It’s always great when composers take that extra step in musical world-building, and Metamorphosis is a grand example of it. Based on the Franz Kafka short novel first published in 1915, the game delves into themes of alienation and isolation particular to modernity, and what Mikolai Stroinski & Garry Schyman did was to craft an immersive period-driven classical soundtrack. Lest we forget, the panorama of European classical music around the First World War suffered key paradigm shifts thanks to avant-garde movements that developed new languages around both dissonance and extreme precision. While this sort of shift yet evades videogames themselves, it is quite exciting to hear an OST that sounds truly old and is therefore distinct from others in the same category. Metamorphosis starts with the kind of shock that could only come from an old avant-garde, thanks to the introduction of a singer whose lines have been composed with the technique known as “sprechgesang” (“spoken singing”) in mind. This technique evolved from late 19th century operatic styles, furthered by composers like Arnold Schoenberg into a form of singing that is meant to break with both song conventions and regular speech patterns. The result is uncanny and powerful, like listening to someone caught in-between the world of natural sounds and music.
Stroinski & Schyman quiet the initial shock with a series of late-Romantic tracks that sound as old as John Williams music, and are therefore not too dissimilar from many a soundtrack still heard today. Nonetheless, an ever-so-slight turn towards more radical forms of earlier modernism is taking place. The transition now softened, it is easy to be immersed within the intensity of a musical limit-experience, for which there is a double-edged contextual blade: most people’s ears have been trained to listen to this sort of music already, whether in mid-century cartoons or, much more commonly, in horror cinema. Its original, radical break with convention is no longer recoverable, and it is extremely difficult not to think of scary or tense situations while listening. Sure enough, “expressionism” and the Great War is the name of the game, but we would perhaps be in error to consider it solely a music of suffering. It was the music of standing before the void, but not solely in terror, it was also in awe of the beauty of an endless musical horizon opening before us. The precision demanded by a Webern piece is not the precision of a gun firing a bullet, it is a precision born from passion, from the infinity contained in the romantic fragment. Therefore, such a music is used to great effect by a game about the suffering of us moderns, but it is to the composers’ credit that a few pieces, primarily the instrumental versions of a few vocal tracks, more audibly render the original beauty of these styles.
The rest, really, tends towards the darker side of modern experience, without a lot of ambivalence to it. Still, this soundtrack is extremely special purely because of its craft and dedication to the theme. It would have been easy to turn to the dramatic, cinematic style that pervades classical VGM, and no one would have objected. This, instead, is a unique effort for which the composers ought to be widely commended. We hope many more artists take up these styles and ideas, because often, something that is old enough can sound radically new to ears that have supposedly heard it all before. (David Murrieta Flores)