Castlevania -Sonata of the Damned-
Castlevania -Sonata of the Damned-
October 31, 2009
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Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – Resurrection drew attention to artist Joshua Morse as a member of the well-known game remixing group The Bad Dudes. Now, he returns with solo album Castlevania -Sonata of the Damned-, a seven track collection focusing largely on early Castlevania themes, and the second time is definitely the charm. It blows away most other fan-remixed albums as if they were nothing more than blank CD-Rs, and stands toe-to-toe with the best company-sponsored works. Morse could have sold hundreds or thousands of copies of this collection. Instead, the price, at exactly zero dollars, makes a statement that the purpose of music is greater than enforcing copyrights and making money. I recommend downloading this immediately, whether you like Castlevania music or not.
At only seven tracks, Sonata of the Damned is OverClocked ReMix’s shortest album. Judging by its official comments thread, the length of the album seems to have turned off many fans. In addition, Overclocked ReMix likely saturated the market by releasing this latest endeavour so quickly after Xenogears: Humans + Gears. Finally, to add insult to injury, the album was appropriately but counterproductively released on the Halloween holiday weekend, when most people were probably busy and not checking their computers as often. These factors will probably conspire to turn some people away from Castlevania -Sonata of the Damned-, which is a shame because it could be Overclocked ReMix’s best album.
Sonata of the Damned contains a lot of jazz and blues, with a focus on the piano. The remixes are heavily carried by the melody and complex background harmonies are almost completely absent here. Most of the background tracks exist simply to keep things moving and to avoid detracting from the melody. While one might think that such a strong focus on one instrument would create boring music, that distinctly isn’t the case here, mostly because the performance of Morse is so strong. In fact, it would probably be possible to remove the background instrumentation entirely and enjoy the solo performance just as much as the full tracks. Another great advantage of simple accompaniment is that, even if someone might complain that there isn’t enough harmony, almost nobody will say that the background is detractive.
The fast pace of the album is evident within the first few seconds of “Vampire Snap”. Unlike the music found on lesser albums like Project Majestic Mix’s Squaredance, this is real dance music, as in music that you want to dance to. It’s interesting, doesn’t suffer from repetition, and has a driving beat. If you’ve listened to the Final Fantasy Mix album that was released by Squaresoft in the ’90s, you can imagine what is featured here. There have been plenty of Castlevania remixes over the years, but Morse delivers something that is new by varying the melody significantly from the original.
“Demonic Conception” and “Madd Forest” slow things down a bit, with the former being a more haunting melody than the upbeat “Snap.” “Madd Forest” actually sounds mad (with one “d”). Here, a variety of instruments share the limelight, and we have another great solo performance with some impressive improvisation. In the vein of the The Minibosses, each instrument takes a turn at a solo before bringing it all together in the refrain and the coda. What’s especially interesting about this third track is that the length is perfect — the melody is at just the right place between underdevelopment and repetition. While popular music often finds this sweet spot, remixers usually fail to determine the appropriate length for their arrangements. Again, no problem for Morse.
Perhaps the highlight of the album, however, is “Wandering Latinas”. Starting out with some excellent guitars, the catchy beat builds up to a complete and awesome breakdown by the two-minute mark. If it is possible to play this track live (and you’d have to be a darn good trumpet player to keep up with this pace), the audience would be dancing around the room and certainly would provide a standing ovation. It’s simply incomprehensible to imagine listening to this track and not tapping your foot. Don’t risk it while you’re in the office.
The last three tracks take a different tack from the collection’s first twenty minutes or so. Rather than dance mixes, these are soundtrack music to their core. They stay more faithful to the game than do the first tracks, but succeed nonetheless. The most important point is that the arrangement never suffers at any point in any of the seven tracks. Every single one of these pieces, even the solemn “Fear of Haze”. is better than the original.
However, while the album’s composition is exceptional, some minor flaws exist in its production. Most of the issues are technical. The first is audible immediately upon firing up the first track — the bells are too loud and grating compared to the rest of the instruments on both the expensive surround system and the cheap headphones I tested. Fortunately, the issue goes away after about 30 seconds. Another issue that plagues this album is its “loudness.” Music enthusiasts coined the term “loud album” in the 1980s to describe the trend in pop music where the average volume has been increasing and the dynamic range decreasing as time moves forward. Since sound within a file has an upper range of volume, anything over this upper limit gets reduced to the maximum level and sounds the same as the music that’s supposed to be at the maximum level, creating noise. Sonata of the Damned fits the definition of “loud music” perfectly, often redlining and adding some distortion. If I want to listen to music at a high volume, I can simply turn the knob to the right – I don’t see why it’s necessary for artists to ruin music because they think it sounds better if it’s loud.
Finally, the MP3 versions included with the torrent, as expected, are clearly inferior to the FLAC versions. The MP3 format reduces filesize by deleting parts of music that are quiet when they surround loud segments, and the compression especially destroys the crispness of the driving beat that accompanies so much of this music. I would expect that most listeners will notice a clear difference after downloading the FLAC-compressed files.
Since a 10 is a perfect score, and there are some minor ways in which this album could be improved, I can’t assign Sonata of the Damned a rating of 10. However, this is probably about the closest the video game remix community will get for a long time. It is the first game remix album that I’ve wanted to listen to more than two times in years, and a few great tracks are worth many times more than a huge collection of mediocre or merely good tracks. There is probably at least one remix here that you’ll include among your favorites to listen to over and over again. This album is free and is superior even to everything the Bad Dudes as a group have written, so go and download it right away. You won’t be disappointed.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on August 1, 2012 by Stephen Sokolowski. Last modified on August 1, 2012.