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Metal Gear Solid 2 Sons of Liberty Original Soundtrack :: Review by Chris

Metal Gear Solid 2 Sons of Liberty Original Soundtrack Album Title: Metal Gear Solid 2 Sons of Liberty Original Soundtrack
Record Label: Konami Music Entertainment
Catalog No.: KMCA-127
Release Date: November 29, 2001
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan


Hideo Kojima intended a largely cinematic soundtrack for Metal Gear Solid 2 Sons of Liberty. In order to achieve this, he hired Harry Gregson-Williams, a British Hollywood composer of the Hans Zimmer school of film music. While Gregson-Williams was not as well-known as he is now, he had eight years experience behind him on hit films such as The Rock, Enemy of the State, The Replacement Killers, Armageddon, and Chicken Run. He was to create a dark, futuristic, and dramatic sound to the series through fusing electronic beats with orchestration. He was joined by Berklee-trained jazz musician and new Konami employee Norihiko Hibino, who maintained the Hollywood feel of the soundtrack while engraving the sound of its own. As well as handling all the in-game music, Hibino created a large share of the FMV accompaniment music. The soundtrack release for the game almost entirely focuses on Gregson-Williams, though a recommended additional soundtrack featuring Hibino's work was also released.


The soundtrack opens with an arrangement of Tappi Iwase's Metal Gear Solid main theme. Gregson-Williams' new interpretation emphasises the melodic strength of the original while offering much more dynamic orchestration. The dazzling high-pitched electronic notes of the opening create a suitable futuristic and ethereal feel for the introduction of the turquoise title screen cinematic sequence. As choir and brass enter while Hideo Kojima's name is somewhat egotistically displayed, the composition gathers pace and thickness as the screen shows codes gliding towards the gamer. This leads to the bold exposition of the main melody on strings while electronic percussion accompaniment drives and lifts the composition. After the composition intensifies, it leads to a slower middle section styled in a way more associable with themes related to in-game espionage. After another sudden buildup, the arrangement reaches its climax as the main melody returns on heroic brass, a string motif is repeated, and, in the final bars, an epic choir is layered on top. While straightforward, the arrangement is evocative, fitting, and memorable, making it a guaranteed repeated listen.

As the game introduces the Tanker Chapter with "Opening Infiltration", a more firm indicator of the overall style of the soundtrack is provided. In typical Gregson-Williams' style, the initial portion of the piece led by appropriately flavoured electronic beats that establish a sense of infilitration while ambient sound effects, supporting strings, and a deep brass cue reflect the darkness and mystery of the scene that shows a hooded figure on a busy New York bridge at night. As the protagonist Snake is eventually revealed after being shown diving into the water, the theme blooms at 1:39 with the addition of synth vocals and sound effects of the ethereal variety, leading to the transition into an action cue featuring a trademark Metal Gear Solid ascending motif from brass. As the composition subsides into more ambient grooves to set the scene of the tanker, the dramatic arch feels complete yet the composition continues. This musically unnatural but functionally important extension is bothersome on a stand-alone basis, reflecting an arguable drawback of a cinematic score. Overall, though, this theme complements the visuals excellently and is an interesting introduction to the dark flesh of the score.

With subsequent compositions, Gregson-Williams continues to rely on the format of 'beats first, sound effects and acoustic support next, melodies and development later'. Very little separates "Russian Soldiers from Kasatka", "Olga Gurlukovich", and "Metal Gear?" in terms of actual musicianship, all bleak themes associated with incidents at the tanker. They differ in their beats, dramatic pacing, and acoustic instrumentation to reflect the circumstances of each scenario, but the format and mood remains similar. It is the obvious changes that make them interesting with familiarity. "Russian Soldiers..." enjoys two particularly effectual brass solos, brief integration of an oriental instrument, and the exposure of the now very familiar Gregson-Williams' boundless strings technique. Olga's cue is enticing for its relentless focus on a particularly intrusive motif and the prepared piano crashes in the middle add a superficial sense of timbral richness. "Metal Gear?" feels even more intrusive with its sound effects of people running on metal grating, haunting choral use, and boundless brass notes (same effect as the strings, different instrument). Gregson-Williams does a good job creating a big atmosphere through simple features, though the generic qualities of his music are quite exposed here.

There is some variety in Gregson-Williams' musicianship nevertheless. The villain's theme "Revolver Ocelot" is introduced with a spruced up infiltration groove from the Metal Gear Solid main theme's middle section and soon becomes one of the most complex pieces in terms of electronica. The main melody from the main theme also makes an appearance on trumpet in "Big Shell" within a slow ambient soundscape. Another highlight is the final item for the Tanker Chapter, "RAY Escape", which is fulfilling because its conclusion is relatively definite and it thus marks the end of a string of similar themes. Gregson-Williams' other themes are mostly associated with boss battles and they're all effective despite brevity and simplicity, mostly using wild beats, rapid percussion rhythms, and orchestral discords. Easily the best of the bunch is "The World Only Needs One Big Boss!", however. The thunderous discords in combination with overdriven guitar and blistering beats ensure a bold and fun introduction. The latter half is more serious yet very effective, although left dangling on some random vocal chants unrelated to the rest of the theme seemingly grabbed from any sample library. I notice, along with three other Gregson-Williams themes, Norihiko Hibino is credited with composing passages of the piece so maybe that is why it is so appealing.

Now to the solo compositions of Hibino, "Fortune" opens with a beautifully performed melancholic jazz saxophone solo. It fades out as orchestration emerges forty seconds in, darkly interpreting the main melodic idea before becoming more beat-focused and punctuated by sporadic discords. After a depressing development culminating in a dramatic slow-paced descending synth glissandi, the saxophone returns playing the same theme with distressing strings as its accompaniment. As they dissipate, the saxophone plays a little longer before fading into silence now associated with resolution rather than anticipation. "Who Am I Really?" is the penultimate addition to the score and wraps up the drama with piano and orchestra. It begins as an emotional piece of symphonic cinematic underscoring; for the first time in the score, the orchestration feels rich, substantial, and heartfelt. As the intensity of the orchestration subsides, a piano interpretation of the main theme emerges that wraps up the theme with a tinge of sentimentality; the piano work is quite simple, hence fitting with the other piano piece on the soundtrack, and the main theme is only the loose basis for its developments. Hibino's tracks don't reflect his individuality like 'The Other Side' does but are of high quality and have clear highlights in their respective saxophone and piano solos.

The other additions to the soundtrack are the renditions of Rika Muranaka's composition "Can't Say Goodbye to Yesterday". The main version of this piece is a lounge jazz vocal theme sung by Carla White to accompany the game's ending. Like Muranaka's other vocals, it is derivative, dated, and contrived, though this fits far better with the overall musical style of the game (given the style Hibino reflects in 'The Other Side') than her other themes. The lyrics are tolerable, though the subject matter is very clichéd ("Why can't each of us in the world ever see 'the best things in life are free'", meh!), while White's vocals vary between sounding fitting and being too dreary. The piano work is moderately good and sets the style of the theme nicely, but the supporting suspended strings are painfully functional and the pseudo-improvised saxophone and trumpet solos that drag the theme out for 7:36 are terribly written. Fortunately, the theme receives a piano solo rendition in the middle of the score that familiarises the listener with its thematic material and separates the Tanker Chapter and Shell Chapter sections of the score. The arrangement is a pleasant listen that sustains interest during its 4:10 playtime, maintaining melodic emphasis throughout while offering fleshed out harmonic material, resulting in a particularly beautiful section around the three minute mark.


Overall, the official soundtrack to Metal Gear Solid 2 Sons of Liberty feels a little empty. Its focus on Gregson-Williams' compositions makes a definitive statement of 'games can do Hollywood too', reflects favourably on how well the music fits some of the game's cinematic sequences, and seems representative of the dark futuristic feel of the game. Nevertheless, the sheer majority of Gregson-Williams' compositions use derivative cinematic underscoring techniques through mixing electronica, ambience, and mostly strings or brass. This makes the soundtrack unfulfilling from a musician's perspective and, from a layman's perspective, rather colourless. Every piece has some merit, but the collective effort isn't especially good. As a consequence, it's left to the clear highlights of the score — chiefly the main theme, vocal theme, "Opening Infiltration", "Here Comes the Big Boss!", and Hibino's contributions — to redeem it from mediocrity. With Hibino's 'The Other Side', the work of a far more creative, colourful, and individual musician is reflected, but the highlights are subtle rather than obvious. I'd thus be inclined to recommend 'The Other Side' above this, but still think the official soundtrack is a decent purpose for someone who wants the highlights and doesn't mind generic cinematic music.

Overall Score: 7/10