God Eater 2: Rage Burst Original Soundtrack
God Eater 2: Rage Burst Original Soundtrack
February 25, 2015
Buy at CDJapan
Last November, Masaru “Go” Shiina left Bandai Namco after a twenty-year career with the company. Following early contributions to games like Ace Combat 3 and Klonoa 2, Shiina’s VGM fame grew with 2005’s Tales of Legendia, the first soundtrack for which he was chiefly responsible. After Legendia, Shiina returned to working as an ensemble player, composing stage tracks for Tekken and IDOLM@STER. But in 2010, Shiina was given God Eater and the chance to fully express his mature and multifaceted style. It’s fitting, then, that his last major project for Bandai Namco, and his most ambitious to date, is 2015’s God Eater 2: Rage Burst, a soundtrack that finds Shiina at his most mercurial. At 83 tracks, Rage Burst maps a musical sensibility as baroque and baffling as the story it accompanies.
God Eater is the tale of a teenage paramilitary battling creatures called aragami — literally violent gods — the kind of unreasonable and remorseless villains on which video games depend. In the world of God Eater, it’s kill or be killed, or rather eat or be eaten. You see, Earth’s champions combat the aragami using God Arcs, bioweapons derived from the aragami themselves, weapons that eat the semi-sentient cells of which aragami are composed. God eater — get it? How you react to a premise like this probably depends on the number of video games you play in a given year.
Still, a game in which gods menace anime avatars should have apocalyptic music, and Shiina dutifully brings the Götterdämmerung. His soundtrack is dominated by operatic compositions like “Harsh Enlightenment” and “Divine Punishment Upon Us,” tracks as rich and layered as their melodramatic titles suggest. Elegiac strings and mournful organ convey the gravity of war and the uncertainty of its outcome, while triumphal horn flourishes and the crash of cymbals stir players to action. Choirs, too, put the god in God Eater, sometimes literally as in “Kami to Hito to (End of My Dream).” The throng of many urgent voices (e.g., “Sleeping in the Depths”) gives Rage Burst something of sacred music’s somberness even as pop profanes the proceedings.
Shiina enjoys melding musical traditions, and he plays against the listener’s expectations whenever possible. “Puppet of Justice,” for example, compresses a symphony into the space of three minutes, moving from soothing synth loops to a busy middle passage of strings, horns, and vocal chants, arriving finally at a climax of rock-opera percussion. “A Black Flash” combines traditional Japanese music — dig the shamisen based percussion — with a cinematic horn section. Elsewhere, acoustic instruments careen into the wobble bass of dubstep, demonstrating the acoustic-synthetic duality that emerged early in Shiina’s career. Nowhere is this contrast more apparent than two songs that sit awkwardly alongside each other. On “Tragedy” an unaccompanied choir sings a mournful hymn to heaven, but hardly has the reverb faded before “Koimeka” hits the dance floor. With its distorted bass and vocaloid singing, it wouldn’t sound out of place at a Hatsune Miku concert.
Shiina once told an interviewer, “I can write in any genre, as long as I’m motivated,” and Rage Burst is proof of that boast. Though the album’s mood is overwhelmingly one of an opera at the end of the world, Shiina occasionally breaks tension with a genre exercise. “Lovely Bubbly” is laptop pop, straightforward and synthesized from start to finish. “An Extravagant Moment” is a flute-heavy slice of exotica that leans into self-parody with its doo-wah scat singing. And “Country Cowgirl,” with its banjo and harmonica, is the kind of track that makes you want to play God Eater just to learn how and where it fits in with all the slaying (full disclosure: I did not play the game before reviewing its soundtrack).
The downside of this versatility is that you inevitably wind up with some tracks that are weaker than others, and a soundtrack this long is already an argument for editing. The vocal tracks are especially weak in this respect. Some, like “Hikari no Aria,” are delicate and pretty. Others, like the boom-bap of “Back Down” or the unmitigated schmaltz of “Tree of Life” will prove more divisive among listeners.
The larger problem with Rage Burst is that Shiina too often tries for maximum effect — the biggest emotion, the most grandiose arrangements. Given a full orchestra, he seems determined to use every sound it can conjure, resulting in an album where virtually every track is climatic. When each song pricks tears or plucks heartstrings, fatigue sets in quickly, and everything that isn’t a 30-second hootenanny begins to blur together. God Eater 2 would benefit from moments of calm, studies of the introspective intervals between battle, compositions that might provide a rest for listeners’ ears and restore some of the feeling to the biggest tracks by means of contrast.
Yet there is no denying the excitement that Shiina’s anthemic tracks generate. God Eater 2 may be frustratingly incoherent at times, but there’s no denying Shiina’s adventurousness nor the range of styles in which he can work. Shiina may have outgrown Bandai Namco, but video games still need his audaciousness.
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Posted on February 19, 2018 by Michael Hughes. Last modified on February 21, 2018.