Jesper Kyd’s been busy lately. And for that matter, so have his Borderlands 2 co-composers, Cris Valasco and Sasha Dikiciyan. Rapid proliferation of these excellent composers aside, when I heard they’d be returning to take on Borderlands 2, I was quite pleased. I was confident these musicians could pull off the sci-fi/western style whose promise was never quite realized in the music for the original Borderlands. I’m happy to say that I was not wrong.
Much of what listeners will hear in Borderlands 2’s OST is considerably more memorable and consistent than the original’s, and perhaps that has to do with the stronger sense of identity the main game now has. There’s a real sense of cohesiveness and style here, even with the music divided between the three composers. Things feel meatier and more melodic, and as a result, the whole thing feels as though it has its own identity.
The album opener, a multifaceted Valasco/Dikiciyan number called “Ascent,” is a real treat. It begins with some soft, sci-fi synth that gradually opens up and then explodes into an action-packed section that really takes me back to Parasite Eve’s intro theme. There’s a lot of variety in this track, and it’s a great showcase for the breadth and memorability of this album as compared to the original game’s.
The fusion of an acoustic western and synth-heavy sci-fi kind of sound dominates this album. “Caverns” is a great example of this in action. The track begins with what sounds like a bit of percussion on some bongos accompanied by some rather spacy background riffing on a guitar. After the midpoint, however, it transforms into a full-on western gunfight track. There’s lots of dirty guitar twanging and a measured percussion that really gets the blood pumping for a good old-fashioned throw-down. Alongside “Caverns” is “Lynchwood Sheriff Combat,” which wastes no time in hurling the listener into a gun battle on the frontier. Right from the get-go comes that low guitar strumming that we’ve all been conditioned to recognize as the showdown music from decades of American western films. A fast-paced background melody runs throughout the piece and gives a great sense of forward motion, one that is constantly pushing you to the next battle, six-shooter in hand. Although this is Borderlands, so it’s more likely that your six shooter is literally shooting six bullets at once.
Another way that this album works towards establishing a sense of identity is by hearkening back to musical cues from its predecessor, and this is nowhere more evident than in “Fyrestone,” a melancholic tune that revisits Borderlands’ “Welcome to Fyrestone.” Familiar riffs and notes are expanded upon in a satisfying fashion, yet all the while there is a sense of growth and progression, which takes the song from “enjoyable ambiance” to “memorable melody.” Given the opportunity, I could easily see this becoming something of a recurring musical theme for the series.
While there are several tracks that go for the space-western fusion, there are also some that bypass that and go straight into bass-heavy beat-dropping. “Glacial” is an early-game combat theme that reoccurs throughout, and it is a particularly dark and dingy synth track that gets one ready to fill psychos with bullets. Near the midpoint, a super-distorted guitar starts to bleed all over the track, and it’s probably one of the most memorable musical cues in the game. Walking around outside, I found myself mouthing the sounds as I walked around, which is nothing but a credit to the track. “Interlude Combat” works in the same vein as “Glacial,” with some sharp guitar riffing accompanied by a vocal moan that could just as easily be some fancy guitar-work. Both of these tracks are full of heavy bass sounds and will reverberate nicely in your skull.
Perhaps my favorite track on the album, though, is the “Main Menu” theme. Repeated several times in exploration tracks throughout the game (though sadly, not featured on the OST itself), the melody behind this track is a somber reminder of the dark tones underpinning the goofy humor in the rest of the game. The track itself gives a great sense of foreboding and anticipation of the adventure that lay ahead, and effectively mirrors the darker emphasis of the story this time around. It’s hard not to imagine yourself standing on the edge of a deadly frontier when listening to this track, and that’s compounded by the fact that your character literally stands at the edge of a huge precipice while it plays in-game.
One last track worth mentioning is “Bandit Slaughter,” composed by Raison Varner, returning for a small cameo alongside his Borderlands 1 alumni. This is a decidedly dance-like electronic track that accompanies one particular set of combat challenges in the game. Stylistically, it’s a bit of a departure from the rest of the soundtrack, but it’s got a kind of bubbly charm and unabashed dance-club style that makes it a great complement to the rest of the album.
What to make of this album, then? Certainly fans of the original game will find a lot to like here, since it’s an evolution and a growth of the kind of music found there. Thematically, things are more consistent and certainly a bit darker, which is reflective of the game itself. There’s still a slight vibe of “background ambiance” to the music, but without a doubt, it is more melodic and memorable than the original game. The greatest success of the music, though, is in the style’s consistency – Kyd, Valasco, and Dikiciyan have certainly outdone themselves here, and have created a musical identity that is very distinctly “Borderlands,” and I can think of no higher praise than that.