Square Enix Music
May 16, 2018
Buy at CDJapan
The Primals is the first album from the eponymous band created by Masayoshi Soken, who arranges and performs songs from Final Fantasy XIV. This first album is mostly a compilation of existing tracks, recycling all of the band arrangements already released on the From Astral to Umbral and Duality albums, while adding to them only a handful of new band arrangements of songs from later the patches of the Heavensward expansion. All of these new arrangements would later become available on the third piano and band arrangement album, Journeys. Notably, The Primals is not available on the usual Blu-Ray format, but rather only on CD and digital.
The first six tracks come from the first arrange album, From Astral to Umbral. The opener, “Primal Judgement”, is the only instrumental of the set. It deviates much from its original orchestral track, stripping away most of the lines of the original, but it’s also quite short and doesn’t develop much, so it mostly feels like a prelude to the album. The remaining five are arrangements of the vocal battle themes for the first Primals. “Under the Weight”, “Through the Maelstrom”, and “Oblivion” are all very close to their originals, mostly just placing more emphasis on the guitars while also making the vocals clearer. “Under the Weight” and “Through the Maelstrom” remain simple and effective with their repetitive but spirited chants, while “Oblivion” has much more going for it melodically with its J-Rock style. “Fallen Angel” loses its original organ and orchestral elements, but the band is largely able to make up for it with a heavy sound that keeps up the intensity throughout while placing more emphasis on the melodies, so that this version stands on its own. “Thunder Rolls” remains a series highlight for having a wonderful composition with unexpected chords that give the piece a mystical character. The band version is a big departure from its original, but the more laid back and atmospheric pace for the verses is effective. It works well in the context of the album too, shifting gears while keeping the rock idiom.
The next six tracks, as well as the two closing tracks, are from the second arrangement album, Duality. There are more instrumental tracks this time around: “Imagination”, “Unbreakable”, and “Revenge Twofold” (though “Heroes” basically falls into this grouping as well). Each track is alright on its own, but their shared motifs combined with an over-reliance on lead guitars make the tracks feel too similar and redundant. It doesn’t help that the arrangements are very straightforward, without added riffs or solos to make the tracks stand out. They thus fall short of bar set by Nobuo Uematsu’s band The Black Mages, who operated on a similar idea yet had offered much more instrumental variety and improvisation. The vocal themes from Duality fare better, with the industrial metal “Fiend” and the synth rock “Locus”. Both of these tracks have great atmosphere and production, particularly the latter in how well it fits its subject, though both can suffer from being too repetitive, and the arrangements are ultimately too similar to the originals. The highlight of this set is “Unbending Steel”, which keeps the low bass vocal of the original while departing significantly from the original arrangement, having here a fittingly grungy sound and even featuring two guitar solos. Last from Duality is the album closer, “Oblivion (Never Let it Go Version)”, a lovely acoustic rendition of the track. The small ensemble provides an emotional backdrop for the soft vocals, transforming the original track into a moving ballad, a direction that would be great for Soken to explore more on these arrangements.
Last to be discussed are the four new tracks of the album, making up the rest of the Alexander raid series. “Metal” is rather close to its original, with a slightly heavier sound and a much shorter runtime. The arrangement ditches the strings, which had given the original a bit of cinematic tension, and puts in their place distortions and guitar improvisations under the second verse. These changes are minor enough that anyone who enjoyed the original track will still enjoy the arrangement. Much better is “Metal – Brute Justice Mode”, which is itself a delightful mix of “Metal”, “Locus”, and “Exponential Entropy” with trumpets. The melodies are re-harmonized to give it all a more positive spin while retaining the rock elements, creating a fairly unique sound. The band arrangement is considerably faster paced than the original, which I think suits the track very well. Small changes like the rhythmic shift in second half are also welcome.
The other two new tracks aren’t as exciting, unfortunately. The arrangement of “Exponential Entropy” downplays the original techno elements, replacing the background synths with a short guitar riff, and making the later switch to the techno beat less pronounced. The arrangement becomes heavier in the second half to try to change things up, but because nothing memorable is present in the instrumentation this does nothing to relieve the repetitive nature of the track. It’s still quite the earworm, but it’s hard not to be disappointed that more was not done to develop the song. The last new track is “Rise”, which now works “Stasis Loop” into the arrangement as a short intermission. The vocals are still nonsensical and unintelligible, but that’s fine given the frenetic energy of the song. The instrumental has been simplified here so that the guitars are clearer in verses, helping the harmonic progression stand out and thereby making the piece feel more musical. Despite these small improvements, it’s still a bit of a letdown as the climax of the raid series, and the track gets overshadowed by the other, more interesting tracks the surround it.
For all of the gripes that I’ve had with the tracks of The Primals as arrangements, considered in themselves they have an enjoyable, infectious energy and a cohesive sound. The album is full of upbeat rock tracks with strong melodies and good performances, even though at times they can feel generic or underdeveloped. There are a variety of vocalists throughout, and many of the lyrics, though largely unintelligible to the ear, actually offer interesting insights into the lore of the game. The biggest problem is that most of the arrangements are too close to their originals, but even so many of these arrangements manage to be the definitive versions of their respective tracks simply by cutting down the runtimes and having proper endings instead of looping and fading out. For those who haven’t been keeping up with the piano and band arrangement albums for Final Fantasy XIV, this album is a good way to catch up on the band portion of tracks, but there’s definitely room for Soken to improve his craft as the game and its music moves forward.
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Posted on August 18, 2019 by Tien Hoang. Last modified on September 8, 2019.