata, a composer usually known for his symphonic approach to music in scores; in fact, not only is this score completely different to anything heard from him before, nothing quite like it has been heard in VGM before. For this reason, and the fact it is practically a solo score (though John Pee and Toshiaki Sakoda from Treasure Hunter G made minor contributions), this album really allowed Iwata to stand up prominently in his own right for the first time.


The album begins with one of the most inspirational pieces of VGM ever written: "Great Heat 20320514." A mixture of grunge and dark electronica, combining heavy overdriven guitar riffs, a penetrating percussion line, and even some oriental melodies as the piece reaches its climax, the composition manages to sound incredibly oppressive, yet also be electrifying, working in conjunction with the game's terrifying opening FMV well. Dark electronica is heard in other parts of the score, too, most notably with "One Foot in the Grave." This track features a rapidly repeating distorted bass note, which gives the piece rhythmical impetus and an industrial feel. All sorts of sounds are integrated over it, including an eerie glissando from one of the lead synth instruments and lots of industrial booms and crashes. Though a striking melody enters in the latter half of the track, this does not detract from the overall oppression created, since the bass line and eerie sound effects remain. It does, however, open up the soundtrack so that it can integrate more melodic themes in a fitting way. Though both pieces succeed in being deliberately unpleasant and unnerving, both have addictive qualities and have more than enough unique features to keep an open-minded listener entertained. "Into Our Trespasses" and "A Style of Baroque" integrate similar features, too, and are very effective in the game, but sadly offer limited impact on the score; this is principally since each last for about a minute.

The first piece of noise music comes with "Sanctuary." Here, no real melody exists, and an array of strange noises takes its place, including samples of rats, bats, raindrops, footsteps, and heart beats. There is some instrumental backing, including faint piano chords and chime motifs, but the piece is fundamentally noise music nonetheless. Another great scene setter is "Confusion," which suits its name perfectly. It opens with some wind sound effects and the sound of a moving train then enters, becoming increasingly louder as it grows closer to the game character. Eventually distorted voices that sound like they are communicating via a radio enter, fading in an out, as the train noise enters again and becomes increasingly more apparent. Though it is subject to personal contemplation as to whether 'noise music' is an oxymoron, these tracks are undeniably effective within the game and are unique to game soundtracks. Closely related to noise music are certain ambient pieces that combine atmospheric droning with other noise, but also have a degree of harmony to them. "Namu Ami" and "Little" are the best examples of this. In the former, the drone repeatedly echoes and gradually intensifies, creating the feeling of a person's presence; this figure is eventually revealed at the 2:30 with the alarming sound of a man cackling. In "Little," the drone is the sound of a baby crying, and though the drone has a less musically significant role, it is equally unnerving and gives the music an extraordinary feeling. Though other background noise is heard, the melodies from "Iraiza" are also prominent, making it relatively conventional compared to the other ambient pieces. Please note that there should be an emphasis on the word 'relatively' here; this comment is not intended to infer that it is a typical ambient theme, but rather that only a hint of melodic progression would make a theme more conventional in Baroque.

Despite the abundance of ambient music, Iwata manages to create some of the most outstandingly gorgeous themes ever created, while also continuing to convey the surreal atmosphere of the rest of the soundtrack. He manages to combine eerie industrial music with sweepingly beautiful slow-developing melodies in "Iraiza," a heartfelt addition to the first part of the score. Another high achiever is "One," which features the sound effects synonymous with noise music heard in previous tracks together with a lulling and repeated choral melody. The richness and purity of the vocals creates a profound contrast with the shadowy sounds that lie underneath and the way it develops so slowly leaves one completely mesmerised by the end. "Multiplex" is incredible, managing to convey the atmosphere of a dark, empty, and mysterious other world, yet also sounding hopeful thanks to the gorgeous instrumental contrasts and the introduction of subtle piano melodies after the 2:00 mark. The best of the melodic themes is the ending theme, "Hold Baroque Inside," the pinnacle of the soundtrack. The whole theme is based around 'new age' music; this is particularly emphasised by the way the dreamy piano motif from the "One" theme repeats throughout the introduction and lulls gently as synth samples are softly integrated underneath. After the introduction, the piece goes on to recapitulate the "Great Heat 20320514" theme. This time, however, the theme is used in a less unnerving way, though overdriven electric guitar motifs from the original are occasionally heard, ensuring that the theme doesn't entirely lose its edge. After returning to the "Multiplex" theme once more, the theme ends calmly, leaving one in a completely relaxed state. An enlightening way to end the game, creating relief after all the horror before, it is refreshing to hear after all the dissonance and aggression heard in the earlier part of the soundtrack.

Unfortunately, the soundtrack itself seems to reach its climax too early because of the masterpiece "Hold Baroque Inside," as four more tracks are added, all of which pale in comparison. "Deep Interludium," John Pee's sole contribution to the album, is a dark electronica track once more, but lacks the sophistication of similar contributions from Iwata, such as "Great Heat 20320514"; though the use of synth vocals is original and the primary motif used does create agitation, it soon becomes repetitive due to the theme's complete lack of development. Toshiaki Sakoda's three tracks are not much better. "Baroque 204 Forest" has enormous potential, since it provides a stark contrast to the electronica tracks, utilising orchestral instruments for the first time. Sadly, it barely develops, being only a little over a minute long, and no profound contrasts are therefore created. "Baroque 205 Blue" is more inspired, blending tribal ambient drum beats with jarring electric guitar samples. It appears to develop very effectively, especially after the eventual addition of some strange vocal samples; however, it abruptly ends on a suspended chord after this for no apparent reason just as it seemed ready to develop further. The very last theme, "Baroque 206 Black," is intended to simulate the death scene of the game and it combines all sorts of strange samples, such as heartbeats and heavy breathing. The amount of tension in this theme is huge, but it all ends after 34 seconds with the sound of a huge crash. Some might consider it a quaint touch, but strategically placing it earlier in the album may have been more effective, since it sounds very cheesy after Iwata's stylistically refined tracks. It's an original and shocking way to end an album, but not a particularly sophisticated one, and ending it with "Hold Baroque Inside" would have been far more effective.


Though the Baroque Original Soundtrack is arguably one of the most creative efforts in game music ever created, this certainly doesn't mean it will be globally loved. Those who dislike most experimental music, dark electronica, and noise music will abhor this score, plain and simple. That rules out about 99% of the world's population then. Nonetheless, for those people with open minds who are looking for something completely different, this soundtrack is an utterly mind-blowing experience. Despite a few shortcomings — principally Pee's and Sakoda's hollow and underdeveloped contributions — the album otherwise succeeds in being a landmark creation for both Masaharu Iwata and the video game music community as a whole. From "Great Heat 20320514" to "Hold Baroque Inside," Iwata remains consistently excellent throughout this score, barely putting a foot wrong; he certainly shrugs off the image of 'Sakimoto's symphonic-loving sidekick' in breathtaking fashion. eBay and Yahoo! Japan Auctions are the best bets when it comes to buying this album. Be warned, however, that it is rare and it is recommended that any prospective buyers listen to the samples beforehand, as the style of this music really won't appeal to everyone.

Overall Score: 8/10