A science-fiction survival horror title that received enthusiastic reviews in late 2008 and went on to start a full-fledged franchise, Dead Space also joined the increasing number of Western games featuring full-fledged soundtrack releases (albeit only in digital form). Written by the appropriately named Jason Graves and recorded by a live orchestra at no less a facility than Skywalker Sound, Dead Space proves a very modern and complex addition to the pantheon of survival horror scores.
The album begins on a cold, contemplative note in “Welcome Aboard the U.S.G. Ishimura,” the first part of which is the most serene and melodic the album gets. There are a few other isolated recurrences of this style, most notably in the morose “Nicole’s Farewell,” and some of the louder tracks will sometimes segue into quieter music for a moment or two. Suspense music is woven throughout the album as well, providing an uneasy churning sound that seems ready to explode into towering horror cues — and often does. The “Dead Space Theme” is the only largely self-contained example of this style, with the remainder mixed into suites with other styles. But this, and the colder and more traditional music, form a small portion of the album overall.
The vast majority of the music is unrelenting in its brutal orchestral chaos. Tracks like “The Leviathan” are full-on aural assaults, melding shrieking strings, pounding percussion, and deeply layered brasses. It’s a very modernistic sound, written in an aleatoric style often bordering on “musique concréte” with strong echoes of Elliot Goldenthal and John Corigliano. And, like Goldenthal and Corgiliano, the effect is exhilarating and terrifying even in a vacuum.
Considering the debt that the game itself owes to the Alien franchise, it’s no surprise that those films’ melding of icy, clinical, soft music with cacophonous and modernistic action writing is very much in evidence. However, this approach does have its drawbacks; the music isn’t very thematic and likely won’t appeal to many because of that. Graves was under explicit orders not to write a thematic score, as it turns out, though he was able to slip in a few recurring motifs, most notably one which follows a D-E-A-D note progression (which delighted the suits when Graves described it). The sheer amount of gigantic, slashing horror cues can also be exhausting with few lighter tracks to break things up.
It’s very refreshing to see horror music like this being written for a game; there are few places today where such a sound could be used, and many places where it is needed. If only modern horror movies allowed for this kind of scoring instead of the droning drek with which them seem to be saddled! While the dissonant, chaotic sound of the album certainly isn’t for everyone, those who do appreciate relentless modernistic music on a gigantic level will find a lot to enjoy here. Highly recommended.