The original Mortal Kombat was an idea with little or no interest in long-term fitness. Why bother to fixate about upcoming sequels that hadn’t been green-lit? The money had yet to be made. At this pupa stage, investors were unlikely to shovel bottomless capital at either of the series creators Ed Boon and John Tobias. Yet, somehow between their derelict backyard steady-cam video shoots, their ingenious sleight of hand, and their earnest, willing circle of friends, Mortal Kombat’s creation became an arresting and industry-altering D.I.Y. empire. Key to their placement at the top tiers of the fighting game scene of the early 90’s was composer Dan Forden’s opulent original score/s, and that will be the focus of this article. I will not, however, encompass the entire compositional history of Mortal Kombat, but instead focus on Forden’s albums for the first three games of the series.
Here are four of the best compositions from Mortal Kombat 1, 2 and 3.
Having spent the years preceding 1992 germinating as a seedling, the Mortal Kombat of 1995 had reached its peak as a full blown glitterati pop phenomenon. Mortal Kombat 3 brings with it all the baggage of any boozed-up, over-worked rock star. It’s looking a bit peaked, a bit treaded on and a bit jealous of anyone who’s seen more than an hour’s worth of sleep: It’s had none. The work though, had been noticed. The excessive licensing, the branding of cartoons, its casual invasion of lunchboxes and figurines bearing its likeness were flooding retail channels. All of this brings money: lots and lots of money. The production of Mortal Kombat 3 was an affair completely removed from the squeamish anorexic budgets of old, and was replaced by a meter-less always running clock with no set time constraint or due date for the finished work to be delivered. Every time an alarm rang, more cases of money arrived, and they would keep arriving and arriving…and arriving. The term “When it’s done” became short-hand speak for exfoliating the very deepest layers of Midway’s coffers. For composer Dan Forden, this meant the fullest, most realized scale orchestration he had yet produced. “The Subway” is a moment of crystallization, and it remains so as it gathers shards from every patch of DNA the franchise had inherited over its short 3 year rise to celebrity. Everything is here. From its promotional mob-rule fist bumping commercials, to its ridiculous melding of machismo chop-sockey ka-ra-te ala Lovecraft. The Subway delegates equal pieces of industrial synth versus noxious yet beautiful butt-rock like no other tune before or after. Head banging is required and not optional.
Imagery is everything to Mortal Kombat, by either suggestion or direct visual cue, and in Mortal Kombat 2, the series poised and ready, looked as if it had been remodeled by minds saturated and poisoned by a litany of late 70’s to early 80’s metal album covers. Floating druids? Check. Bondage? Check. Skull fetishes? Check. Some form of Iron Maiden in either the literal device meaning or allusion to Bruce Dickinson’s long heralded metal super group? Check! While these albums may or may not have been part of Forden’s own musical genesis, he plays along superbly with the given set of directions. At times creaking and gnarled, Forden plays up the ridiculous master and servant leather camp with all the concrete focus of some black magic priest. It seems effortless, and Forden’s Living Forrest is a flawless appraisal of the tortured unclean spirit that is both intrepid and visceral. Air Combat exemplifies further Forden’s knack of drawing out the phantasms within, and he turns the standard Mortal Kombat trade paperback into a gritty graphic novel visualization with some percentage of Def Leoppard’s Rock Of Ages mixed live and high octane caterwaul with the more silver studded of Judas Preist’s most uncomfortable wardrobe. Gunter Glieben Glauchen Globen!
Having borne witness to the origins of the original Mortal Kombat, I recall the exact moment of departure from its heavily vested persona of the darkened, dangerous mystic to inebriated slurring comedian sloth. Look no further than the Baballity and the Friendship. These devices, while entertaining, served to detract from Mortal Kombat’s own hard won mythos. Which is one of the reasons why Dan Forden’s original Mortal Kombat long-player is also one of his very best. Of these highest honor candidates is Mortal Kombat’s Warrior Shrine. Forden’s Shrine is a work of slow-marination, a searing of Boon and Tobias’s initial unsullied, unclouded ultra-violent vision, and he makes that permanently. Forden gathers all these disparate elements, both benign and integral, weaving the two designers’ more general touchstones of John Carpenter films and multi-colored karate gi’s into something starkly rancorous and evil. Forden’s initial score is not only about generating a slight discompose from players, but it is also meant to agitate them greatly long after the session with the machine has ended. It’s supposed to be absolutely unsettling and something about it feels a bit cursed. You’re meant to walk away feeling a bit jarred and disoriented. I know it, because I felt all of the above the instant my initial encounter with the first Mortal Kombat machine had ended: so much so, that I even remember the exact date. October 24th, 1992. It’s a fantastic but chilling memory that was made all the more redolent by Forden’s blighted material.
What? You were expecting something else? Something LONGER? Wrong.
A very special thanks and the absolute highest of praise to the genius of Dan Forden and his incredible decades of work.
Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.