Peace, longing, paranoia, and the thin line that connects them all can be found on the soundtrack to the little-known Playstation 2 game, ICO. The album, titled "ICO: Melodies in the Mist", runs just over a total of twenty-five minutes - very sparse for a video game soundtrack, especially when pitted against the mammoth scores of other infamous game albums as of late. But, what makes Melodies in the Mist such a gem, to those who will be kind enough to give it time, is its dramatically different approach to video game music.
But, be warned, ICO's soundtrack is not an album that will satisfy every taste. A collaborative effort between Michiru Oshima and Pentagon, the CD strives for more of a moody effect and setting the tone for a given situation, rather than offering the audience a selection of vastly differing themes to be associated with various characters or places. And this simplistic approach to the score fits perfectly with the almost bare nature of the game itself.
What Melodies in the Mist sets out to do, it accomplishes... and in some cases exceeds. The sixteen tracks on the album range anywhere from moody, foreboding, dark echoes to peaceful lullabies. "Castle in the Mist", a simple and peaceful track, begins as a duet with acoustic guitars plucking rather mystical harmonies that roll gently along to be joined later by a fretless bass. But rather than instilling the piece with a pop influence, the addition of the baseline compliments the mood established by the acoustic counter parts with a fuller, broader sound that in no way detracts from the music. As a finishing touch to the piece, a subtle breath noise can ever so slightly be heard floating on the surface of the chords, perfectly completing the ethereal ensemble, leaving the listener to the simple beauty of the piece.
The album stretches into sadness with the song "beginning", where a lone mournful piano sings two simple phrases over and over, over and over, echoing through the distance a poem of sorrow, almost like a lament for lonely souls that have been lost to the rest of the world. The track "deja vu" will haunt some listeners with its ominous drone dominating the canvas, twisting and bending about, but never ceasing. The song can easily hurl someone down paranoia lane amidst slight clicks and creepy clacks that can be deciphered in the background. It is almost a prelude to a nightmare. And if "deja vu" is indeed the prelude, then the song "Shadow" is definitely the nightmare. Easily likened to a demented carnival of demons, a church organ drones a shivery tune, teetering on the brink of insanity, through a chorus of creepy voices. It's enough to make the hairs on one's neck stand on end.
But for all its sorrow and darkness, Melodies in the Mist rounds out with some quite peaceful and rather pleasing numbers that could send listeners off to a state of comforting bliss. The soft and simple lullaby "heal" is reminiscent of a childhood music box, the sound polished and smooth, leaving only the reverberating echoes of the gentle staccato melody. In the distance can be heard the slightest touch of a bongo dampened enough to provide a wonderful mystic silhouette to the melody without jolting the listener. And finally, the album ends with the song: "ICO -You were there" - an angelic piece with an innocent voice and mood that provides a splash of refreshment for the ears in a combination of acoustic guitar, fretless bass, and wispy airy lyrics that almost transport the audience to another world.
Melodies in the Mist functions best as a whole, as a good number of the songs are thirty seconds to a minute long. Taking its audience on an ambient journey through a wide range of emotions, it seems almost like a collection of experimental facets that comprise a greater and much more satisfying whole. Its greatest weakness is the shortness of the album. Because of that and its offering of mood music rather than traditional themes, Melodies in the Mist might be viewed by some as a weak soundtrack. But hopefully, most will look upon it in a flattering light and appreciate it for its uniqueness and surprisingly good musical quality.
As I have said this album will probably not suit all audiences. But for those longing for something different to come out of their stereo's speakers, Melodies in the Mist is a rare treasure. With its ethereal, moody approach to a score, Melodies in the Mist offers quite a different listening experience filled with songs that can lift one to a peaceful dreamstate and yet hurl their audience into an abyss of almost nightmarish psychological terror. So despite its short running time, I recommend this rare treat to anyone searching for an escape from the ordinary.