Mark Morgan composed the Planescape: Torment soundtrack after leaving the post-apocalyptic wasteland of the Fallout franchise. While similar in tone to the first two Fallouts (a heady mix of humor and darkness), Torment features a rather different setting. Indeed, Sigil, the City of Doors, is unlike anything else. An amalgamation of fantasy flavors, Sigil houses absurdities, wonders, and horrors of every kind. For this, Morgan thoughtfully employs a variety of strange instruments and synthetic sounds for the soundtrack. Masterful in context, the soundtrack loses some of its power when heard outside the game. After repeated listens, however, the atmosphere of the music bleeds from the background to the foreground.
Morgan eschews melody for the most part, although the title track that also provides the main character’s theme has something approaching conventional melody. Otherwise, he opts for odd sounds, desert-esque instruments, and effective combinations of noises; sometimes unsettling, sometimes humorous. Most of the tracks contain a percussive undercurrent as well, even the ethereal Deionarra’s theme. This makes the soundtrack more coherent (and unsettling).
One of the more evocative tracks, Deionarra’s theme stands out among the character themes. Many of these sound similar, but they display the soundtrack’s (and the game’s) tonal range rather well. Compare the somber severity of Dak’kon’s theme to the exotic urban vibe of Annah’s. Consider Morte’s theme as well, a dose of absurdist humor. Disparate they may seem in tone, yet all display facets of Sigil daily life. I doubt they could be mistaken as coming from different soundtracks, however, as they all bear the Torment brand.
The battle themes convey immediate danger and conjure vivid images in the mind of one who has played the game. Sigil Battle is probably the best of them, with its discernable melody and stabs of breaking glass. The Catacombs and Curst themes are also commendable. Perhaps my favorite track here, Mortuary, is an endlessly haunting piece that can imbue any afternoon with macabre dread. Some of the other area themes are intriguing, but none as stimulating as Mortuary. The Smoldering Corpse Bar comes close with its wailing melody and suggestions of tall tales being told while men are in their cups. It has a Middle Eastern sensibility about it, which characterizes other tracks as well. The ending themes are a bit perfunctory and samey, but the Credits track offers something unique: a descent from sitar to electric guitar.
Upon first listen, the Planescape: Torment OST might come off as merely good background music – something to accompany an activity that occupies most of one’s attention. After multiple replays, however, the soundtrack slowly absorbs more and more of one’s attention, until, at its apex, the music commands attention. This soundtrack might not have much melody, but neither does that wondrous city, Sigil.