If its coverage elsewhere has conveyed the sense that this is a ‘moment’ in the relationship between the videogame and music industries, HEALTH’s score for Rockstar Games’ newest triple-A title has served its purpose well.
Reputable musicians have long enjoyed flirting with button-bashers and the like: Amon Tobin’s work for Splinter Cell 3 attracted admirers in 2004/05, and Nitin Sawhney contributed stirring sounds to 2010’s ambitious action-adventurer Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. Before them came Bomb the Bass on classic shooter Xenon 2: Megablast (1989) and John Foxx (as Nation 12) on high-profile platformer Gods (1991), and more besides.
Where HEALTH’s involvement differs is in the distance between commissioner and commissionee. Rockstar is the videogaming equivalent of a film director like Steven Spielberg or Ridley Scott: a company that doesn’t (often) align itself with projects that aren’t going to be phenomenal successes. HEALTH, on the other hand, are a Los Angeles-based quartet loved by a passionate following but about as mainstream-friendly as a Basic Instinct-themed Barbie doll, ice pick included. On paper, their collaboration might seem a recipe for disaster, potential ripe for a squalling, ill-fitting soundtrack.
But play through the game and it’s clear that HEALTH have approached this differently to their ‘regular’ albums. The familiar shrieks, clangs and buzzes that have peppered their two studio LPs to date surface, but generally Max Payne 3 is a very measured affair, each cue tailored to the accompanying action, or relative lack of. Standout track Tears is the one new song proper: a slow grind of organic pulses and metal-on-metal percussion, it’ll register immediately with the faithful while simultaneously pulling in newcomers (as evidenced by YouTube comments). Its pace is comparable to USA Boys, the new track that opened remix set ::Disco2, but its execution is more Terminator than Twilight.
A newly recorded instrumental version of Get Color’s Severin is one of this score’s most hectic inclusions – primal pounding complements its scene, an airport runway chase, excellently. But Torture and Pain are sombre affairs, perhaps oddly so given their titles, and a balance is struck between intensity and introspection that well suits the conflicted protagonist of the game series. It all points towards an exciting future where the next blockbusting Batman brawler could conceivably come complete with music by Modeselektor.