A studio and touring musician with Nine Inch Nails since the mid '90s and part of the whole Chinese Democracy saga for Guns 'n' Roses, guitarist Robin Finck has clearly learned a few tricks from NiN mastermind Trent Reznor over the years. Capable of working in almost any field he became involved in, Reznor went beyond his NiN recordings to craft the dark soundscapes for the 1996 video game Quake, and eventually made a successful transition into being an Oscar-winning film composer following 2008's ambient music juggernaut Ghosts I-IV. Finck seems to have taken notice of how all this was done – his soundtrack for the survival horror video game NOCT (made in collaboration with Portuguese artist Wordclock and released in 2015) fits nicely alongside Reznor's intricate, texturally-fascinating brand of dark ambient.
The majority of the NOCT Soundtrack's ten tracks are relatively lengthy - par for the course on an ambient album – and feature groaning, almost cello-like bass tones and barely distinguishable, throbbing rhythmic pulses. Opener “EROS” slowly but surely builds into a menacing hum complimented by tranquil electronic tones which join together into loud, almost hopeful chord structures. A sense of tempo is implied by background noise that almost sounds like rocks clacking together, but despite the sense of wonder conveyed by the piece, a worrying undercurrent seeps to the forefront at every turn, creating a sense of unease in the listener. “DASR” is equally thunderous and immediately more doomy, with rumbling low tones joined by a lonely guitar that's occasionally manipulated to the point where tone starts to disintegrate. The piece seems to drift on the verges of the listener's subconscious, largely due to the fact that Finck and Wordclock restrain the melodic elements before they become too prominent.
Festering low tones again sit at the center of “IBEX,” though this track is infinitely more driven than the previous ones due to its use of a plunking, repeating bass of the sort heard in any number of Berlin School electronic compositions. Airy synth provides warmth in an otherwise icy track, but things only get more and more threatening and grim, with high-pitched strings and what sounds like mangled vocal choir peeking through the roaring ambiance by the halfway point. Despite being quite noisy, a sort of peacefulness intermittently blossoms around the whirring mechanical noise and seething bass that makes up “LAAS,” while an echoed piano and xylophone duet in the relatively brief “NeXT” makes it the most recognizably Reznor-like track here. Afterward, the grimy, clanking guitar melody in “JUNO” adds a sense of tragedy to the proceedings and “TCAS” unleashes waves of harsh and abrasive guitar before settling into a more focused and urgent second half.
The following two tracks are arguably the most calming, reassuring pieces of music on the album: when it's not working through some unnerving, ghostly patches, “OASIS” makes use of a nifty, Asian-styled string part, and the almost transcendent “APEX” forges ahead with an almost motherly, swaying momentum. Album finale “NuSTAR” takes things back into more apocalyptic sonic territory, even if it's not as flat-out hostile as some of the album's earlier offerings. Building through its opening half to a moment of respite around the midway point, the track then uncorks a melancholic piano-based motif taken straight out of the Reznor playbook. It's actually quite a beautiful way to finish the album, and more musically satisfying than just about anything else here.
Undoubtedly, the NOCT Original Soundtrack is a remarkable piece of sound art, but since it was intended as background music for use in a video game, it simply won't appeal to everyone. Certain sections of this album are downright ear-splitting, and the lack of conventional, prominent melodies means that the album may strike some listeners as pointless. Those familiar with Trent Reznor's ambient and/or soundtrack works may appreciate it the most. I haven't played the game this music comes from and, honestly, have little clue what it's even about, but found this soundtrack to be an immersive, atmospheric, and very captivating listening experience. Definitely recommended to those who enjoy the dark ambient style, and well-suited for use around Halloween to create mood.
7.9 / 10
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