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Sometimes compelling but often repetitive
on October 24, 2012
The developers of Halo 4 wanted a different direction for their music, something new yet (hopefully) just as instantly recognizable. Perfectly understandable for a development team that has no doubt felt they have both a lot to live up to while wanting to stand apart from what came before. Enter Neil Davidge of Massive Attack, whose work is as dramatic a departure from the established Halo sound as could be imagined and while it's quite obviously a labor of love I can't honestly say it resonates with me.
The sound on display here is relatively athematic; where the Halo trilogy was known for well developed melodies throughout, particularly it's chanted central theme that could reasonably be called "iconic", Halo 4 doesn't seem to have any central theme, or really a trademark sound all it's own. Most tracks stand apart from the others, and while there are motifs running through individual tracks the album's songs feel disconnected.
The sound brought to Halo 4 is orchestra/synth hybrid, and there are several standout tracks; the first track, Awakening, is heavily beat driven, pushed along relentlessly by a simple 7-note piano motif. To Galaxy is a near-perfect fusion of the orchestra/synth sound, and exemplifies the energy of both styles. Solace is more subdued, setting itself apart by weaving bells into it's instrumentation.
Unfortunately the album is often extremely repetitive; even noteworthy tracks have a tendency to simply loop their melodies, as though afraid to leave their comfort zone. Arrival, for instance, loops the same two-note pair for two minutes before it starts to shine. Others like Belly of the Beast never manage to rise above unexciting monotony of the sort that invites you to eventually mash Next Track. Two themes present themselves throughout, the suitably villainous melody of Nemesis (which reappears in the latter half of Revival) and the generically heroic 117. While Nemesis and Revival are decent tracks, the theme developed for them and that for 117 are amateurishly simplistic and forgettable, which I think is endemic of the album as a whole. Neil Davidge is an excellent music producer but he seems unaccustomed to the dynamics of composing a score.
Overall a mixed bag. At it's current price I don't regret the purchase at all and it's really been growing on me, but while there's sometimes real emotion and energy, repetition kills a lot of this album's momentum. It also suffers for lack of a distinct, signature sound. I'd point to Tron: Legacy and the Juno Reactor tracks of the Matrix sequels as examples of this sound when it's really done right.