Nearly 18 months after the release of Halo 2 and its accompanying Volume 1 soundtrack, Sumthing Else Music Works quietly issued the long-awaited Volume 2. Gone were the obnoxious marketing tie-ins and rock songs that — whatever their appeal may have been — didn’t fit in with the series’ established musical sound. In its place: a full 70 minutes of uninterrupted score from the game.
It goes without saying that the music by Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori is true to their contributions to Volume 1; after all the music was composed and recorded simultaneously. There is little overlap between the two volumes aside from a few passages in the “Cairo Suite” and “High Charity Suite” tracks, and the focus is more even, with equal time given to more traditional orchestral music as well as the series’ trademark electronica fusion pieces.
Given more room to breathe, the music is notable for how much fuller it is. The Northwest Sinfonia’s contributions can’t be overstated, especially when compared with the synthesized orchestra used in the original game. With a live orchestra, a live choir, and much-improved electronics, the three central features that made the sound of the original Halo so unique are used to great effect.
The biggest problem that Halo 2 Original Soundtrack Vol. 2 presents is its arrangement. The composers designed each album as a “frozen” playthrough — an approximation of the music that a player would hear during a completion of the game. The problem is that, unlike the original Halo, most of the tracks are suites 6 to 12 minutes long when many would have been far better broken up into shorter tracks. This is especially notable when fine material appears near the end of a suite or there’s a sudden change in tone. “High Charity Suite” features an energetic remix of “Covenant Dance” at its conclusion, for example, which is rather at odds with the rest of the quiet, reverential music in the suite. Fade-ins and fade-outs make it impossible to pry the suites apart even with an audio editor.
As with the original Halo disc, Halo 2 Original Soundtrack Vol. 2 is at times too complete. There are swaths of material in the “Mausoleum Suite” and elsewhere that could have easily been cut. If some of the album’s dead weight had been cut, the producers could have included the Volume 1 tracks as well, meaning that listeners wouldn’t have to pick around obnoxious and out-of-place rock songs to get a full Halo 2 listening experience. It’s doubly disappointing because the selections for Volume 1 generally represented the very best O’Donnell and Salvatori had to offer for the game; the “frozen playthrough” the disc offers is thereby one that skips the score’s most moving moments.
These issues aside, Halo 2 Original Soundtrack Vol. 2 is a good effort, featuring much of what made the previous two albums so compelling. It’s a necessary buy for fans of the series, and probably better suited to hardcore VGM fans than the inconsistent and overmarketed Volume 1. Sadly, the only real way to assemble a decent Halo 2 album is with both volumes, an audio editor, rolled-up sleeves, and patience.