Atelier Iris -Eternal Mana- Arranged Tracks: Deceitful Wings
Atelier Iris -Eternal Mana- Arranged Tracks: Deceitful Wings
October 19, 2005
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Mere words couldn’t express my joy when I saw that this album was coming out. The underground Japanese doujin scene was hitting its stride right around the time of its release in late 2005, showing off the skills of a good number of amateur (and some professional) Japanese arrangers. Albums such as The Legend of Xanadu -Kleene- had shown the proficiency and raw talent of the Japanese VGM arranging scene and, with no end in sight, it was only a matter of time before things became official. Leading the arranging charge for Atelier Iris Eternal Mana Arranged Tracks – Deceitful Wings would be Saitama Seishu Heiki (S.S.H. for short), one of the most prominent arrangers on the scene. He is well known for his furious synth-metal arranges of well known pieces of game music history and original scores like the rockin’ Lost Child.
His material to cover is no slouch either. Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana‘s soundtrack is one of the finer examples of how to pull off a light-hearted and melodic RPG soundtrack, seemingly a rarity in these days of complex and atmospheric works on the RPG scene. Mixed in with the myriad of peppy town themes and pseudo-acoustic anthems were a number of synth rock battle and dungeon themes that were simply begging to be taken and expanded upon. The title track, “Deceitful Wings”, has long stood out as one of the best and most memorable boss themes in recent memory (yes, comparable to “One Winged Angel” for those of you wondering) and the rest of the selections were no slouches either. Toss another arranger into the mix — Toshinori Hiramatsu, who also goes by the name “Sword of Justice” — whose duty was to transcribe SSH’s synth-guitar to live, full-blown electric and you’ve got a potent concoction, ready to boil and blow the lab its in from here to Kingdom Come.
I’m extremely pleased with the way the entire disc came out. Hiramatsu’s transcriptions are mostly limited to rhythm guitar sections, with the lead melodies done on the traditional SSH rock synth. It tends to bend more towards a pop-rock style because of this (as opposed to heavy metal), but it maintains a nice heavy edge to it overall. I personally like it, because it shifts the focus towards the strong point of the originals — the melodies in most cases — while igniting a charge behind them that wasn’t present in the originals. It’s similar to other synth-rock arranges I’ve heard in practice, but completely polished, effective and unique in execution. I wouldn’t hesitate to put this album against even the great Konami Battle albums, which are non-arguably the benchmark for rock arranges in game music.
“Ferocious Drive” is as accurate a description I have for the CD. If you don’t like the opening 20 seconds of this track, chances are good you won’t like the rest of the CD, but otherwise you can settle back and enjoy. A driving barrage of killer guitar blasts play over top of the organs on the harmony. These same organs take the main stage seconds later and the arrangement is off and running, with the guitars giving the melody that much-needed charge. The tracks “Horned Enigma” and “Duke of Stratosphere” follow in this very same vein and are every bit as enjoyable, never letting up on the intensity at any point (which is good, considering all three of these tracks are boss themes). “Inferno” is also done in this same style, but the guitars are played in a much more laid back fashion for the frantic melody, as if to simulate the rise in lava of a huge volcano. As the track progresses, the riffs kick into a much higher gear and the feeling of danger quickly escalates. “Alchemic Blast” is a tad different, as it opens with a strong organ interlude, before introducing the guitars and taking off in the same mode as the preceding tracks. I particularly enjoyed this arrange because it really gave the original some power that it was sorely lacking and it was great hearing it juiced up properly.
While these tracks are no doubt top notch, there are three arrangements on this CD that bear special mention. The first is “The Tower of No Return”, an epic seven minute hypnotic spectacle of pulsating rock groove that demands attention be paid to its every second. At first, I was put off by the length of this track and the sheer repetitiveness of the guitar, but as I found the intricate layers of sound worm their way into my brain over time, that seven minutes seems to go by in the blink of an eye now. The two layers of synth (one a mid-Eastern sounding one that comprises the melody, the other a low “buzzing” one that is mostly in the background) are packed in snuggly with the steady and constant riffs, with near-perfect chemistry between the three. The final result is downright magical and becomes apparent once the track finally fades away and you find yourself reaching for that repeat button.
“Huge Game Table Ver-2” is done in S.S.H.’s regular synth metal set-up (with no guitar overdub), but it stands out because it really takes apart the original, kicks up the intensity and then blows it sky high by inserting a killer section of the “Deceiful Wings” melody, followed by a heart-pounding version of the latter section of the original “Huge Game Table” melody. Add in the same type of frantic rhythm guitar, a drum kit that doesn’t quit and an absolutely wicked solo (easily the best on the album) and there’s no doubt it’s an instant classic. Finally, there’s definitely a reason “Deceitful Wings” was chosen as the main cover track for this album. That reason is best left to the listener to discover, but I promise that you will not disappointed. This is one of those truly legendary arrangements that should not be missed.
Rounding out the album are a handful of tracks that shift the focus away from the guitar and more towards a power-electronica edge, as well as a couple of bonus tracks (the Ver-0) tracks. I’m a tad disappointed in both of these and I don’t really weigh them in judging the album as a whole. I felt the original version of “Phantom Wings” packed more of a punch than the one here (particularly in regards to the drums) and this version really doesn’t add anything, outside of a longer playing time. “Beat of Illusion” decides to go with more of a flute-synth for the lead melody and, while it gives off a sad/mysterious edge, it hasn’t aged too well (or at least not as well as some Falcom Perfect Collection tracks that employ the same approach). “Huge Game Table” is probably the best of these tracks, but it sounds weak in comparison to the steroid-induced Ver-2. It sounds like one of the moody progressive-rock dungeon themes Motoi Sakuraba has been known to write and is surprisingly pretty, but seems totally out of place on this album. Lastly, the Ver-0 versions of “Ferocious Drive”, “Duke of Stratosphere”, “Horned Enigma” and “Alchemic Blast” are essentially the same as their earlier versions, but with SSH’s original synth guitar and not Hiramatsu’s transcriptions. I can’t really complain about them, as they are mostly bonus material, but I do tend to leave them off my iPod because they’re so similar to their main counterparts.
I stand behind this album as one of my all-time favorites and place it firmly in the elite of game music arranges. My only wish for future albums would be to let Hiramatsu arrange a couple of tracks next time. He has proved himself to be one of the powerhouses on the doujin scene (easily comparable to SSH, in my humble opinion) and I feel his talent was severely underused for this album. Replacing the disc space taken by the Ver-0 tracks and some of the softer-edge tracks I mentioned with the brilliance he has shown in the past would make this album truly legendary. As is, the “Ferocious Drive” contained on this CD is well worth your time and money.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Andy Byus. Last modified on January 22, 2016.