Before reading this review the reader should have two things in mind; (1) There is no other game (and consequently no other game music album) that I have looked forward to so much as "Silent Hill 2", and (2) even though I have listened to the CD, I haven't yet played the game. These two factors are likely to affect my judgement.
I have to say that I was at first disappointed. The music is, like its predecessor, composed by Akira Yamaoka, so I was expecting something very similar in style. What attracted me to the first game's music score was its extreme, unconventional, and uncompromising nature, and the fact that it was the only game music I had heard that sounded like what I usually listen to. Therefore I was alarmed at what I heard the first time I listened through "Silent Hill 2 Original Soundtrack". The music seemed far to "normal", and most of it didn't sound scary at all. And sadly the tracks didn't "flow" into each other, as on the first game's soundtrack. But already the second time I let the CD spin I started to see its beauty. And the more I listened, the more the music pulled me in.
SH2 OST is not only different from other game music, it is also different from SH1 OST. The main difference seems to be a shift in focus from the horror aspect of the first game to an aspect of sadness and of loss. SH2 doesn't have the menacing dark feel of SH1, but it excels in another field - that of producing a feel of desolation and of sadness. Of course this may not be true of the game itself, nor even of all the music found in the game, because as most VGM fans are aware Konami often leaves out a lot of tracks, since most of their soundtracks are only one disc. So it is only fair to assume that some (or a lot) of the music in the game is left out of the OST release. There might be a lot of industrial/ambient pieces in SH2 like the ones found in the first game, but if so most of them are missing here. Potential buyers of this CD that have played the game should be aware of that.
But what "beauty" did I discover the second time through? Well, the first track, "Theme Of Laura", didn't have to wait until a second time. Why? It is, simply put, awesome. A strong rival of the intro track from SH1 ("Silent Hill"), this guitar piece is built in the same way - guitar, bass, drums, the ordinary "alternative rock" style. But don't let that fool you; Mr. Yamaoka is a master at building up melody and suspense with this sort of music.
The tracks that follow the first masterpiece are what put me off in the first place. They are very mellow, almost soothing, and they are perfect examples of the desolate quality I referred to earlier. They are quite good at setting mood, but they don't have the absolute quality of the similar pieces in SH1 that made that score so special. Nonetheless, after a couple more listens I found them beautiful and somewhat disturbing, but not in the sense of "Over" or "Killed By Death" from SH1.
One definite difference from SH1, but a fact that brings it nearer to "ordinary" horror music, is the use of piano in SH2. And not just any piano - brilliant piano like in "Promise (Reprise)", "Null Moon", or "Pianissimo Epilogue". The piano keeps the desolate, sad feel - sometimes repetitive, yes - but always sweet in its own way. Another thing worthy of notice is the final part of "Null Moon", featuring a very cool distortion effect that sounds like it's transforming the piano sounds into church bell tolls, which themselves are distorted more and more until they gain a metallic sound in the end. The entire process lasts for maybe half a minute, but it still sounds brilliant.
But are there no sick, disturbing, twisted pieces of industrial madness and thundering noise on this one, you of course ask despairingly? Well, they are very underrepresented, but they are here. "Ashes And Ghost" sounds like something right out of the first game or from a Cold Meat Industry release. Electronic banging, accompanied by a "swooching" windy noise, that finally ends in something that sounds like a large machine malfunctioning. "The Darkness That Lurks In Our Mind" lives up to the name given to it. It sounds as if someone (or something) is going around in an abandoned factory, slamming doors shut and scratching the walls. This "someone" apparently finds the machine and turns it on - a systematic thundering sound comes in that sounds very much like "Over" from SH1. "Block Mind" and "Silent Heaven" belong to the category "unseen person moving metal objects around", and the latter part of "Silent Heaven" sounds like someone trying to jumpstart a broken chainsaw. "Betrayal" is another brilliant industrial piece that mixes the usual metallic banging with a choir that could have been taken straight from a fantasy soundtrack; this track reminds me very much of the great dark ambient act Raison D'etre. "Black Fairy" is a mass of screeching noise. Even though there are only about six or seven of these tracks on a CD with 30 tracks, they still convey that dark, menacing mood that placed the unique music of the first SH game firmly high above any other "survival horror" soundtrack. I LOVE these tracks, and it saddens me that there are so few of their kind on here; it is this thing above any other that formed my initial disappointment. But what's here is good enough, and the flip side is of course that those who thought the SH1 OST a little too heavy will rejoice, since the "ordinary" music is also brilliant, and this time around is the dominant factor on the OST.
Are there no stinkers, then? It depends on your preferences. The only one that immediately comes to mind is track 12, "Angel's Thanatos". This is one of the rockier pieces, and it sounds like an instrumental Nirvana demo. That's the best I can describe it. Now, don't get me wrong, I like Nirvana and rock in general. But this piece sounds so... uninspired. I cannot take this judgement all the way out, of course, since I have not yet played the game. I suspect that it might be an ending theme. But it just doesn't fit in the context of the music album. It, in fact, creates the same kind of "disruption in the flow" as the vocal piece "Esperandote" did on the SH1 OST. But nevertheless I can still see that a lot of people might like it. "Heaven's Night" and "The Reverse Will" are certainly not bad, but they sound a little bit too happy to fit in with the rest of the pack. "The Reverse Will" has a very interesting, almost jazzy, feel that instantly makes me think of the works of "Twin Peaks" composer Angelo Badalamenti, which definitely is no fault in my book. A track that doesn't live up to its name is "Terror In The Depths Of The Fog". This track is a drum'n'bass track with a techno beat! It isn't happy or light, though, so sometimes I almost suspect that it is a remix.
The highlights of this album are (together with the industrial tracks for a minority of us) the awesome guitar compositions and the melancholic pieces towards the end of the CD. I have already mentioned the intro track ("Theme Of Laura"). This beautiful theme returns in "Theme Of Laura (Reprise)", but here it is somber and sad, accompanied by violins and a piano. I lack words to describe the beauty of this track, so let's just say that its equal is track 24, "True", another beautiful track. The guitar tracks "Love Psalm" and "Overdose Delusion" are just as powerful and awe-inspiring as the intro, and I could bet a whole lot on these being some of the ending themes/credit rolls. If so, then there is after all a field in which "Silent Hill 2" surpasses the first game - these tracks even beat the ending themes from that game. The closure of the album, "Promise", is the variation of the main theme heard in most trailers of the game. It's not quite as powerful or hard-hitting as "Theme Of Laura", but it is still great. "Fermata In Mistic Air" is a very creepy track that is just great. There are almost no tracks on the CD that have the "anonymous" feel that usually accompanies horror soundtracks. The entire score gives a feeling of originality, and fans of the first one will instantly recognize Mr. Yamaoka's unique composition style, even though the music is not as dark or evil as his previous effort.
So should you buy this CD? If you thought that the first SH OST needed more "music" and less "noise", or if you crave something different from most other game music - yes. If you're looking for an all-out shock horror feast in CD format, or if you only want Silent Hill 1 OST over again and can't accept change - no. Silent Hill 2 OST is an intense listening experience, that may take a while to settle in, but it will then stick like glue. I think that a lot of people are likely going to fail to see the greatness of this CD. But I am confident that it will, just as the first SH OST did, find its cult following in due time. For those who loved the fist score, I can only give this advice: Don't expect Silent Hill 1 OST Part 2; this is Silent Hill 2 - another great horror soundtrack, that stands well on its own feet.