Gun Frontier / Metal Black / Dino Rex Soundtracks
Gun Frontier / Metal Black / Dino Rex Soundtracks for Digital Generation
December 21, 2012
Buy at Sweep Record
The Gun Frontier / Metal Black / Dino Rex Soundtracks for Digital Generation is one of the latest entries in Supersweep’s Game Music Discovery series that releases classic game music for those who may not be familiar with it. This entry moves away from music composed that focus on a specific series or composer and rather encompasses some earlier music composed by early Taito composers. It features the soundtracks for classic futuristic shmups Gun Frontier and Metal Black, as well as the little-known dinosaur fighting game Dino Rex. It also features some bonus remixes by Metal Black composer Yasuhisa Watanabe and current Taito sound team members, Hirokazu Koshio and Shohei Tsuchiya. Is this compilation worth picking up?
Gun Frontier was an influential futuristic shmup released for arcades back in 1990. Composed by Hidetoshi Fukumori, one of Taito’s less prolific artists, it features mostly stage themes. The artist doesn’t disappoint with the all-important first stage theme, “Mountain Storm in the Desert”. Combing an amazing catchy tune with solid voicing, a great pace, and some lovely percussion work, it definitely motivates listeners at the start of the game. This is definitely the highlight of the Gun Frontier soundtrack. The boss theme for the game, “Welcome to Heaven,” is a slow tempo track that focuses more on creating an ominous and creepy atmosphere. While the accompaniment is definitely more prominent than the melody, the melody helps craft the mood and enhances the accessibility of the track.
The rest of the soundtrack consists primarily of the later stage themes. “In the sky,” the stage two theme, has a fantastically upbeat soundscape that gives off that feeling of flying through the sky. The melody is quite nice as well, reminiscent of Megaman at times, and manages to stand with the first stage theme. “KARAMETE” is a nice blend of interesting percussion, some more somber sections, as well as some heroic moments. While not as a strong as other stage themes, it does manage to up the intensity of the game. “Into the Wild” features a strong spaghetti western sound in the accompaniment that pairs well with the more ominous synth tones. However, my favorite moments of the piece are when the melody has a more rustic sound before moving into a full blown epic. “Yunfao” is another excellent stage theme with an extremely engaging melody that really gives off that shmup vibe with a great adventurous atmosphere and some great piano tones at times.
“Maspy,” the last stage/final boss theme, is another tune with a spaghetti western vibe. Unfortunately, it is neither as engaging as “Into the Wild” nor as intense as one might expect for a climactic theme. Still, the theme does manage to create a atmosphere nonetheless and is fairly enjoyable on a stand-alone level. The happy ending theme, “Above the Clouds, Above the Clouds” gives off a great sense of accomplishment while incorporating some of “In the sky” as well.
Metal Black, composed by Taito legend Yasuhisa Watanabe, is a spiritual sequel to Gun Frontier released in 1991. “Bone to be free,” the first stage theme,” is a nice blend of ethereal soundscapes and militaristic percussion that works quite nicely with the heroic and uplifting melody. “Dual Moon,” the second stage theme, is a quirky tune that definitely manages to impress with its use of funky slap bass; however, the melody can be hit or miss. The A section is definitely the weaker of the sections while the B section is definitely more engaging due to that fact that it has more structure. Both “Area 26-10” and “Waste Days” are a bit more ethereal. The former definitely has a dreamier quality about it, particularly the way the melody and accompaniment are utilized, but is one of the least engaging tracks on a stand-alone. The latter, on the other hand, manages to impress with its beauty. The melody is airy and pensive and the drum pad, while simple, complements the melody quite nicely. Although it starts out quite ominous, “Doubt” manages to quickly turn around by incorporating an intense drum line that really manages to accentuate the equally intense melody.
The boss themes, on the other hand, are a mixed bag. “Visitor,” the first boss theme, is definitely contemplative and ominous through its slower tempo rather than by utilizing intense beats; however, there are moments when there is definitely a more tense sound when the melody is more prominently featured. Overall, a well-balanced track much like its Gun Frontier equivalent. Similarly, “Yueez,” the second boss theme, is also ominous and moody, but doesn’t really feature any intense moments. “Dio Panic” is more chaotic and sinister sounding and a boss theme that has a nice tension with some frenetic melodic sections. “The gate of guardian” is also sinister and tense, although lacking a bit in the melody department. The B section definitely carries that tense nature of a battle though. Lastly, “Phantasm” is a tense, but very short, boss theme that lacks any real development.
Rounding off the Metal Black selection, the final stage theme “Time” the final stage theme is definitely one that gives off a more melancholy atmosphere. The melody starts off quite slow, helping to establish a somber mood; however, as it picks up, the tone of the tune shifts to more heroic, signaling the end of the journey. There are also two ending themes. “Game is Over,” the bad ending theme” features a heroic sound, but also one that is a bit sorrowful, as if you didn’t complete the final mission. The ending/staff roll theme, “A mirage of mind” is a great tune. The ending portion of this is very mysterious and uplifting with a gorgeous melody. The staffroll section is definitely more upbeat, spacey, and heroic.
The second disc on the album features a different sound source for the two soundtracks mentioned above, focusing on the Saturn renditions of the Arcade originals. While the sound is significantly more defined, the samples could have been further upgraded given the seven-year gap between them.
Featured on the third disc, 1992’s Dino Rex attempted to capitalise on two things massively popular in the early 90s: one-on-one fighting games following the smash hit Street Fighter II and dinosaurs in the fever leading up to Jurassic Park. How did it do this? Simple: having dinosaurs fight it out on the arena in delightfully clumsy fashion. The music of Dinorex isn’t credited to a composer, but the game credits Yasuko Yamada as sound director, Hiroshige Tonomura and the band Pinch-Punch as composers. One of the stronger pieces on the soundtrack, “Title Demo, Name Entry” captures the dinosaur focus of the game. While the melody is fun, I wouldn’t say it’s anything special. However, the percussion work is where the track really shines and gives it a nice quirky yet primeval vibe.
Unfortunately, the bulk of the soundtrack isn’t quite as enjoyable. Sadly none of the five tracks suffixed “Day” are particularly special, focusing more on experimental percussion rather than any sort of melodic development. There are fitting perhaps for the era the game is meant to portray and create some motion in context. However, on a standalone listen, nothing special. “End Title” has a calm atmosphere that focuses on a bit of melody, but doesn’t stand out. “Staff Roll,” on the other hand, is definitely the track to listen to. It has a nice groove to it and features a decent melody while also focusing on the percussion elements that dominate the majority of the soundtrack.
The third disc also features three bonuses arrangements. The first arrangement, “Peacemaker” from Metal Black by Yasuhisa Watanabe has a very beautiful atmosphere with some beautiful synth tones and nice militaristic touches. I am not completely certain on what it is being arranged, but it sounds like “Time” in terms of the same sort of atmosphere being portrayed. Hirokazu Koshio’s “Mountain Storm of the Desert – 2012 Distorted Desert MIX,” from Gun Frontier is a fantastic electronic translation of the source material. He manages to keep the same energy as the original while modernizing it. Lastly, from the same game, Shohei Tsuchiya’s arrangement of “Into the Wild” is really experimental compared to the original. It has a Dariusburst sound mixed with some funky jazz tones and children’s choir samples. It is a much different take on the original, but also one that I find to be much stronger.
In the end, I think that this album manages to showcase some of Taito’s earlier works that only hardcore shmup fans may have heard of. This album is definitely for fans of the original games. However, fans of retro music who may be new to this music should find something to enjoy as well. Each soundtrack features a distinct sound. While themore atmospheric approach of Metal Black is nice, I prefer the more melodically-focused traditional shmup score Gun Frontier. The Dino Rex music is largely forgettable, but the bonus arrangements that are featured on the third disc really help bring some new life into the classic tunes. At 3780 JPY, it is quite a good deal for a beautifully-packaged three-disc compilation containing quite a bit of content.
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Posted on June 29, 2015 by Don Kotowski. Last modified on June 30, 2015.