Game Soundtracks: Fallout 4 (Inon Zur)

A thoughtful fix for the post-apocalyptic among us…

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For those who don’t know, Fallout 4 is set in a futuristic, post-nuclear wasteland populated by bandits, addicts, robots, giant cockroaches, and two-headed cows. Blasted landscapes are contrasted by oddly 1950s-style buildings and signs. It is largely a combat game, and player weapon choices range from Molotov cocktails to laser rifles. But enough about that…

Inon Zur has been a titan in gaming music for many years. He’s one of the grand chameleons of scoring and can generate conventional orchestral cues as easily as more modern sounds. This soundtrack blends both without trying to sound pretentious in either direction.

If you haven’t played a Fallout game before, you’d assume (not unreasonably) that the musical soundscape for a post-nuclear combat game would be jagged, erratic, or rocker/metal in nature. Plenty of FPS (first person shooter) games are, but listeners should be pleasantly surprised at how much time in the soundtrack is instead devoted to gentle, methodical moments.

Since a lot of the time in this game (as far as I can tell from watching playthroughs) is spent on casual wandering amid ruined suburbs and crumbling cities, the music also needed to be suitably wandering. Atmospheric music (again, for those who don’t know) is all about setting a tone. It typically doesn’t have a memorable melody and sometimes doesn’t even have memorable instrumentation. In many cases, the point is only to sharpen your attention for a particular moment. Many times, this type of music is lambasted for being too submissive (i.e. background noise), but I don’t consider this a bad thing if it aids my focus and keeps me going through a long editing chunk.

This soundtrack is essentially “orchestral atmospheric.” My first impression was that half of the orchestra was wiped out by a nuclear blast and Zur was left to craft what he could with the remaining members. That being said, these sparse arrangements are still very fine. Pulsing, ominous chords pair well with delicate cello wails and tense or bittersweet piano riffs. You will also find masterful uses of silence and pauses. This last detail might baffle some of you, but silence is actually a very powerful tool in composing.

There are admittedly some discordant moments (a screeching violin here or an inexplicable blast from the brass section there). There’s a fairly sharp divide between combat music and ambient wandering music, which some people might actually appreciate since it’s easy to trim the bouncier, brasher tracks out if desired (not that they don’t have their uses, but I suspect that very few people listen to this album to remind themselves of fighting sequences in the game). If you only queue up the quieter tracks – I usually do –  you’ll still have a robust playlist to work with.

At $16, this is one of the more expensive offerings on iTunes (at least among albums not claiming to be “box sets”). Individually, the tracks are $.99 each. It’s possible that you’ll only find 14-15 songs that really take your fancy and can somehow obtain a nice helping of music without hitting the $16 mark. Having said that, if you get the point of this music at all, you’ll probably have trouble choosing which ones to pluck out because this album has a meaty 65 tracks.

To the best of my knowledge, it is only available as a full album on iTunes at this time.