Metal Max Sound Collections
Metal Max Sound Collections -LxR-
December 8, 2011
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Metal Max Sound Collections -LxR- is a two-disc album enclosed with the limited edition version of Metal Max 2: Reloaded for the DS. The first disc features the complete soundtrack for Metal Max Returns, a remake of the Metal Max released for the Super Famicom (SNES) in 1995. The second disc is a recording of Metal Max Music Live at Shibuya O-East, a special concert dedicated to the series that occurred at Shibuya O-East in March 2011. How do they fare?
The soundtrack for Metal Max Returns mostly retreads that of the original Famicom title. The music is minimally arranged, but resynthed with the richer samples of the SNES. The title theme, for instance, is near-identical in structure to the Metal Max version (and the Metal Max 2 version for that matter). However, through presenting suspended melodies on ethereal synthpads and the bass lines on slapped electric bass, Kadokura was able to strengthen the imagery of the composition. The contrasting forces are perfectly suited for showing the heartfelt struggle of the human protagonist to survive in a barren wasteland. Like much of the rest of the score, however, the composition could have been transformed from great to excellent if Kadokura spent more time enriching the textures and elaborated the development of the composition. There was no need for him to stick with three channels only given the vastly superior technical capacity of the SNES.
Those who have listened to the score for Metal Max will know essentially what to expect from the rest of the soundtrack. Just as with the original, it still sounds like a typical old-school RPG soundtrack with its assortment of adventurous setting themes, rocking battle themes, and straightforward event themes. Tracks such as “Winning! Buying! Driving!” and “To an Unknown Wilderness” capture a sense of adventure with their happy-go-lucky melodies. Fan favourite “Caterpillar Tracks”, on the other hand, sounds more soothing than ever now its flowing melodies presented on superior synth. Tracks such as the jazzy “Tank Vodka”, funereal “Annihilation”, and slapstick “Animal Parade” bring variety to the soundtrack, but are too generic and repetitive to leave a lasting stand-alone impression. Other tracks capture the more hostile scenery of Metal Max‘s world, such as “Metallic Shaker” with its heavy bass and irregular rhythms or “Abandoned Factory” with its jagged, sprawling development. While the arrangements are again disappointingly unambitious, they’re enhanced by the wider synth palette available, especially the percussion lines.
Despite largely being a conservative remake soundtrack, there are some changes. For example, the folksy “Caravan” is featured in two different versions based on the arrangements of the theme for Metal Max and Metal Max 2. Although both tracks are rehashes, having them together brings some welcome variety to the gameplay. However, the biggest additions centre on the battle themes. There are now two normal battle themes, the Metal Max arrangement “Battle 1” and the Metal Max 2 reprise “Battle 2”. Both are similarly styled, adopting that melodic synth rock approach popularized by Nobuo Uematsu and Kenji Ito. “Battle with the Wanted” also makes a return and sounds more energetic than its original incarnation thanks to the convincingly-emulated guitar, keyboard and snares. Whereas the final battle theme was unremarkable in the original version, Kadokura presents it in two different versions here: one a rocking note-by-note translation of the original, the other much moodier with its slow tempo and twisted progressions. The soundtrack is rounded off with the ending theme, consolidated into a single 3:37 track, as well as a series of fanfares and subsidiary tracks. All in all, an acceptable but unspectacular soundtrack for a port carried by the strength of the originals and the superior synth of a 16-bit system.
Thankfully, the live performances recorded for the second disc of Metal Max Sound Collections -LxR- are more impressive. Satoshi Kadokura performed an entire 73 minute set at Shibuya O-East with his band. While the arrangements are usually straightforward, they’re generally more immersive than the originals thanks to the powerful band performances and high-definition recording. This is evident right from the opening performance of the series’ aforementioned opening main theme. The wailing guitar leads, moody synth work, and edgy bass licks come together to create an awesome atmosphere that have could have come straight from a 70s prog rock concert. Another returning fan favourite, “WANTED!”, gets the instrumental rock treatment it has long-deserved here. In many ways reminiscent of the Black Mages’ performances, the guitarist and keyboardist punch out the original melodies before elaborating on them with several decent solos and coming back together for the finale. It’s nothing surprising, but it’s fun, catchy, and polished. Kadokura and co. also show their rock spirits with the high-octane “Enemies” and a bluesy Hammond-punctuated rendition of Metal Max 3‘s “Hell is Full”.
At the heart of the live performances are three huge medleys dedicated to the series’ field themes, normal battle themes, and boss battle themes. The first two were previously featured on the Metal Max 3 Original Soundtrack. These medleys are what most would expect: they present straightforward instrumental performances of fan favourites one after another without much thought on the transitions between them or the overall flow of the arrangement. But they each have their moments, from the surprisingly lengthy take on Metal Max‘s “Tank Bang Bang” through to the dissonant, unrelenting climax of the boss medley. The album also features several slower-paced tracks, “Wanderer’s Song”, “Theme of Love”, and “Unforgettable Person”, in close succession. While some of these originals were a little contrived, they’re bound to bring back plenty of memories for long-term fans of the series. Kadokura makes the very most of them here with some spectacular soundscaping. The piano performances on the gushing “Theme of Love” and dejected “Unforgettable Person”, in particular, bring both majesty and personality to the concert. But perhaps the most ambitious performance of all is “Ambition Lost” (no pun intended), which shifts from its dreamy synthy core into nightmarish dissonance.
The album also features performances of the series’ three vocal themes that had been composed at that point. The arrangements stay faithful to the already fully-fledged original scores, but unfortunately the performances are generally much less impressive. Metal Max 3‘s “REBORN -Let’s Meet Dr. Mince-” was a highlight in its original version with its piano ballad structure and effusive vocal melody. While the band were able to translate some of this charm to the live setting, Manami Mizuno’s vocals lack the strength and polish to do the song justice. Even worse is “Inheritor of the Flame”. While the original was never a favourite of mine, this version is a complete mess (awesome guitar solo aside). Mizuno’s vocals don’t just sound desperate here, but are terribly intonated for much of the time. What’s more, the male vocalist she duets with can be barely heard due to setup or recording problems. The audience’s reaction to this one sounds particularly muted for good reason. Thankfully, the album saves the best vocal performance to the last. Courtesy of Tomoko, the performance of Metal Max 2: Reloaded‘s “Crying Sun” is refined and emotional. She and the instrumental performers fully translate the elaborate, mesmerising original to the live stage effectively to create a fantastic finale.
Both discs of the Metal Max Sound Collections -LxR- have plenty to offer. The Metal Max Returns soundtrack provides a fascinating insight into the musical origins of the series. However, it will let down those who own Metal Music Maniax as it is largely a note-for-note resynth of the original game’s score. Metal Max Music Live was a largely impressive set that boasted excellent listings, fitting arrangements, and stunning instrumental performances. It is let down from a couple of terrible vocal performances and is sometimes a little conservative, but is still a must-listen for fans of the series. Given the collector’s edition of Metal Max 2: Reloaded was very reasonably-priced, this album is a very worthwhile bonus. Fans of the series should consider seeking it down through auction sites.
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Posted on December 3, 2015 by Chris Greening. Last modified on December 5, 2015.