Coming of the success of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, the next entry in the Metal Gear Solid series, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is considered by Kojima to be the Metal Gear Solid 5. While I still regard Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater as the pinnacle of Metal Gear Solid music, I was impressed with Metal Gear Solid 4 Guns of the Patriots Original Soundtrack. Sure, it had some things I wasn't impressed with, but at the same time, it featured some beautifully moving themes by Harry Gregson-Williams, GEM Impact, and the Konami in-house team. So, as one might expect, I was looking forward to this soundtrack, especially since I learned most contributors were returning. How does it pan out in the end?
Perhaps its best to start with Akihiro Honda's contributions to the soundtrack. Starting the soundtrack, "Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker Main Theme" opens up with an ambient atmosphere with some ethereal synth passages before gradually adding some electronic elements that lead into the epic industrial/orchestral portion of the main theme. While it doesn't feature a strong melody at first, the overall atmosphere of the piece is quite effective. Once the actual melody is introduced, it portrays an extremely powerful tone through its use of strong brass and choral accents. It is, however, the weakest of the main themes to date.
Fortunately, the next contribution is one of the best themes on the soundtrack and easily my favorite Metal Gear Solid theme song to date. "Heavens Divide," sung by Donna Burke, is absolutely stunning. Burke's powerful voice truly brings out the best of the melody and accompaniment. The accompaniment features some beautiful piano and acoustic guitar work that really adds a bit of poignancy to the overall. The bridges, in particular, feature these two instruments prominently with some beautiful strings accompaniment. Overall, this orchestral pop theme is one of the best vocal themes to grace the series, in part due to the composition and in part to the singer. The soundtrack closes with the character theme for Paz. Sung by Nana Mizuki, "Love Deterrence" definitely has a more J-pop oriented vibe and it reminds me a bit of a vocal theme you might hear by Elements Garden. It's got a nice Wild Arms style accompaniment and melody, complete with awesome strings work and some nice acoustic guitar passages. Overall, it's a fantastic theme with quite a catchy melody and electronic backing.
Nobuko Toda also composes a few themes for the game. Although I won't cover them all, I'll mention a few. "PUPA," presumably one of the boss battle themes for the game, is quite action-oriented, as expected. A riveting electronic accompaniment works well with the suspenseful, action oriented strings work. At one point, an electric guitar riff is featured and, interestingly enough, it is taken from exactly the same sample library as the intro featured in "Kartikeya ASGX 7135 (: Battle)" from Wild Arms Vth Vanguard. Aside from this minor issue, the theme is pretty decent, albeit a bit short. It isn't, however, nearly as strong as the boss themes from Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. "Entry Gate" is an ambient electronic theme with some minimal orchestral work to help heighten the atmosphere. It's fairly uneventful, but I do enjoy the electronic backbone of the track, if nothing else. Similarly, "Mother Base" is an ambient theme that really doesn't do much to grab the listener's attention. There is an interesting use of percussion, but it's quite minimal. This piece is mainly for atmospheric purposes and isn't really worth a standalone listen, unless you are into this type of music.
The other Konami in-house composer who worked on the soundtrack is Kazuma Jinnouchi. "Clients" is an ethereal piece that features a lot of suspenseful tones. As it progresses, the atmosphere gets a bit tenser in nature and features some lovely brass tones. The melody isn't prominently featured but when it is, it really adds to the accompanying electronic/industrial accompaniment. Not the strongest of pieces, but does feature a strong atmosphere. Another atmospheric theme, "The Spear," features a portion of the main theme of the game. It's definitely more melodic than "Clients" and the atmosphere gradually builds towards a very tense climax. It's a decent piece, but one that I don't find myself particularly drawn to. "CHRYSALIS," presumably one of the boss battle themes for the game, is stronger than "PUPA" but at the same time, I don't find anything particularly striking about it. There is definitely a tense atmosphere about the theme but I find it an unengaging theme for the most part. The percussion and electronic elements of the piece are definitely the highlights and they play such a minor role. Another presumed boss battle theme is "COCOON." For the most part, this follows the same structure as "CHRYSALIS" although there is more focus on brass. Other than that, it's another generic, although slightly better than the others, battle theme for the game.
Out of Jinnouchi's sole contributions, I think "Zero Allies!" is the best thing he's done on this soundtrack. He effectively takes the main theme of the game and crafts it into a dramatic piece full of beautiful passages. As the theme progresses, heavy percussion and some beautiful vocal work is introduced into the mix that serves as a nice climactic bridge before the action-oriented section of the composition starts. Here, the percussion really shines, and I love how he takes pieces of the main theme and mutates them to fit a nice crisis motif before bringing it back and giving it a nice glorious coating. Overall, it's a very strong theme. I wish Jinnouchi brought this A-game with him the entire time.
Out of all the tracks that Toda and Jinnouchi composed, the sole track they team up for, "Outer Heaven," ends up being their strongest contribution. Although the beginning is quite ambient in nature, due to the strings work, as the theme progresses, it definitely becomes more interesting. The strings work continues to add a mysterious, tense atmosphere into the mix while the industrial electronic accompaniment serves as a nice boost to the overall atmosphere of the theme. Once the choir kicks in though, the theme gains a nice elegance that I think really defines some of the better Metal Gear Solid themes in history. Of course, the more action oriented portion of the theme towards the end is absolutely fantastic and captures the urgent and tense situations found in every Metal Gear Solid game. It is crazy how well composed this theme is in comparison to their individual contributions. It's quite a shame really because when they put their heads together they can really shine.
Surprising additions to this soundtrack are from Jeremy Soule and Todd Haberman, both from Soundelux DMG. I was a little surprised not to see Gregson-Williams contributing and, although nervous at first, my fears were lifted once I heard the contributions of his replacements. Jeremy Soule's "Tank Corps," is is definitely action oriented in nature. I absolutely love what Jeremy Soule did here. Although this is his first foray into the series, he managed to capture the essence of the music extremely well. The electronic accompaniment is riveting and the strong melody section, although quite varied, manages to portray quite a bit of power. The brass, in particular, is what really shines, but the use of crisis motifs in the strings isn't bad either. Overall, this is quite a success.
Todd Haberman's "Take Down" also manages to capture the essence of Metal Gear Solid. Epic orchestration accompanies dark choral accents to create a very powerful action theme. In particular, I'm a fan of the fusion of orchestral and minor electronic elements in the accompaniment and the percussion is quite riveting as well. Overall, this manages to capture both elegance and urgency, the ultimate marriage that makes a great Metal Gear Solid theme. "Peace Walker," similar in style to "Take Down," employs heavy use of choir. The choir, as before, is quite dark and really gives this theme quite the atmosphere. As before, the fusion of electronic elements and orchestration is superb and seriously much better than in "Take Down," an already superb piece of music. The addition of the free style woodwind accent reminds me of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater for some reason, a good thing mind you. This theme sums up all the good things about this soundtrack without any of the bad.
Lastly, GEM Impact contributes only three themes featured on the soundtrack, which is a shame, since I always enjoy their work for this series. "Little Brother," composed by Norihiko Hibino and Nobuko Toda, is quite a beautiful piece. Most of the theme is quite ambient in nature with some very minimalist, yet striking, acoustic guitar and piano passages that instill a nice sense of mystery into the piece. As the piece progresses, it becomes much deeper in atmosphere. While the piano and acoustic guitar passages are still featured, the addition of some suspended strings work and some woodwind hint at "Heavens Divide." The crowning moment, however, of this theme is definitely the piano at the very end. It's an extremely touching rendition of "Heavens Divide." It's a shame it's so short though. I'd have loved to hear this song done via piano in entirety.
"Air Strike," composed by Yoshitaka Suzuki, is an action theme that features intense percussion and strings work. It's not a melodically focused theme, but it definitely manages to exhilarate the listener. The tense atmosphere really shines and is definitely reminiscent of the action themes of Ninja Blade, minus the traditional Japanese elements. "Boot Sequence," composed by Takahiro Izutani, is comprised of some electronic elements, heavy percussion, crisis strings, and brass. In particular, I really enjoy the use of the choir to convey a very climactic and dramatic effect. It's another fantastic theme from the GEM Impact team.
Overall, I have mixed feelings about this soundtrack. While I felt GEM Impact and the Western composers captured the essence of Metal Gear Solid quite nicely, the in-house team at Konami didn't manage to capture this feeling overall. Save for a few compositions from the composers at Konami, the rest was largely forgettable. If you play the game and end up enjoying the music, I'd recommend this for you, but if you are a fan of the music on a standalone basis, you might want to avoid this one and just purchase the vocal single instead. There are some nice instrumental themes found on the soundtrack, though, so it's not a total loss.