Sometimes, it does the power of good to step outside of what you would normally listen to and immerse yourself in something a bit different. Even better, it’s when you look sideways and notice that there’s something already there that you’ve not previously paid attention to. For me, this is found in scores and soundtracks, not just from the usual film and televisual sources, but from videogames. Even back in its relative infancy, the gaming industry has created emotional musical content through increasingly advanced sound chips, and there are many gems from all manner of genres to be found in a medium still treated with some suspicion in many quarters as a mere pastime for kids. This particular gem is one of those times when you could play this to any one of these naysayers, and will absolutely blow their minds when it is pointed out that this is from one such game.
A game set in 1984 about an apparent apocalypse is always going to evoke certain feelings to anyone who was around at such a time, especially to those around my age, hitting my teenage years just as pretty much every media indication – the news, press, television drama and even pop music – was pointing to the notion that any day now, we were all going to die. Where other people look back at the 80’s as balloon filled studios packed with Wham!, Kid Creole and (strangely) The Smiths, for me it’s Threads, When The Wind Blows and two people who didn’t really look like Ronald Reagan and Konstantin Chernenko (in fairness, nobody remembers what the latter looked like anyway) fighting in a banned pop video. This latter viewpoint seems to have been shared by the creative talent at The Chinese Room who created the village of Yaughton and the calamity that has enveloped it, and possibly the wider world with it. Preceding this game’s release is the soundtrack, a curious strategy in itself but upon listening it makes perfect sense and further piques my interest in finding out just exactly what happened, especially when the aural clues contained within are so beautifully laid out.
When tying a soundtrack to the emotional core of its visual subject matter, Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture has a natural advantage in having its composer also heading the studio that developed the game. Jessica Curry’s music and arrangement is utterly pastoral English, and the mixture of orchestral and choral perfectly mirrors the idyll created by the game’s imagery. This is continued in the lyrics, which are presented as either hymnal or folkloreish in tone – the former’s imagery of life after death (as well as the prophetic) is fairly obvious, but it’s the latter which is of more interest. References to the Nightjar abound, a bird that lives in the twilight rather than day or night, possibly providing more thematic clues.
It’s perhaps to be expected that there are more than a couple of track titles that carry the theme of death, what is possibly surprising however is the tenderness with which the subject is musically broached. The orchestral arrangements flow between grand and sparse where needed, but the main emotional impact comes from the human voice; the Metro and London Voices Choirs bring both a calmness and a sadness to each piece of music they are involved in, bringing a neat juxtaposition into play where a game that seems to contain no human beings relies on these beautiful human voices to convey its story: the stunning The Sleep Of Death that appears early on is a wonderful example of chest-tightening beauty, as is The Mourning Tree that follows soon afterwards.
A dramatic final third is heralded with The Pattern Calls Out, and a strong theme that fills much of this last part, the melody to which (to these ears, and something that stuck almost immediately) is vaguely reminiscent of the central part of Metallica’s To Live Is To Die’s central emotional hook interpreted in such a variety of ways that the motif is memorable from its first appearance and comfortingly welcome with each successive appearance. When a project such as this is 28 tracks long, these thematic returns help to process all that’s going on here and gives the listener something to feel, the impact increasing with each new iteration.
It’s one of those records that, when it finally drifts to a close with the suitably haunting The Light We Cast, the listener grants a few moments of contemplative silence in order to return to the outside world, that familiar quiet hum that the ears create when they try to find more of what has so stimulated them.
In conversation with someone at the weekend, it was wondered if listening to this prior to the game’s release (it’s set for its Playstation 4 appearance on Tuesday) might in some way spoil the final impact; from this current vantage point I can only say that that listening to this soundtrack has lifted my anticipation from being an interesting curio to a must-experience phenomenon. If the game is even half as good as this music, then it will be utterly unmissable.