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Bionic Commando - The Soundtrack :: Review by Chris

Bionic Commando - The Soundtrack Album Title: Bionic Commando - The Soundtrack
Record Label: Sumthing Else Music Works
Catalog No.: SE-2056-2
Release Date: June 28, 2009
Purchase: Buy at Amazon


The intended recent culmination of the Bionic Commando series was a next-generation title — simply called Bionic Commando — featuring high quality graphics, gameplay, and music. While the game itself received disappointing sales and mixed reviews, its soundtrack was generally praised and regarded worthy of a soundtrack release. Led by Lost Planet composer Jamie Christopherson, a team at Swedish developer GRIN fleshed out the work. The result has much more in common with other electro-acoustic cinematic scores than the classic games, but there are some classic references nonetheless. However, does the soundtrack do enough to stand out against other cinematic scores out there?


A large portion of the score is dedicated to arrangements of Junko Tamiya's main theme for 1988's Bionic Commando. It was a good idea to adapt the theme since it was so melodically captivating and, despite its humble synth, clearly had militaristic intent. Jamie Christopherson's cinematic arrangement of the theme opens the soundtrack in a solid if predictable fashion. It features all the clich�s of most Western action game music — with triumphant brassy melodies, atmospheric electronic backing, thunderous percussion rhythms, and even a poignant trumpet solo — but perhaps that's intentional; the game is semi-parodic in the first place, so it makes sense to simply offer a typical orchestral arrangement of the theme rather than anything ground-breaking. The result is still memorable and powerful regardless. Listeners are treated to dabs of the theme throughout the soundtrack, most notably in the epic action theme "Project Vulture", a simple solo piano contemplation, or the elegaic string quartet interpretation "Adagio for BC" at the end of the soundtrack.

Jamie Christopherson contributes several other pieces of technically competent yet derivative orchestral music to the soundtrack. With rasping brass discords and unrelenting militaristic percussion, "Groder's Anthem" is an especially powerful way to expose a major villain for the game, while "The Gauntlet" is especially tense in context given its rhythmical twists on a standard cinematic palette. Fortunately, Jonatan Crafoord brings some innovation to the soundtrack with his experimental use of strings. The resonant violin use in "Hero of the Past" has a very poignant effect in the game while "Flooded" sounds totally alien with its col legno strings against further ethno-militaristic backing. He even revives another Bionic Commando melody with the tear jerking viola melody of "Desertion". Trond-Viggo Melssen's more electronically-oriented tracks tend to be quite individualistic too, such as "From Trash Till Dawn" with its industrial forces and intention distortions or "From Darkness to Wonder" with its spectrum of sampled sounds.

Another particularly interesting feature of the soundtrack is its accomplished stylistic fusions. A guest contribution by Simon Viklund, "Preparations" is good prototype music for reflecting the characteristic electro-acoustic blends of the soundtrack. Meanwhile Trond-Viggo Melssen and Erik Thunberg's "Ascension City Awakening" is a subdued yet expansive electro-acoustic piece similar to what one might expect from ambient Metal Gear Solid themes; from a backing of electronic noise, all sorts of ethnic and militaristic percussion forces give a compelling edge to the track, peppered by a few electric guitar and brass interpretations of the main theme. "Fight Unlimited" is a particularly impressive three-tiered piece too, initially getting the rhythms of battle, then shocking listeners with violent string work before ending on a surprisingly serene classically-oriented note. In all these themes, there is usually a hook to keep listeners interested, for example "Enhanced Tunnel Vision" with its heroic electric guitar reprise of a classic Bionic Commando melody.


Overall, the Bionic Commando soundtrack is a solid achievement. The orchestral contributions to the soundtrack tend to be stereotypical, but they are at least of high quality and finally offer fans the epic version of the series' main theme that fans have long-awaited. More impressive are the tracks by GRIN's in-house team with their percussive and electronic focuses. These stand out as some of the better action and ambient music out there and tend to be more creative and original overall. The target audience for this soundtrack is definitely cinematic music fans, not retro gamers, though those with an inclination for its musical styles should find it a pleasing and well-presented soundtrack.

Overall Score: 8/10