Is it possible to describe the electronic score to a video game as warm and inviting? Something about Thomas Happ’s music for his underground hit, Axiom Verge, evokes memories of classic games like Metroid while still managing to avoid falling into the realm of chiptune novelty. While the ostensible title theme, “The Axiom” brings to mind everything from Metroid to The Legend of Zelda, its wider sonic range steps it outside just being another reimagined lost game of the original Nintendo era.
The pulse of “Trace Awakens” and the digital rise and fall behind the basic bleeps and bloops sounds larger than it should. By Happ’s own admission in the liner notes, this score was composed with less than $2000 worth of electronics and software, but the designer and musician makes the absolute most of what he has, taking a game soundtrack beyond just something which moves the player from starting point to end boss.
“Inexorable” becomes otherworldly through the only actual use of human voice. It’s a clever inversion, straining and twisting a royalty-free Indian vocal sample to the point of near-unrecognizability, in order to create something which sounds at times completely alien. It swirls and eddies, but the intensity of “Apocalypse” will fire the neurons in the back of your brain, bringing to the forefront every level that was near its end, with lifeforce low. It’s insistent and propulsive, moving ever forward, increasing in tone and volume and speed as it goes along, only to drop out everything but the pulse here and there. Those dropouts only serve to make the return of the intensifying music so much more nerve-wracking. It’s every speed ever run, in the span of a few minutes.
The gentle heartbeat of “Phosphene” is the auditory equivalent of being wrapped in a pulsingly warm blanket -- like a warm angora wool throw that could purr. It’s exactly the sort of thing that would be perfect for bedtime, but that’s not a knock against it: the piece of music is just so peaceful and inviting. It’s something to which you’ll want to return any time stress or panic enters your life.
“Occlusion Lens” was evidently composed on an airplane, thus -- no midrange. It’s all very high and quite low tones, possibly creating the first track, which hits one in the chest while simultaneously stabbing you in the ears. It’s the exact opposite of “Phosphene,” creating a feeling of tension and unease through contradictory tones, while never deigning to reach the speed of “Apocalypse.”
Happ’s game was a complete success, and so is his score. Axiom Verge’s music is warm and creative, and actually makes this reviewer -- not much of a gamer these days -- feel the need to dig out a controller and sit down for some proper thumb-bashing adventures.
AXIOM VERGE (2015) / COMPOSER: THOMAS HAPP / LABEL: SHIP TO SHORE PHONOGRAPH CO. / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW