Contra 4 Rocked ‘n’ Loaded
Contra 4 Rocked ‘n’ Loaded
March 5, 2010
Buy at Official Site
The soundtrack for Contra 4 was good and enjoyable, but also limited in its potential. It exceeded with rich, complex, and fun arrangements of classic Contra themes, but the DS synth and most of the pseudo-orchestral compositions weren’t enough for ensuring a fulfilling aural experience.Seeing how limited the official soundtrack of Contra 4 was in its availability, releasing an arranged album far more accessible for a wider audience seemed a rather great choice. And seeing how the original soundtrack had an affinity to rock music, creating a rock/metal remix album with the name Contra 4: Rocked ‘n’ Loaded matched the over-the-top nature of the franchise, while introducing newcomers to the music of Contra way more easily than the series’ otherwise hit-and-miss soundtracks.
What was unique about the Contra 4 score was that, despite being a sequel to a classic Japanese video game series, it was scored by a true and genuine fan in the West. Specifically, Jake “virt” Kaufman, one of the most prominent remixers of the scene. Even more impressively, this makes Rocked ‘n’ Loaded a remix album of a soundtrack composed by a remixer. While Kaufman himself returned to arrange the album, most tracks were produced by Andreas “SnappleMan” Kotsaminidis and Tony “Prince of Darkness” Dickinson, among others. They really managed to rock it out like the album title implies, but at the same time, implemented various progressive and experimental approaches in the arrangements, making for an album as much as it is entertaining, as it is musically complex.
Is there a better way to start a Contra album besides a tribute to te legendary Contra theme? The arrangement of the simple, iconic, and tragically underused heroic anthem receives an electric guitar makeover, appropriately bringing to life the awesomeness of the original, while adding some rawness. The theme is heard in the introductory track “Hell’s Office”, where upon listening to the aforementioned main motif, it soon is followed by (presumably) one of the musicians narrating the prelude taken straight out of the Contra 4 game. If the ridiculous album title and track names weren’t enough, right from the start, the talented chaps established the tone of the album, staying true to the over-the-top, cheesy, but still awe-inspiring origins of Contra, and keeping two important elements constant: Nostalgia and excellent musicianship. In fact, much like Contra 4‘s score, the heart and soul of the music lies into those fond childhood memories, and without a doubt, nostalgia is the driving force here.
But in the end, one can’t rely only on memories, since our mind tends to fool us. That is where the team’s talent comes into action, fleshing and muscling out every single musical note from Contra 4. Perhaps the best track to exemplify this is “Jungle Exploder”. Composed primarily from Kaufman’s memorable new motifs, SnappleMan delivers an impressive progressive rock arrangement, full of complex keyboard layers and intricate guitar work. It ends with a high note with an awe-inspiring reprise of one of the most memorable sections from the original “Jungle” theme, which is full of heroism and passion, and manages to bring tears to those who feel nostalgic. I have already praised this section of the theme from Contra 4, and I might end up sounding like a fanboy this time, but this part is truly intense and memorable.
Perhaps what’s even more impressive is how much development and new material is added to these arrangements, and if the source material wasn’t cool enough, complex guitar solos and keyboard improvisations are implemented, making for one hell of an entertaining aural ride. For example, “Shrapnel Facial” is a medley of the “Laboratory” and “Waterfall” themes, much like in the game, making for quite an abstract mix. It starts with eerie and fast piano notes in conjunction with hard rock elements that reprise the former theme, later followed by blazing and heartfelt guitar solos and various keyboard elements, shifting from an ominous rock jam to an awesome progressive metal tune. “Slave Freighter” is an arrangement of Kaufman’s totally new composition “Hangar”, which was rocking even before being arranged in this album. The same formula was applied to this track, keeping the same pace of energetic and extravagant solos, tasteful jams, and some cool percussion. The electric guitar sections near the end are particularly amazing.
Despite all these progressive elements, each track never gets boring, and manages to offer something new with each consecutive listen. “Bass Fishing” proves to be one of the best tracks with its funky groove, exquisite guitar work, and some really playful keyboard and electric guitar solos. “Brickwaller” eanwhile has a much more harder edge due to intense percussion and much more down-tuned guitars. “Metropolis Massacre” follows with a slower pace and is perhaps the most complex track of the album with its irregular rhythms and progression, virtuosic keyboard layers, and orchestral elements. There are two parts where the track really exceeds in my opinion. The reprised militaristic motif of “It’s Time for Revenge” from Contra III, which sounds terrific with electric guitars, and the ending section where the track suddenly becomes very epic, later followed by frantic electronic sounds and blazing solos.
There are several other highlights on the album. “Balls of Steel” relies heavily on electronic percussion and sound effects, along with heavy riffs and fast-paced synth melodies. It’s somewhat distracting since most other tracks have a more rock-focused approach, but it’s still very well done and fun to listen. “Dey Callim Boss” is also very well executed, but “Let’s Attack Aggressively!” and “Flesh Harvest” fall slightly short due to their slightly bland orchestral implementation, but nevertheless have plenty of memorable rocking moments.
The last two tracks of the album are also excellent additions. “Get to the Choppa” is an arrangement of the original “Jungle” theme from the first Contra, delivered in a pretty straightforward but satisfying fashion. The last track “B.E.I.G.L.” is the ending theme of Contra 4, which itself was composed of various reprises from the Contra’s musical legacy. What’s more, this last track is arranged by Jake Kaufman himself, and he manages to deliver a triumphant victory anthem, mixing orchestral, electronic and rock elements all together. The ending theme was one of the best tracks from Contra 4, and virt here did it justice.
Ultimately, Contra 4 Rocked ‘n’ Loaded is exactly as it sounds: a rocking, intense, and fulfilling aural experience from the fans, for the fans. Despite being a fan production, the album is still of high quality, whether production-wise or just plain great musicianship, and it’s guaranteed to please even those that aren’t familiar with Contra’s music. Despite being sometime overlong and tiresome due to overdone arranegments, almost every moment of the album is worth it. Even more interestingly, the franchise has a considerable lack of quality soundtracks released, making the appreciation of the its music slightly difficult. Rocked ‘n’ Loaded fills this gap by being the definitive Contra album commercially available, since it features new and old tunes altogether and introduces new recruits to its legacy while pleasing old veterans with its nostalgic factor. Definitely a worthy purchase.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on August 1, 2012 by George Capi. Last modified on August 1, 2012.