Soundtrack Review: The Beat and Pulse of 1982 in Christian Gabel’s ‘Krater’ Score

Swedish musician Christian Gabel’s Krater soundtrack began as the byproduct of found production art for an unmade 1980’s film near his hometown, and ends up being one of the most interestingly textured pieces of music I’ve had the chance to hear this year. From its fantastic beginnings (and its origins do sound like the work of a wistful fantasy), Gabel’s work here conjures up a blasted cityscape from the 80’s, dust, leveled buildings, and the yawning chasm of a nuclear weapon’s point of impact.

For all that, it’s not a heavy, ponderous, or even dark album. Its synth-heavy sounds evoke dark sci-fi, yeah, but through most of the throbbing, rhythmic tracks, there’s an accompanying gentle melody which upends the mood. It’s the sound of exploration. It’s beautiful.

The 11-track opus begins with the the nearly five-minute “Krater Prolog,” which blends the kind of introductory, welcome to life in the city sound you might expect out of an early-to-mid 80’s offering from John Carpenter, specifically the director’s Escape from New York score (which made its debut in 1982). Based solely on “Prolog,” and knocking around the rest of the album, you might get the impression that Gabel’s simply doing an extended Carpenter riff, sans guitar (which, I guess would make it less of a Carpenter riff).

Dig deeper into the track list, and you get something way more varied: “De Vanställdas Diskotek” is this looping, tilting thing that conjures up the swoop of deadly accurate spotlights, while the ambling “Förödelse, Ändlös Förödelse” is an Old West track for the Space Age. “Minfält/Nöjesfält” and “Lupus Mekanika” are the two tracks with the hardest beats to them, sit and nod your head science fiction music to blast out the back of your hovercraft. There’s also some quieter soundscape stuff like “Kolregn Över Staden” which slow-deploy one-two-three keyboard tempos inside of a womb-like throb.

The most remarkable thing about the soundtrack though, is that even knowing that it was made for a game and knowing what that game looks like, when I close my eyes, I can’t see it. It evokes more than the RPG it accompanies, and it feels bigger and more expansive than the the pixel action it’s currently tethered to (no offense meant to Krater the game, Gabel’s work here just seems to fiddle around with so many elements that would be hard to imagine pegged to a specific chapter/level/cutscene in a game).

And that’s the thing that makes this a contender for top soundtrack of the year right now: at a super-brisk 11 tracks, the thing sounds so big, smart, and layered in interesting ways. Let’s get Gabel on more of these things, let’s give him the keys to the soundtrack booth for something else and hear what else he can conjure up.

The Krater soundtrack is available via iTunes. You can also grab it with the fancy Special Edition version of the game from the FatShark store.

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