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Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance by Jamie Christopherson (Review)

posted Mar 19, 2013, 8:29 PM by   [ updated Mar 19, 2013, 8:38 PM ]

Konami’s 1998 video game Metal Gear Solid was released and quickly became synonymous with its tagline “tactical espionage action.” A deftly perfect melting pot of all three of those elements, the game was strengthened by its accompanying musical score, primarily composed by the KCE Japan Sound Team (which included the prolific modern Konami artist Hiroyuki Togo). The scores for the next three entries in the Metal Gear Solid series were mostly helmed by the lauded Harry Gregson-Williams, who magically captured and managed to further the original game’s sound by blending the same elements that made its score such a success, the embodiment of an orchestral score rooted in nail-biting danger and highlighted by huge bombastic explosions rivaling the greatest of Hollywood thrillers. This year’s Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance game not only marks a definite departure from the foundation built by the Metal Gear Solid series, but its score also largely ignores the “tactical” and “espionage” factors relevant in previous works in favor of a heavy emphasis on “action.”

That’s not to imply, however, that “action” is a bad thing. Still based in the Metal Gear universe, the Rising: Revengeance entry expounds upon previous storylines to present a futuristic setting complete with technological motifs such as cybernetics, all against a backdrop of pure engaging excitement and thrill not explored prior. And chosen as the composer for this tale of global politics and warfare: Jamie Christopherson, largely unknown to many, whose previous works include Lost Planet and Lost Planet 2, as well as long-running contributions to the Lineage II series. In parallel with Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance’s superlative mayhem, Christopherson’s score is mostly a heavy-handed, high-volume amalgam of electronica, techno, and heavy metal guitar. However unfortunately, the sound is effective, but somewhat lost in translation as a standalone work.

Being a staunch fan of recent orchestral/electronic scores such as Daft Punk’s TRON: Legacy, Joe Trapanese’s TRON: Uprising, and especially Michael McCann’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution, I was immediately pleased with Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance’s leadoff track, “Revenge with a Vengeance,” which evenly represents each of these three works as well as Hans Zimmer’s work on Inception and Christopher Nolan’s Batman series. Unfortunately, the orchestral steam dissipates immediately after, as “Virtual Reality (High)” introduces what permeates most of the early tracks of Christopherson’s score: the aforementioned techno/metal structured chaos that quizzically becomes easy to enjoy and yet ignore simultaneously. The multiple layers of sound on early songs like “Ambushed (High)” and “Chasing the Wind,” with their driving techno percussion and bursts of guitar riffs, static, and synth, while harsh, are in equal measure curiously inoffensive and reserved. As the Revengeance score rolls on, several possible identities start to peek through, however, hinted at in the calm and inquisitive ethnic flourishes of “Black Sea” and the interesting twin lead guitar melody of “Domestic Scars,” whose percussive pulses retain the rhythm of previous tracks while yielding a reluctant transitional sound.

Most notably, it’s with the three “Rising Action” tracks (9, 20, and 26) and the three conjoined “Mystical Ninja” tunes that the greatest highlight and fatal flaw of Christopherson’s work is revealed: the incorporation of highly effective and interesting yet maligned instrumentation. With the “Rising Action” sequences, it’s the orchestral elements that are serendipitous: the crunchy electric guitar riffing of “Rising Action 1” is at first layered with orchestral accentuation, before the triumphant horn work breaks out of its own shell to yield a captivating, roiling melody, while “Rising Action 2” and “3” further illustrate the grandiosity of Christopherson’s constructed sound whilst illuminating its rarity on the whole of the album. The “Mystical Ninja” tracks even more effectively drive a possible alternate identity of the score: Japanese influence. “Mystical Ninja (High)” introduces string and horn melodies from Japanese instruments like the biwa and pan flute peeking between a surging guitar lead, while “Mystical Ninja (Low)” allows the Japanese instrumentation free reign by comparison, painted upon an aural canvas with synth as its backdrop rather than feedback and electro/techno sensibilities.  There’s also greater promise highlighted on a few of the closing tracks. “A Soul Can’t Be Cut (Instrumental Version)” bares its sharp and scathing electric guitar riffs amongst techno and percussive programming, wholly oppressive and dizzying in the best of ways. “Open Frontier” is a loving reminder of the climactic final battles of Mass Effect 3, rounded out by downtuned guitar licks. “The Mastermind” punches the listener with blows of catchy guitar riffs, calms itself with orchestral horns, and lies upon the entire assembly sequences of massive percussion.

I think there are definitely some highlights on the Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance score, but they’re diffused by lack of a definite identity in spite of the intended and obvious power of the album’s instrumentation. However, it’s entirely possible that were Christopherson to utilize more orchestral elements, or involve more Japanese influence, the score wouldn’t be as effective as an accompaniment to an action-based video game release, certainly in the Metal Gear universe. Alone and independently, I’d rate Jamie Christopherson’s Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance as passable, but reluctantly so; even though there are passages containing beautiful and inspirational music, the vast majority of the score works just as it’s intended: background music for a game meant to thrill through its interactive fervor rather than its emotional inference.