For the latest incarnation of Dead Space, composer Jason Graves returns with a full-blooded orchestral sounds designed to immerse the listener into an absolutely hellish world that allows for scant pauses to catch a breath.
The score itself is based around an eerie 4-note lament that’s akin to the angst one fears after hearing a mysterious creaking from behind, turning around, and then realizing the closed door behind you has in fact been opened by an invisible force. In a rational world, the force would be wind or human carelessness, but in Graves’ environment (and that of Dead Space 2), it’s a variety of malevolent possibilities, none of them out to tease and amuse themselves for a few hours like prankish poltergeists.
In its purest form, Graves’ thematic lament appears as a string solo or icy-cool electrified chimes, and his instrumental variations emerge as buffer points designed to provide some rest and reflection before lengthy and heavy onslaughts of orchestral snarling.
The album’s meat lies in extensive passages of rage, with furious string actions and percussion mimicking struggles, gnarled situations, and the absolute high pitch of a chase as one’s pushed to physical and emotional extremes. The gnashing strings effects are drawn from modern cinematic scores which themselves are meant to support a chased character as he / she does fast turns around corners, dives into dark passages, and while running is a few inches from the claws of a monster hungry for the other white meat.
Other cues are designed for a slow tease, such as “Say Hello to My Little Friends.” Graves uses brass and percussion to convey an extended taunt, disallowing further instrumental variation in the cue’s finale; the effect mimics the sense of a singular mass emerging from darkened hallways, leaving little escape avenues.
Graves’ orchestral writing draws from the modernist sounds often heard in peers such as Christopher Young, Elliot Goldenthal, Bernard Herrmann, and even James Horner (notably the downward cascading hits of bunched-up piano keys), but his style is a unique combination of dynamics: aggression contrasted by bits of naked vulnerability, unresolved chords evoking the long wait until there’s a safe break to flee from a temporary hiding spot, and brief waves of humanity, as conveyed by rare passages of gentle strings.
At just over an hour, Graves’ selection of cues provide a rollercoaster ride into Hell, but one that’s vividly cinematic due to the tight edits of cues into suites. The lack of an emotional mid-rage – extended cues evoking character contemplation, and brief moments of victory, for example – mean Dead Space 2 is limited to musical portraits of 'Safe / Not Safe At All', but Graves creates vivid colours through frenetic playing and gritty textures - notably the bowing of strings, warped tones (“I Only Have Eyes for You”), and ranges of metallic effects.
He also opted to close the CD with a plaintive chamber rendition of the main theme (“Lacrimosa”) that runs a solid 7 mins., and brings the journey to a more meditative close (except for one final violin slash).
© 2011 Mark R. Hasan