TR9 Soundtrack Review

Posted: Apr. 29, 2013
Article by: Brandon Klassen

The soundtrack for the new Tomb Raider game, a reboot of the long-running franchise developed by Crystal Dynamics, is an exhilirating, action-packed and triumphant score from composer Jason Graves.

A lot of games don't get a soundtrack these days, and when they do, they usually don't get a CD release, so I was thrilled to hear that Tomb Raider's score is available on CD from Sumthing. Unlike digital downloads, a CD's bitrate provides lossless audio quality that will truly immerse you on the lost island of Yamatai, the game's setting.

Graves has woven a lush, at times understated orchestral foundation and layered the score with unique sounds drawn directly from the island's ritualistic cultures and inspired by the game's survival theme. There is an incredible variety of fresh percussive sounds here that, combined with the racing, tension-filled strains of the orchestra, make this possibly the most unique and most enjoyable game score I've heard in many years.

Graves is constantly balancing variations of the game's sweeping melodic theme, which creates a strong emotional bond between the player and Lara, the game's heroine, with the continually warring push of the island's dangers. Brief moments of respite don't last long in the game or the score, as much as the listener will yearn to rest in the comfort of Lara's theme and the momentary victories that Lara struggles to reach. Graves twists and reinvents Lara's theme constantly, evoking every conceivable emotion and mirroring the unrelenting pace of the game with a range and inventiveness that can only be described as genius.

Lara's theme, in its most recognizeable forms, is a coda to many of the tracks on this album, a continual punctuation of success despite overwhelming obstacles in the game's narrative. Even with this reassuring refrain, the score never feels predictable or contrived, always invigoratingly dynamic and alive.

One of my favorite elements in Tomb Raider's audio landscape is the sound of bells that drift in and out of musical scenes like leaves on the wind. If the score's percussion represents the combatitive inhabitants of the island, the bells may stand for the elusive spiritual forces that are the mystery behind the game's premise. In any event, the haunting beauty that the bells add to the score is really the icing on the cake.

The score is an arrangement of the game's music, and in some cases I thought that the tracks could have been broken up a bit more in favor of specific pieces that the listener may want to listen to separately, although if you're listening to the album straight through, the arrangements are fantastic. With 74 minutes of music selected from over 3 hours of material, there were some cuts that were noticeably missing. If you love this score as much as I do, you'll be excited to know that Graves is in the process of posting additional pieces on Soundcloud. I would gladly pay for lossless WAV downloads of these additional pieces.

The soundtrack is packaged in a standard jewel case. The disc and inside traycard feature an understated take on one of Tomb Raider's many signature icons. A bold silkscreen of the design on the disc would have been cooler than the offset print with this vector design, but I can see what they were going for. The spine text is printed rotated compared to most CDs, and there's a couple inconsistencies on the back. I love great CD packaging as much as I love music, but these minor packaging details of course don't detract at all from the brilliance of this score. The insert features a very short message from Jason as well as the "#Reborn" render. It would have been nice to read a bit more from Graves, but it works with the overall simple design of the packaging.

This soundtrack is a must-buy not only for Tomb Raider fans but also for anyone who loves film, television or video game soundtracks - it's really that good.