Final Fantasy XIV Band and Piano Arrangement Album -From Astral to Umbral-
Final Fantasy XIV Band and Piano Arrangement Album -From Astral to Umbral-
Square Enix Music
December 17, 2014
Download at iTunes
Masayoshi Soken has garnered a lot of positive attention since his first major solo production as the composer to Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn’s soundtrack, which draws significantly from Nobuo Uematsu’s score to the original game but is entirely Soken’s own work. Most recently, he has scored the music to the latest expansion to the game, Heavensward, the music for which he has taken in an entirely new direction. From Astral to Umbral is Soken’s own arrangement album of music from Final Fantasy XIV and A Realm Reborn, his response to numerous requests – as well as his own desire – for an arrangement album of XIV that doesn’t quite fall in any standard arrangement category. The album, in the spirit of its title, is divided up into two sections: six tracks in the style of the piano collections of earlier Final Fantasy games, based on area themes in XIV, and six rock-to-heavy metal tracks of primal themes.
What I loved most about the piano collections was the sheer length combined with the quality of arrangement from Nobuko Toda and Keiko. The shortest one clocks in at just over 5:45, the longest over 7:00, and at no point do I feel as though I’m listening to filler notes or giant repeated sections. Of the piano collections, I was extremely happy to see “Serenity,” the opening track of the album, and also one of my favorite in-game themes. The track is as soft and delicate as the title suggests, and extremely tranquil – the performer, Japanese pianist Keiko, lingers on favorite chords or notes, and once a discernible rhythm opens about two minutes into the piece, the notes seem to roll into each other, across the measures – even the most structured portions of the piece are played well enough to give a semblance of one skillful cadenza after another, to successfully create the serene atmosphere the title calls for.
“To the Sun” is more melodic, based partially on the main theme of XIV, “Answers,” which lends itself well to arrangement. The piece is fluid, but not quite as whimsical as “Serenity” – when the piece moves into a new key (which it does frequently) – the listener actually hears a chord change, instead of some series of non-chord tones that don’t really belong anywhere. “Serenity” executed that technique well, but more than one track of it would have been overwhelmingly fluffy. “To the Sun” grounds itself more in its melodies and keys, transitioning from one to the next with little to no effort, but still distinctly throwing out recognizable melodies and supportive harmonies, instead of harmonies that detract from the overall structure of the piece.
“I Am the Sea” wraps up the piano portion of the album, with a triumphant and resounding melody, supported by synchronized whole chords rather than broken ones; the trills, tremolos, scales that saturate “To the Sun” and “Serenity” are kept at a minimum and there is never a question of the melody at the forefront. It becomes so recognizable that when it finally does fade out after two minutes, any hint of the melody is easily recognized even to those previously unfamiliar with it. The piece does fade eventually, and gives way to the B-theme, which is beautifully executed. I love this track, not because I’m particularly enamored of it in the game, but because I think it was arranged so well on this album. In fact, the strength of this piano arrangement actually got me to notice portions of the original orchestration that I would not have otherwise; as a result, this is my favorite of the piano tracks to return to regularly. Plus, the whole piece has a glorified sea shanty vibe that makes it downright fun to listen to.
The second half of the album consists of six rock arrangements of “primal”– a type of boss – themes in the game, performed by Soken’s band The Primals (along with guitarist Gunn). I have to admit outright that I am generally always biased towards orchestral or acoustic arrangements. One difference between these arrangements and the original tracks was that for pieces that are supposed to represent action-packed, and often very difficult, battles in the XIV, some of these arrangements came across as somewhat lacking. “Primal Judgment,” for example, came across as a little empty because the arrangement simply did not have the number of instruments that the original did, and the sheer intensity in the original piece did not come through in the arrangement.
However, other arrangements were perfectly suited for their instrumentation. “Under the Weight” was great, combining vocals with the heavier guitar to give the piece a kind of lucidity that the original did not have. It also did not sound as empty as “Primal Judgment,” namely because the key aspects of this piece had to do with the heaviness involved in each of the instrumental lines, instead of the number of lines themselves. Despite the fact that “Under the Weight” sounds messier than “Primal Judgment” in several aspects, it’s not quite as complex, and lends itself much more easily to an arrangement like this one. “Fallen Angel” is another success, with the opening notes beautifully executed on a solo guitar and the vocals bringing the musical action down several octaves. Probably the most instrumentally melodic of the primal themes featured on this album, “Fallen Angel” uses the various vocal lines as harmonic support and electric guitar for essentially all melodies. The contrast between the layers of the piece are fun, and executed very well in this track – the lower electronics, vocals, and higher electric guitar all play different roles, although not quite traditional ones, and as the piece shifts from section to section, Soken skillfully works the brief pauses and transitions into the piece to maintain or renew the constant driving pulse of the piece.
To me, “Thunder Rolls” was the most interesting cover piece on the album. The original track is also unusual for its setting – it’s one of the first boss themes that doesn’t rely on force and fireworks to have the intended musical effect during its respective battle. This cover, in my opinion, benefited the most from shift away from the game, the biggest difference being the lack of synthesized sounds and filters that give this arrangement track a much more natural vibe. More so than the other primal themes, “Thunder Rolls” is really a song more than a piece, with a consistent set of lyrics, a refrain, and even a third section that serves as a brief interlude between the first and last parts. Before the piece ends, the lightly strummed guitar begins ripping through chords in earnest, and the vocalist jumps up to octaves that only hinted at earlier.
I enjoyed most of the tracks, if not all of them, on an individual level. The album itself is also an innovative concept, even though I might have wanted a bit more from each of the two sections. The problem is that on the whole, the album a bit bland for me. Despite enjoying the covers, I also found that they did not add much to the original pieces, and as a result I still found myself much more interested in listening to the original pieces than the covers. However, the pieces are thoroughly written, well-developed, and for fans of the music to the latest installment of the Final Fantasy main series, it’s an arrangement album worth checking out.
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Posted on August 4, 2015 by Emily McMillan. Last modified on January 19, 2016.