This is the first soundtrack in which now Konami's Lead Sound Director, Akira Yamaoka, receives recognition by fans worldwide. Silent Hill is what many refer to as "The thinking people's Resident Evil". I just can't compare it to Resident Evil at all. The Resident Evil music is usually orchestral with scary, creepy motifs. Silent Hill's music isn't part of the normal VGM classification, as it falls into three distinct genres: dark ambient, industrial ambient, and the style mostly used in this soundtrack, experimental noise.
The way this soundtrack works is that each piece is connected through each other, at times you'll only hear constant droning in the background, as if a machine is running. At other times, you'll hear sounds that seem to be coming from your worst nightmares. Most of them are less than a minute long, but each piece serves its own purpose to constantly keep you on guard as you listen. Some pieces are prone to disturb the listener, if only slightly, as you try forming disturbing imagery from what you hear.
The vocal piece Esperandote sounds obviously out of place and completely disrupts the overall scary feel of the soundtrack. Rika Muranaka tends to put themes that are completely the opposite of what the game is into it. Anyone recall Castlevania: Symphony of the Night's awful "I am the Wind"? That song was badly composed, had absolutely nothing to do with vampire slaying and what-not, and I consider it one of the biggest VGM Vocal flops there is. Thankfully for Esperandote, it's actually a decent song. The Argentinean singer gives it a foreign feel, and it has a really sweet use of band neon, violins and accordion. But, it still has nothing to do with Silent Hill.
For anyone who's played through Silent Hill and didn't like it, then this is obviously not a good idea to check it out as it may bring back awful memories from the sickeningly freaky atmosphere of the game. For curious people who've never played the game, you might want to play the game first before checking out the soundtrack as it'll make much more sense.
All in all, this soundtrack is recommended to those who enjoy creepy ambience and unconventional VGM. It's also a perfect way to discover the genius of Akira Yamaoka. If you love this, then feel free to help yourself to Silent Hill 2, Silent Hill 3, Silent Hill 4: The Room, and Shin Contra, the other soundtracks Yamaoka had a major part in creating.
I had certain expectations of what the Silent Hill OST would be like before I listened to it. Having played only a small bit of the game itself, I knew what the general tone was, knew there would be a lot of creepiness, and a lot of ambient music. It was very saddening when I first listened to the album and discovered that most of the ambient tracks were just not that good. Oh, there are some quality pieces on there for sure, and most of the non-ambient stuff is great. But there's just too much there that adds nothing musically interesting.
Let's start off by looking at what Silent Hill's soundtrack did right. The first track, "Silent Hill", is very cinematic-sounding and dramatic. The instrument that opens the track sounds very eastern, and reminds me of an old Samurai movie. It's fairly grim and serious, but not exactly creepy like you'd expect from the overall tone of the game. Actually, if anything it sounds more like an ending track... after the great evil has been destroyed and the hero is reminiscing on all the sacrifices that were made. The real ending track, "Silent Hill (Otherside)", starts with 4:30 of silence (a hidden bonus track, maybe?) and offers a nice little jazzy tune with some good improvisation. It reminds me a lot of Kill Bill and its reference to old Kung-Fu movies. It isn't bad, but "Silent Hill" would have been so much better to close with.
After the opening it's a long stretch of ambient songs, some good and some bad, until the last 5 tracks. Track 38, "Tears of..." is soft jazz on piano and flute that reminds me a bit of those artsy luxury car commercials (not an insult, it's just what comes to mind). This and the next track, "Killing Time", feature a light vinyl scratching sound in the background as though it's being played on a turntable. You can hear this kind of effect in a lot of the later Silent Hill soundtracks as well. "Killing Time" is a throwback to the opening song, also with that old Samurai/Kung-Fu movie feel. Next we have a rock ballad, "She", one of my favorite pieces on the album. Very old-school and bluesy rock, and once again reminiscent of the Kill Bill soundtrack. "Esperandote", which follows, is way out of character for the rest of the soundtrack. It's a vocal song in Spanish which sounds like it was taken from an opera. Quite pretty, with a talented singer, excellent instrument choice, and gorgeous piano and violin melodies. It may have provided some inspiration for Parasite Eve's opera-themed pieces.
Silent Hill's bulk is formed from ambient music, which is normally hard to review anyway without just describing weird sound effects. SH1's ambient begins very interesting, and is pretty "out there", even for a style of music that's always far from mainstream. Sadly, though, it just doesn't change much throughout the album. The second and fourth tracks, "All" and "Until Death", set the pattern for the rest -- a quiet ominous piece followed by a wild chaotic loud one. Almost all the ambient tracks fall into one of these categories, and it becomes predictable and annoying. For me the loud ones offer slightly more musical meat; if you've ever seen or heard a performance by "Stomp", a band that makes music out noise, you'll get the idea. Track 30, "Die", has some really cool polyrhythms and shows a lot of compositional work crammed into a very short (1 minute) song. There's other cool loud pieces such as "Ain't Gonna Rain" and "My Heaven". But even these two have their problems... the first is way too repetitive and the second has this annoying boiling kettle sound droning on constantly. There is one softer song that caught my attention: track 10, "Claw Finger". Very melodic for an ambient track, its melody and harmony creep up and down in unusual patterns, giving an audible creepiness.
The Silent Hill OST is another example of "great idea, poor execution". Yamaoka's decision to use both ambient tracks and conventional melodic ones was great. His decision to bunch all the non-ambient ones together was not, as the ambient songs were too similar and needed breaks badly. The style of Silent Hill's music is very unique, but unfortunately too many of the tracks just sound the same. Fortunately, Yamaoka returned to compose the music for the rest of the Silent Hills, and fixed the problems with the first while keeping its good qualities. I'd personally skip this one, and invest in one of the later series soundtracks.