The storyline in Phantom of Inferno is one of the more depressing video game storylines I have experienced in all my years of gaming. It had deliberate pacing, an air of moroseness, and an almost constant atmosphere of nagging tension. It goes without saying, then, that the soundtrack would follow suit and have a heavy-hearted slow pace with only a handful of upbeat or even up-tempo pieces. After all, happiness is scarce for a protagonist who is but a pawn in a crime syndicate where life is viewed through blood-stained glasses as opposed to rose-tinted ones. In other words, minor keys are the order of the day here.
I will say that the soundtrack fits the game perfectly. The pieces are atmospheric enough to convey the appropriate (usually sinister) mood, but never overdone. Unfortunately, they may not hold up very well outside the context of the game. The writing and the visuals along with the music work well as a unit to provide edge-of-your-seat tension. It’s like the total body of skeleton, muscles, and skin. Listening to the soundtrack alone, outside the context of the game, feels like just one of those elements is there and the other two are missing. Therefore, the soundtrack may come off as rather boring without the context of the game to hang your hat on. Fortunately, the pieces usually hover under the 3 minute mark (with a few exceptions) and only loop twice, so they don’t drag on too long.
The music is entirely synthesized orchestration, but it’s good quality synth. It doesn’t have that organic feel that true orchestrated instruments would have, but the sound is still appealing. The sound quality is much sharper than in the game itself. The arrangements are full or sparse when they need to be and do their best to remain interesting within the slow tempos. The melodies are not very catchy, but they are coherent so your ear can follow them. When I played the game, the music didn’t really jump out at me, but thanks to the high quality audio on the soundtrack, the music presented layers that I didn’t hear before. There is a danger that a soundtrack with this much emphasis on slow, morose pieces would succumb to cheesiness, but this one does not. That is not an easy compositional feat to accomplish. There are some upbeat pieces like “Speed” and “Cal” that may seem out of place on the soundtrack, but they are key to the game since they represent the few brief moments where the protagonist actually experiences some unabashed joy. Again, they are appealing and not cheesy. The upbeat tracks have more of a “smooth jazz” vibe that stands in contrast to the more classically styled orchestrations of the other pieces. There are some tracks that really stand out like sore thumbs. One is “Cohabit,” which sounds like it belongs in a typical fantasy RPG rather than a gritty modern urban adventure. It sounds like a fantasy hero’s home or home town. I guess the feeling of “home” works in the piece since it plays during quieter moments in the protagonist’s apartment. “Jesus is Calling” sounds like a music box and is thankfully very short.
One thing I really like in the soundtrack is how some pieces incorporate sound effects into their composition. For example, “Phantom” (track 2) has an interesting section where eerie sound effects smoothly break up the melody. “Fight” is another one where synthesized vocal effects blend nicely with the instrumentals to provide an interesting sonic texture.
The only pieces over 3 minutes are the various versions of “Promised Land” and “Fly.” The soundtrack opens with a version of “Promised Land” with vocals. This opener is excellent instrumentally with a variety of sounds including strings, piano, a cool bassline, and some moments of interesting percussion. However, the vocals simply kill it. The vocals are in English sung by a female vocalist, but her voice sounds muffled, lackadaisical, out of tune, her intonation doesn’t jive with the instrumental, and her sustained notes flounder like someone’s voice breaking. It was very amateur and awful. With all the vocal talent out there, why was such a subpar vocalist chosen? Thankfully, there are instrumental only versions of “Promised Land” towards the end of the soundtrack, so I don’t have to put up with those godawful vocals just to hear the instrumental. One of them is regular and one is the remix. Both are simply great pieces of music, but I prefer the regular one since it has a wider variety of instruments. However, the remix has that really cool bassline.
“Fly” suffers too. The same awful vocalist lends her amateurish voice to not one, but two versions of “Fly.” I hate to say it, but the instrumental arrangements for “Fly” are rather bland and nowhere near as interesting as those of “Promised Land.” They’re still way better without the vocalist, though. I can understand the desire to use an American vocalist since the game takes place in the US, but couldn’t the sound team have recruited a vocalist who could actually sing properly? I’m not asking for a music celebrity or anything: just a trained professional or semi-professional vocalist (like maybe a vocal performance student) who actually possesses talent and skill.
With the exception of the vocal tracks, I did enjoy the soundtrack. However, part of my enjoyment stems from having immensely enjoyed the game. But even without the rose-tinted nostalgia, the music is pretty good on its own merit. There were some tracks that were new to me (such as the theme of “Elen”) because I never encountered those particular characters or scenes in my playthrough. Still, it’s difficult for me to recommend this soundtrack unless you’ve had some experience with the game, because though the music is good, the soundtrack itself may seem incredibly slow and boring without context. And even though I liked it, it’s not a soundtrack I can pick up and listen to unless I’m in the right mood to do so.