Descendants of Erdrick – Advent
Descendants of Erdrick – Advent
November 22, 2014
Download at Bandcamp
Descendants of Erdrick is a five-piece videogame music cover band from Austin, Texas. While their namesake directly references Dragon Quest’s North American NES localization, the band has unleashed a wide range of progressive metal-infused VGM medleys, covering fan favorites like Nobuo Uematsu’s Final Fantasy soundtracks and even far more obscure titles like Naoki Kodaka, Nobuyuki Hara, Shinichi Seya and Naohisa Morota’s Journey to Silius. The band is led by pop-metal guitar shredder/soprano singer Amanda Lepre, and has gone through a few lineup changes over the years since its inception in 2010. The band’s upcoming third album, Advent, features an array of classic RPG medleys and is set for release on Bandcamp in MP3 and CD formats on November 22, 2014.
Say what you will about the overuse of the word “epic,” it still needs to be said; Descendants of Erdrick’s Advent is an incredibly epic effort from start to finish. I was constantly tickled in the nostalgia bone throughout my repeated listens of the album, thanks to its healthy selection of tunes from classic Nintendo and Square Enix RPGs like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, Final Fantasy VI, Secret of Mana and many more.
Each new, biennial release of a Descendants of Erdrick album brings forth an improved production. Advent’s mix is an impressive, significant leap from the audio quality of its predecessors, especially when it comes to the top-notch and heavily technical drumming. While I certainly miss Lauren Liebowitz’s flute harmonies from the band’s previous albums, Emily Thompson’s keyboard backing gives the band a new sound and an extra dose of prog thanks to her LONELYROLLINGSTARS-esque synth patches.
The album kicks off with “Seven Maidens,” a fitting opening featuring The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past’s “Prologue” and “File Select” tunes, ending with the classic “Triforce” jingle that segues into the album’s title track, “Advent.” “Advent” continues the celebration of Koji Kondo’s magnificent SNES Zelda debut with the game’s title screen music, but not before descending into the dramatically moody “Time of Falling Rain.” I was then thrown for a loop when it suddenly morphed into the diabolic sounds of “Dark World Dungeon.” This was followed by the majestic “Hyrule Castle” and a hauntingly dark cover of “Sanctuary” enhanced by an operatic vocal backing by Amanda Lepre. The band interestingly play around with the Zelda “Overworld” theme at this moment, serving up what I like to call a “twisted” variation of the iconic theme before transforming it into the heroic anthem we all know and love. While I would have really loved to have witnessed a heavy take on Link’s “Pink Rabbit” theme and “Dark World,” I came away incredibly satisfied.
When I sat through the next track, “Beneath the Forest of Mushrooms,” a Super Mario RPG medley, I began to realize what makes this album so magical. “Beneath the Forest of Mushrooms” begins with the opening notes of the Super Mario Bros.’ theme song, immediately diving headlong into a double bass-laden version of Yoko Shimomura’s “Beware the Forest Mushrooms.” The arrangement continues bouncing back between these two tunes in highly imaginative ways. I never would have expected them to gel so well together. The medley later ingeniously melds Super Mario Bros.’ “Castle” theme together with an appropriately rock-hard rendition of Super Mario RPG’s “Koopa Castle (First Time).”
Those two instances alone would have been amusing enough, but the band dispersed a few more nuggets into the arrangements that anyone with a keen ear can pick up on. This includes a moment where the medley soldiers on with “Hello, Happy Kingdom,” only to perfectly jump into Masaharu Iwata’s Final Fantasy Tactics ”Shop” theme, which bears many similarities to the aforementioned track.
It’s even apparent in the following Final Fantasy VI medley, “War of the Magitek,” where three quarters of the way through the band references Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” while pummeling through an energetic cover of “Decisive Battle.” It makes you wonder if Nobuo Uematsu was on an American thrash metal kick when composing that memorable boss tune. This track also introduces the listener to the first instance of lyrics on the album, with Lepre’s wonderful vocals soaring above a powerful performance of the game’s “Opening Theme.” One of my favorite moments on this track is the slow jam of “The Mines of Narshe” in the middle. The keyboards feel appropriately airy here, and the bass guitar and ride cymbal drum beat give off a relaxed feel. Add a few vocal exhales and you have one of the most atmospheric tracks on the album.
Of course, with a name like “Descendants of Erdrick” you need some Dragon Quest representation, and the group pulls this off masterfully, touching upon nearly every single track in the NES classic in a medley totaling over eight minutes in length. The keyboards on this track even accurately pull off the battle transition and victory sound effects.
The track “Divine Intervention” serves as an intro to their ActRaiser medley, which includes Yuzo Koshiro’s grandiose “Opening” theme. I only wish their version had a bit more “oomph” in its crescendo. Nevertheless, the band delivers with its subsequent five-minute ActRaiser track, “Act of Birth and Sacrifice” offering up a rousing cover of “Filmoa” and a vocal-laden rendition of “Sacrifices,” complete with lyrics inspired by events in the game. The next song stands as the most lyrically heavy tune of all. “Stones” is the only Western RPG representation on the album and features lyrics originally written by composer David R. Watson’s wife, Kathleen Jones. Although I was not familiar with the Ultima series or its music, Descendants of Erdrick’s cover has certainly got me interested enough to purchase the entire series.
The outro of “Stones” directly references Hiroki Kikuta’s “Whisper and Mantra” from Secret of Mana, which leads into a grand Mana medley entitled “The Dark Prophecy.” A number of powerful, brooding tunes from the classic SNES Action RPG are represented here, including “The Dark Star” and “In the Dead of Night.” In case you haven’t noticed yet, I may carry a bias towards drumming. Nevertheless, I have to give kudos to drummer Jim Watson for nailing the double bass and hi-hat patterns from “Mystic Invasion.” After a wonderful shift into an odd-time signature-laden piano lead and backing guitar riff, the medley ends with a vigorous version of “Prophecy.”
The album could have ended there and I still would have felt satisfied, but the last two tracks kick things up a notch in the heavy department. “Shinra Oppression” from Final Fantasy VII perfectly captures the dark, dystopian feeling that the game’s Midgar beginnings brought. Interestingly, the guitar backing during the cover of “Mako Reactor” sounded very reggae, which makes me suddenly pine for a cover of it done in that style.
“Lavos: Bringer of War” from Yasunori Mitsuda’s Chrono Trigger soundtrack put the final stamp on the epic journey I took on when I hit “play.” I applaud the band for opting for picking tunes that aren’t regularly covered from the OST, including the menacing “Tyrano Castle” and “Last Battle.” The latter is easily the highlight of this final medley. It packs an awesome groove, complex guitar harmonies and Lavos-inspired death growls performed by other VGM metal artists such as Mega Beardo and Viking Guitar. I only wish the drums here retained the intricate hi-hat strokes and off-beat china cymbal hits from the original. With a final outro comprised of “The Day the World Revived,” “World Revolution” and a maniacal reprise of “Lavos’ Theme,” the medley fades out, my face having been appropriately rocked.
Descendants of Erdrick’s Advent is their best effort yet. Everything feels much tighter instrumentally, and the mix is a massive upgrade from years past. Most importantly, however, the arrangements are cleverly crafted. The medleys surprised me with their segues and unexpected twists and turns. I like the good, old “play it once, loop it and fade out” VGM cover as much as the next person, but Descendants of Erdrick has proven that a little creativity in an arrangement goes a long way in making the original masterpieces feel fresh. Whether you love progressive metal, classic RPGs and/or just adore solid musicianship, you owe it to yourself to give Advent a whirl. Just remember to equip chainmail.
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Posted on November 21, 2014 by Patrick Kulikowski. Last modified on November 21, 2014.