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CD Reviews: Halo 2 and Headhunter

By Steven A. Kennedy

Halo 2: Volume One *


Something Else SE-2013-2

21 tracks - 69:28

This video game soundtrack, produced by Nile Rodgers, uses the same techniques as film soundtrack albums -- that is, a series of "inspired by" works are mixed in with the material written specifically for the game. The opening of the disc has a wordless male chorus in a kind of false Renaissance chant mode that soon moves into a pure rock number featuring guitarist Steve Vai. It is a kind of cross between Tangerine Dream and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. The rest of the disc is filled out with selections performed by Breaking Benjamin, Incubus and a "bonus cut" featuring Hoobastank. Incubus performs a four-movement work that is split throughout the disc and was written exclusively for the album. These are massive four- to-nine-minute tracks of varying interest. The others have all contributed new songs. That should give you an idea of who the primary audience is for this disc.

The non-rock material is composed by Martin O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori, who also co-wrote the music for Halo: Combat Evolved. The first "score" cue, "Peril" sounds like it was produced by a high end synthesizer, but the booklet says it is "orchestrated and conducted," so I could be wrong. It's fairly standard underscore with a kind of Thomas Newman edge to it. The choral sounds created in "Ghosts of Reach" are interesting but nothing extraordinary. The titles of the individual tracks no doubt go with some specific scene in the game, but most of them sound pretty interchangeable. There are standard little rhythmic ideas with punctuated low string sounding chords -- lots of little motivic loops that are all but required by this sub-genre.

If you enjoy a more drum-heavy, rock sound you will be more than happy listening to much of this disc. Most of the time, I waited patiently for something...anything to happen. At best, the score sounds like something out of the early Media Ventures days. Again, the music may be a step above the standard pulsating noise that accompanies some game play, but it does not have musicality enough to truly stand on its own. Then again, perhaps it was never intended to do so.

Headhunter/Headhunter Redemption ****


La-La Land 1023

Headhunter: Redemption (Disc One): 26 tracks - 66:44
Headhunter (Disc Two): 22 tracks - 66:19

Early in 2004 La-La Land released Michael Giacchino's Secret Weapons Over Normandy, which I really enjoyed. Now they have released another eagerly awaited video-game soundtrack in their ever growing catalogue, this time from the Headhunter series. Richard Jacques is fast becoming a well-respected name in the video game industry with his bar-raising work on Headhunter, for which he received the 2002 Game Audio Network Guild Recognition Award at the Game Developer's Conference in March 2003. Game Industry News nominated Headhunter for their 2002 Soundtrack of the Year. This two-disc collection features the score from the original video game and the score for the newest game release in the series.

I'll start with the second disc, which is devoted to music from Headhunter (2002). This score is noted for being one of the first to use a world-class recording studio along with an orchestra more noted for its work in the film world. The music here is a delightful mix of action cues and wonderful lyrical reposes. The music of "Jack's Theme" is as good as Arnold's contributions to the recent Bond scores. There are a lot of orchestral details in this track. It features a kind of pop Baroque orchestral sound, a little techno beat, some great string writing, and an extra flute line that floats above and around the music.

The opening of Headhunter: Redemption features a brooding horn solo that recaps the primary thematic idea of the earlier score. The synthetic sound reproduction here is unbelievable, and, to the credit of the production, a list of the samples used in the score is provided. Even though a "live" orchestra is not used, one would be hard pressed to figure that out on their own in many of the tracks. The music has more electronic additions than the previous score utilized in a way that is again well-integrated into the overall sound of the music. "MIG Encounter" has perhaps the most "game-ish" sound of the lot, but even this is far superior to similar game music.

Highly recommended for fans of this genre, though sitting through both discs in a row may not be the best way to enjoy them. The album can be ordered from a number of outlets including the label's site You can learn more about the composer at his website

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