Bioshock has always had a grandiose soundscape and with the third iteration “Bioshock Infinite” things become even more taut and creepy as the string arrangements are maxed to eleven. Garry Schyman has help throughout the soundtrack but he is generally the mainstay and considering he made the music for the first two, you can hear where all his influences lie.
After the short scene setting conversation of “Introduction” a singular taut string quiver opens “Welcome to Columbia” before honky-tonk piano lightly breezes through. The fact that the honky-tonk is always a bit detuned adds to the atmosphere. We then break to “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” as a choral arrangement. Built by Ada Ruth Habershon & Charles Hutchinson Gabriel, we will get several versions of the track but this is the warmest and most beautiful. It has a rich gospel warmth to it.
“Lighter Than Air” then sets us off in the string tracks and you can hear the previous tracks motif broken down throughout the track. “Lutece” initially reminds me of Monkey Island with its French piratey accordion and clumsy bass string booms. It’s mischievous, slinky and purposeful as it evolves into something you’d expect from the Medieval game. Genuinely fun and b-movie creepy too.
There are five “Battle For Columbia” tracks and although they spread themselves out over the album I’ll review them collectively. The initial section is very percussive and metallic which gives way to a more heartbeat war drum for the second section. It pulses away before the strings go absolutely wild for the second half. It’s like a thousand mice are let loose on a violin at the same time! The third iteration is slightly more melodic but no less dramatic as the strings turn into stabs as the march out the beat which has quickened from its deep pulse. The fourth revels in the reverse reverb treating one set of instruments to spear off one way whilst and panting string section murder one chord to death the other. The results are surprisingly fantastic. The fifth and final of these turns the echo up on the drums and lets everyone play screech the high note on the strings. Its fraught and frightening.
Outside of that quintet the Bioshock score goes for eerie elegance often. “The Girl in the Tower” and “Elizabeth” work perfectly together as the unmasking of a sinister beauty in such a sad context. “Unintended Consequences” too leaves the bass behind for a short but emotive segment. “Family Reunion” and “Let Go” have such a large-scale feel to it despite only being waves of notes – but it carries a weight that the soundtrack is burdened with throughout. It’s a beautiful burden to listen to. “The Songbird” however goes for percussive shrill to create atmosphere. “Lions Walk With Lions”, “Back in the Boat”, “Smothered” and “The Girls For The Debt” goes for Gollum undertones for dark chords and pizzicato string arrangements. “Doors” and “AD” are wonderfully complex with the voice section of the strings refusing to sit still for long. The result is something that feels like an unfurling of long hair – beautiful – especially the latter. “Baptism” draws the strings to a close still with a real heavy heart. The actual soundtrack closes with a beautiful acoustic guitar and vocal rendition of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”. The guitar version appears earlier in the soundtrack but here its the perfect downbeat and sober end to the musical parade.
Now I’ve missed some tracks out and that’s because they are tracks that break up the drama. Samuel Lover gives a fantastic celtic pub rendition of “Rosy O’More/Saddle The Horse” which sounds utterly like a breath of life in a soundtrack so claustrophobic. Jim Bonney, who helps out Garry in many of the string tracks, also has “The Readiness Is All” which is given a grammar-phone effect which transfers this chirpy 1950’s sounding delight into something slightly unnerving. The same can be said for “Solace” by Scott Joplin with its warped piano.
Overall this is my favourite Bioshock soundtrack to date. It has all the hallmarks of the previous two but with more time to get your blood flowing and more recurring motifs to invest in. Garry has done the trio proud.