Project Destati: DARKNESS
Project Destati: DARKNESS
March 28, 2018
Buy at Bandcamp
Project Destati: DARKNESS is the third release from the Project Destati team, continuing their task of arranging songs from the Kingdom Hearts series. The album comes four years after their previous release, Project Destati: LIGHT, itself very accomplished in its wonderful interpolation of the series’ key leitmotifs throughout its tracks. Part of the delay can be attributed to the increased number of tracks, which together have a run time of two and a half hours. The project has also been afforded more resources, allowing for a much more organic sound library and many more live instruments. All of these improvements make the album well worth the wait, as Project Destati: DARKNESS easily exceeds the high expectations set by the earlier releases.
The album begins with “Overture,” the first of three tracks to feature the Youngstown Scoring Stage, who provides the strings for the track. The track sets the mood for the album, thematically teasing many of the series’ motifs while also sonically introducing many of the different instruments that will make appearances throughout the album. It’s amazing to hear so many motifs fly by so seamlessly in such a short time, but it’s just a small taste of what the whole album has to offer. The next track is “Passion (Piano Duet),” which is full of trickling upper notes and emphatic bass octaves, creating a very full sound to cover its different dramatic registers. As with “Hikari” from their previous album, the arrangement is quite good, although the piano is a bit harsh throughout; the sound works for the darker passages, but it needs more resonance for the lighter legato passages.
The main body of the album covers the many different types of tracks found in the original soundtrack, and a sizeable portion of the album is devoted to the area themes. Like with their previous releases, the arrangers here do a wonderful job of giving tracks definitive beginnings and endings, making for a better listening experience over the looping and fading out of the original soundtrack as it allows for more meaningful and dramatic progression within the tracks. And of course, each track is peppered with references to other songs and motifs, and often the tracks combine the battle theme with the field theme of the area.
For example, the compact “A Day in Agrabah” expertly transitions to its battle theme, “Arabian Dream,” before it gets stale, while also sporting a wider variety of exotic instruments than the originals. “Home of the Dragons” is a highlight for having Chinese instruments like a solo erhu, as well as for working in a quote of “I’ll Make a Man Out of You.” The arrangement of “At Dusk, I Will Think of You” is more straightforward, but quietly adds emotional nods to Roxas and Xion throughout. “Cavern of Remembrance” is rendered beautifully with its gradual introduction and additional melody lines that give the track more bulk. Even lesser-known tracks of the series get impressive arrangements, like the energetic “No More Bugs”, the playful and ever-shifting “Magical Mystery,” and the hilarious “Bounce-O-Rama” which takes a dark turn to fit the album. Each track, even if lesser in the context of the album and series, is an improvement over the original track that preserves the atmosphere and melodies of the original while enhancing it with more instruments, wonderful performances, and thematic connections to the rest of the score.
The album also appropriately includes many of the tracks that center around Organization XIII, though the team makes a point to include its fourteenth member, Xion. Thus the original Organization theme, “Organization XIII”, is renamed here to be “Organization XIV.” On this track, the tragic aspect of the group is highlighted with a haunting bell that gives the track a feeling of urgency, which only builds with the added percussion. The insertion of Xion’s theme is beautiful on its own, but the way the theme accompanies and shifts the harmony of the main melody is particularly heartbreaking. “Lord of Castle Oblivion” is a medley of Chain of Memories themes that wonderfully captures the player’s journey through the castle. The opening captures the beautiful simplicity of the castle, before descending into darker tones once the Organization makes itself known. Tense exploration eventually gives way to the battles, where many different melodies weave in and out in an overwhelming aural struggle. This carries over into “13th Struggle,” which would be wonderful enough in itself, but here acts partly as a theme for Axel. His personality appears in the jazzier passages midway through, and his story is brought out through moving quotes of “Roxas” and “At Dusk I Will Think of You.”
The Organization tracks lead the climax of the album, with the frantic “A Fight to the Death” and the passionate “Dark Impetus” featuring wonderful guest vocals by Laura Intravia. But the real star is “Darkness of the Unknown,” which sonically packs less of a punch than the fierce HD 2.5 ReMIX version, but more than makes up for it with subtle intricacy, from the slightly-crazed piano line to the quotes of other Organization themes that fill in the lulls of the original. I personally find it more engaging than the actual climax of the album, “Black Powder – The Final Union”, even though the latter again features the Youngstown Scoring Stage, but this difference goes back to the strength of original versions; Project Destati’s version of “Black Powder” is still great in itself, strengthened by increasing its emotional core with references to “Terra.”
The team is perhaps at their most creative in the character tracks, and at the fore of these is the trio from Birth By Sleep. “Ventus” begins with a light rearrangement of original before expanding its sound to depict the character’s struggle to protect his friends. I perhaps prefer the quiet simplicity of the original, but I also appreciate the story told in this arrangement. “Aqua” was the track in most need of a rearrangement, since the original, while haunting, did not fully represent the struggles and personality of the character. Here Project Destati focuses in on the events of 0.2 – A fragmentary passage, capturing the feeling of wandering in darkness, while glimpses of Terra’s and Ventus’ themes provide glimmers of light and hope. They are all subtle changes, but they are effective. “Terra” is the most extensive of these rearrangements, encompassing his entire character arc from his hopeful beginnings to his possession by Xehanort. To this end, the track alternates between bombastic and intimate moments, with wonderful shades of both his friends’ themes and Organization motifs throughout. Terra’s desperate struggle is wonderfully represented through the gradual suffocation of his melody underneath those of the Organization, bringing the track to an epic and harrowing conclusion.
Although each track on the album is worthy of discussion, I will end by discussing the two monumental tracks of the album. The closer of the album, “Dearly Beloved II: Theme and Variations” is a 14-minute musical journey that brings the iconic melody through a variety of settings and styles, some surprising and quite creative. But although it is a victorious closer, it somehow pales in comparison to the centerpiece of the album, “Xion.” The prominent piano mixed with the Youngstown Scoring Stage here gives the track the feeling of a piano concerto, at times virtuosic and at others tender and moving. At 10-minutes, this track too moves through a broad series of settings, but it is more emotionally impactful than the “Dearly Beloved” arrangement due to the tragedy depicted. The album highlight is the beautiful ethereal passage midway through the track that blossoms into a reharmonized form of Xion’s theme which is simply radiant and uplifting. This brief positivity is unexpected given the bleakness of Xion’s narrative arc, and for me the moment was simply overwhelming and actually moved me to tears; the passage feels like a representation of the happy ending that Xion deserved but didn’t get, which only makes the inevitable return to “Vector to the Heavens” that much more upsetting. Altogether it is an incredible arrangement that demonstrates the talent of the arrangers and the performers, as well as the obvious love that the team has for the character and for the series as a whole.
Project Destati: DARKNESS is an incredible repackaging of music of the Kingdom Hearts series. Its engaging arrangements rival and often exceed even their official orchestral concert counterparts in complexity and depth, powerfully injecting the emotional and narrative beats of the series into songs a soundtrack that was already very enjoyable in itself. I recommend reading the track notes found on the team’s Bandcamp to help appreciate all the tracks have to offer. The sound quality, performance, and creativity at work are far above most of their peers in fan arrangements. The album rewards repeated and careful listening, as its use of leitmotifs shows the unique strength of video game music, and I can only hope that other arrange albums and even soundtracks will take cues from this team. The album is offered at an absurdly low price given the quality of the music, so I can only say that it should not be missed by any fan of Kingdom Hearts music.
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Posted on June 18, 2019 by Tien Hoang. Last modified on June 18, 2019.