Earthbound Papas: Octave Theory
Earthbound Papas: Octave Theory
Dog Ear Records
Mar 16, 2011
Buy at CDJapan
Three years have passed since The Black Mages completed their last album Darkness and Starlight and, although the group quietly disbanded two years after its release, many fans still eagerly await their next project. Octave Theory is not this project, although Michio Okamiya and Arata Hanyuda both return to collaborate with Nobuo Uematsu from The Black Mages. Tsutomu Narita, recruited for his orchestral arrangements, and Yoshitaka Hirota, recruited for his darker, more intense personality and howling vocals, round out the roster of Earthbound Papas and their influence on the direction of the band is clear.
What isn’t clear is whether fans are prepared to bid farewell to The Black Mages and accept Earthbound Papas for who and what they are. After listening to their debut album Octave Theory, it is safe to say that the new sound of the band will have no trouble winning over fans of The Black Mages while simultaneously appealing to a wider audience with its impressive range of sounds and styles.
The tracks of Octave Theory can be divided into three broad categories: original compositions, Final Fantasy favorites, and works from projects Uematsu has worked on after leaving Square Enix. Despite being only nine tracks long, Octave Theory plays for an impressive 49 minutes with the shortest track (“Homecoming”) running 3:35. The duration of the album and average track length are good indicators of the complexity of each arrangement on Octave Theory.
“Octopus Theory”, the album opener, begins with a goofy and enjoyable orchestral movement showing Narita’s non-rock influence from the start. The piece then moves into a more familiar rock sound featuring trippy, staccato female vocals not unlike those of Switchblade Symphony’s Tina Root or Rasputina’s Melora Creager — an indication of the goth rock feel that many tracks on the album are imbued with. Taken almost as an overture, “Octopus Theory” acts as a microcosm of what to expect from Earthbound Papas: hard rock, orchestra, goth rock, and everything in between.
Uematsu’s decades of involvement in Final Fantasy are represented by “Liberi Fatali” and “Advent: One-Winged Angel” both of which are presented with darker, more visceral arrangements. Final Fantasy VIII‘s “Liberi Fatali” begins with a gritty bass and guitar work reminiscent of late 1980’s Metallica, although Uematsu’s contribution on the organ brings fans a more familiar sound. The vocals are as haunting and powerful as ever, and post-production mixing adds an otherworldly quality to them which serves the omininous arrangement nicely.
Final Fantasy VII‘s “Advent: One-Winged Angel” is a faithful performance of the original reprisal of “One-Winged Angel”, but filtered through the same goth-rock/industrial filter as “Liberi Fatali” (Uematsu knew what he wanted when he recruited Yoshitaka Hirota!) Fans of the iconic piece who find the opening of “Advent: One-Winged Angel” anemic and will not find anything stronger in snare drum bridge at 2:30, which reminded me of “Snoopy’s Christmas”, but the final verses absolutely crackle with high-intensity performances from all band members notably, the guitar break at 4:25. Consider it a thinking man’s version of “One-Winged Angel”.
“Thread of Fate” from Guin Saga is every bit as tender and pensive of an arrangement as the previous two are rough and gritty. The harp and flute introduction establish the theme which is soon transformed into a hard rock power ballad which manages to preserve the overall feel of the piece without running away with it. Fans of The Black Mages will find this to be the most similar track to their style present on Octave Theory.
Lost Odyssey‘s “Bo-Kon-Ho-Ko” stays faithful to the soundtrack arrangement by opening with a slightly abrasive vocal and organ phrase that tones down after a key change before opening up into a wailing guitar arrangement underneath of choral-style vocals. As one of Uematsu’s more rock-driven compositions, it is not a surprise that “Bo-Kon-Ho-Ko” stands out as the most epic, sweeping and guitar-driven arrangements on Octave Theory. Blue Dragon‘s “Eternity” is perhaps the heaviest (and loudest) track on the album. The screaming guitar introduction and screaming, well… screaming… alerts the listener that they are in for a completely new experience with Earthbound Papas and I wouldn’t have it any other way for this track. The rock band feel is quite excellent and it clips by at a fast and frantic pace with the ending guitar solo recalling, and challenging, the excellence of Yngwie Malmsteen.
What remains on the album are four original, non-VGM tracks arranged by Tsutomu Narita and Yoshitaka Hirota. “Metal Hypnotized” is purely instrumental and features Uetmatsu’s keyboard work prominently above shred guitar interludes. The track mellows into a surreal acid-rock section before finishing strong and hard with the requisite brief guitar solo over a sustained ending chord. “The Forest of Thousand Years” stands out as the quietest, most ambient piece on the album with Freescape’s Emi Evans lending her cello to the track. Similar to the power ballad feel of “Thread of Fate”, “Forest of Thousand Years” slows the pace of the album down considerably but provides a welcome counterpoint to the more aggressive songs on the album.
“Homecoming”, the final track fits somewhere between the faster and slower tracks, opening with a tribal drum rhythm with the distorted, sing-songy female vocals (this time, sounding like from “Octopus Theory” leading into long guitar solos equally heavy on distortion.
At the conclusion of a recent interview, Nobuo Uematsu commented that “…usually video game music is composed by one composer, but now one rock band will be able to compose video game music: the Earthbound Papas.” and the arrangement of songs on Octave Theory show this direction clearly. While the album suffers from a lack of thematic cohesion, it demonstrates the musical range of Earthbound Papas perfectly. In this sense, Octave Theory plays like a demonstration of the range that the band is capable of covering, perhaps in an attempt to convince a developer that a rock band is capable of composing a major videogame soundtrack.
Octave Theory shows that Uematsu has managed to assemble a versatile group of musicians equally comfortable and proficient in 1960’s classic rock, classical orchestral arrangements, heavy metal guitar riffs, and goth/industrial rock. While I cannot imagine a game that would call for all of these elements on the soundtrack, I know that only the Earthbound Papas could deliver a score that would sound anywhere near as good as Octave Theory does.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Matt Diener. Last modified on January 19, 2016.