Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Revisiting the Original Mortal Kombat Soundtrack

With this Friday's highly anticipated (and R-rated) Mortal Kombat movie release, I thought I'd revisit the legacy and personal impact the franchise had on me growing up.

Back in 1995, when I was a 12-year-old, braces-wearing, comic book-trading nerd playing Sega at my friend's house up the street, Mortal Kombat was the epitome of cool.  It was edgy, violent and addictive.

The overtly brutal game encouraged you to take on your friends, cage match style. This was before XBox and PS5 let you talk smack to random strangers online, and you instead had to sit in farty bean bag chairs next to one another and battle it out, yelling, "Get over here!", "Toasty!", and "Finish him!"

Now, more than 25 years later, Mortal Kombat still finds an audience.  It's rare for something to stay relevant for so many years, crossing generations.  I've been away from the game for some time now, but I still got excited when the trailer to the new movie came out recently.

The 1995 Mortal Kombat film by the same name was a doozy.  I saw it in the theater, of course. It was by no means an Oscar contender, but it accomplished what it needed to, hindered only by a PG-13 rating. It's pretty dated to watch the movie now, but man, does it take you back in time.

 The plot was simple:  three martial artists travel to a secret island to fight in an underground tournament to determine the fate of the world.  The talents of Robin Shou and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa carried the film, while Christopher "Highlander" Lambert--for some reason--played the Japanese Thundergod, Raiden.

The success of the 1995 film was also due in part to its soundtrack.  The theme song, "Techno Syndrome (Mortal Kombat)" by the Immortals was one of the hottest tracks of the year.  You might know it as the techno song that periodically screams "MORTAL KOMBAT!"

But to write the soundtrack off as a gimmick would be unfair.  It also contained some great original music, crossing the aggressive genres of heavy metal and techno.  Not all of the songs on the original motion picture soundtrack were featured in the film itself, but the mood fits throughout.  Metal bands like Type O Negative and Napalm Death were featured alongside electronic acts like Orbital and Utah Saints, taking the soundtrack as high as #10 on the Billboard Top 200 that year.

Amongst my personal favorite tracks were "Goodbye (demo version)" by industrial rock group Gravity Kills, and the smoldering "Burn" by Sister Machine Gun.

But it's Orbital's 9-1/2 minute-long masterpiece "Halcyon + On + On" that has stood the test of time.  The ambient and melodic track slowly builds up, utilizing a delicate piano and guitar loop and a backmasked vocal sample from "It's Fine Day" by Opus III for its angelic, trance-like nature.

It's an extended version of the original Orbital single, and probably one of the greatest soundtrack songs of all time, having also been used in Hackers, and later, Mean Girls.  It's also one of my favorite songs of all time, so I'm honestly disappointed in myself that in 16 years of writing for the Lonely Note, I've never actually posted about this song before. 

All through Jr. High and High School, my friends and I would put the cd on track #6, set the boom box to repeat and listen to it over and over again while we'd hang out and talk about life, so it brings back a flood of memories anytime I hear it.  Never heard it?  You can listen to "Halcyon + On + On" in the YouTube clip below.

I should also mention that I bought the follow up compilation album, 1996's Mortal Kombat: More Kombat. It also featured some great tracks continuing in the same industrial direction, including songs from God Lives Underwater, Sepultura, the Crystal Method, and a song called "My Ruin" by Crawlspace (later known as Sevendust).

Will 2021's Mortal Kombat reboot live up to the hype?  It's one of the latest films to be simultaneously released to theaters and HBOMAX, and the trailer has a lot of fans (AKA other dudes in their 30s) worked up.  

Will it have a killer soundtrack?  That is yet to be determined, but there is a pretty sweet updated "Techno Syndrome 2021" theme song remix to go with it, so it's a start!

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