Shadow Hearts Original Soundtrack plus 1
Shadow Hearts Original Soundtrack plus 1
SCDC-00116/7 (1st Edition); SCDC-00403 (2nd Edition)
June 17, 2001; January 16, 2005
Buy at CDJapan
Yoshitaka Hirota and Yasunori Mitsuda collaborate on this soundtrack to produce a highly interesting album consisting of Asian/Industrial Rock and ambience along with a range of other styles. I would not be surprised if you asked yourself, who is Hirota? To answer that question, I would say he is a talented composer and was in charge of the sound effects for numerous Square games. Mitsuda, of course, is responsible for the score to the ever popular Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross. In this Original Soundtrack, the two of them get together to create what I consider to be one of the most daring soundtracks to date. On with the review!
The album opens on an interesting note, “Main Theme – Icaro Song of Spirits,” is quite a ‘spiritual’ track indeed. The track reeks of haunting undertones due to the eerie nature portrayed in Kyoko Kishikawa’s voice. It is a great metaphor for the soundtrack and really captures the eerie nature felt throughout the soundtrack, a very worthy start indeed. After that amazing yet short track a rather captivating track follows. “Wind Which Blows from the Dark/I,” carries on the sinister feeling from the previous track by utilising a very ambient introduction. 30 seconds into the track all of that is thrown out of the window as a very grungy distorted guitar is introduced with equally grungy percussion. The guitar riff itself is easily the catchiest tune on the album. 55 seconds into the track, the guitar fades out and it is carried on by the ambient feeling used at the start. At 1.57, the guitar is re-introduced with a wailing underlying solo which rivals the work of the greatest guitarists. “Wind Which Blows from the Dark/II” has distinct similarities to its predecessor, by the fact that it also utilizes a very ambient nature, however this time the guitar is not present and a different percussion set is used. It is just as powerful as the previous track, however.
After the introductions are done, the first battle theme commences granting the listener a chance to experience a very heavily distorted bass riff and a sinister chant to accompany it. One would classify it as industrial rock due to its dilapidated sound which is certainly not a bad thing. The track is different from your usual battle themes, as while it is threatening, it does not incorporate traditional techniques. It is one of a kind and deserves credit, and remains one of my favourites from this album. Hirota carries on the industrial theme in the next track titled “Ghosts Jogging,” which is very fast paced, highlighting that it is used in a very dangerous situation.
From here the disc takes a turn and begins to assimilate what one would call an Asian feel. This is insanely evident in “Sphere -qu-.” The track is very majestic and dream like. It relates very well with the title as it does paint the image of plains in the breezy wind; an amazingly peaceful contribution. “DOA,” yes you guessed it, is a fast paced tension building theme. The electronic/industrial feel is utilised once more and the outcome is an outstanding track filled with apprehension. “Army Mood” is your typical militaristic theme, this would be comparable to the work of Hidenori Iwasaki except the fact that it is certainly not remarkable but does capture a militaristic feel nonetheless. Mitsuda’s second contribution to the album is without a doubt better than “Blade,” which was your standard Mitsuda battle-like track. “Rice Field of Light” is a bouncy track which is a welcome addition to the previous dark themes. Even though the overall vibe is Celtic, an Asian feel is faintly evident due to the underlying guitar which is tuned down half a step to create a slight oriental sound.
After that upbeat track, Hirota returns with his laid back feel, with a theme titled “Coffee with Bullet.” Accompanying this track is a clean sounding electrical guitar, which gives it a slight jazzy fee. It is undeniably a very peaceful track, and the title itself suggests a lone cowboy sitting back in a rusty old barn having a coffee. When the title is applied to the actual track, this image is boosted significantly. “Asian Parfait,” once more re-introduces the Asian vibe which the first disc of this soundtrack is popular for. It is quite clear that towards the middle of this soundtrack, quite a few tracks are what you would call upbeat and a big contrast to the rest of the material.
“Angel Heart” breaks away from the upbeat vibe, and Mitsuda shows us his ambient side, albeit not as powerful as his other contributions to the album, it is clear that Mitsuda is capable of doing something apart from Celtic. It is even evident that he obviously tried to adapt his style to look fitting alongside Hirota’s, which is admirable and deserves credit. Hirota comes back in full force with his composition, “Factory – Beltconveyor for Killers-,” which cleverly utilises an Asian touch blended with an industrial feel. 30 seconds into the track, an Asian instrument is brought in and it coincides wonderfully with the industrial touch; a very daring experiment, but the result was more than effective. The following two tracks, “Deception -Shanghai Mood-” and “Akibana’s Theme -Syu-ka-,” are both extremely oriental in nature. The former track consists of soothing background music, lead forward by a rather attractive flute. “Akibana’s Theme -Syu-ka-” is even more Asian, sounding as it is a solo played on an ancient Chinese instrument. Even though it is a solo, it still remains as one of the most beautiful and well-structured tracks on the album.
The last ten tracks on the first disc range from ambience to fast paced industrial music with slight emotion thrown in, clearly evident in, “ALICE” and “Sacrifice – Alice,” which I shall highlight later. They are all mood setters, and capture a menacing and poignant feeling very well. “Profile” starts off on an ambient note with clanking noises in the background. 20 seconds into the track, a high pitch violin is introduced playing an easing harmony which works well with the background. At the 1:00 mark, a militaristic feeling is produced due to a strong standing percussion beat that commences. Shortly after though, the track ends, and I feel that it could have been developed a tad more. “Much Hatred Still Rankles” consists of what can only be called a groovy percussion line, so much so that it creates a sort of primitive feeling in it. Overall, a very tense feeling is created, and the listener actually feels like he is being chased by a tremendous beast.
“Blow Up” starts off on such an elegant note that I gasped when I first heard it. The first scale is so powerful and evocative that it will be played on my CD player for years to come. After the short, yet very effective, scale, a horn is introduced once more adding to the elegance of the track. This provides a great deal of closure for the next track, “ALICE,” which consists of a peaceful music box backed up by soothing synth. Even though the composition itself is quite simple, it still captivates the listener and is worthy of being the best emotional track on the disc.
“China Ogre” can only be described in one way: heavy. Not heavy in terms of volume, but heavy in the sense of the huge range of instruments used. Mitsuda is well-known for creating what people would call, obtuse battle themes, however I feel that his battle themes are always bold and creative. This one does not fail to impress me. Overall it has an exotic feel to it, mainly because of the percussion and the warped voices scattered throughout the track, and added to this, some remarkable Celtic flair is thrown in. It is tremendous stuff from Mitsuda-san. “Melt Down” emphasises the taint of urgency developed in the former piece, but remains a little less effective. The disc finishes on a melancholy note; “Sacrifice – Alice,” similar to “ALICE,” shows Hirota’s diversity by capturing untold feelings. “Bloody Kitchens” remains emotional but on a more sophisticated level. You could associate this track with a game over theme, although I am not quite sure if it is.
The second disc starts off on a strong and secure stature because of the power of the first disc. The opening track, “Atmosphere – Blow Up” reminds me a great deal of “Blow Up”, due to the fact that they are both world map themes but also incorporate a very catchy scale at the start of the theme. “C-I-T-Y,” is successful in that it captures the beauty of Prague whilst also creating a great deal of sophistication and elegance. Two very ambient tracks follow, and it becomes clear here that things are going to get darker and scarier. Even as I write this now I am getting goosebumbs, showing the effectiveness of tracks like “God Knows Bad News,” “Dirty Nails,” and “The Thorn of Mind”. The last track mentioned is easily the most ambient battle theme I have ever heard, but it is not as fast paced as the amazing battle themes on the first disc, and is quite an odd choice on Hirota’s part. “Reckless,” is slightly faster, but still can be considered an ambient addition to the album. “NDE/Near Death Experience” can be described in one word: amazing. The battle theme is what I consider to be the best of its kind on the album. While not as ‘loud” as some of the other additions, there is something seductive about it. It reaches out and grabs me in such an evocative way that it is easily the epitome of battle themes.
Sadly, a few tracks that follow are not as powerful as the previous ones. “But-Dad-Dead-Bed” is a good example of a boring track. It is not creative and consists of rather poor synth quality; the voices used are not up to par with the rest of the album, and they sound like something from an SNES game. “Sweet Pillows” is not even worth being commented on, and is a short and tedious filler track. “Babysitter is Old Nurse” is the last of the uneventful tracks on the disc. While having an ambient touch to it, it is certainly lacking way behind some of the stronger compositions on the album. The percussion does have an interesting vibe to it, but sadly this fact is not quite enough to make it good enough.
Hirota breaks away from the slight downfall with the sweet sounding piece known as “Don’t Cry My Vampire.” All I can say is, it is hard not to cry when people create such beautiful-sounding material and make it effective even though they only use a simple instrument like the music box. On a first listen, “Castle of a Silence” sounded like a Mitsuda composition thanks to the ever present violin, however as the track progresses, Hirota’s style is introduced as distinct noises and banging is heard in the background. At the 1:20 mark, a fuzzy noise is brought in which confirms that it is Hirota’s composition because of the radical experimentation with what seemed to be an elegant track. The next theme, “Callback from Jesus” is simply superb, as the introductory instrument sounds like an electric guitar with a flanger paddle, thus giving it a wavy vibe. As the chimes and backing flute are brought in, the theme becomes simply magical.
“Bacon’s Juice” is very daring since it is surrounded by dark themes, but is a welcome addition. Featuring an upbeat aura, the track consists of a range of very ‘synthy’ sound samples, most of which I can not make out. However, it is a fun track which deserves recognition. “Trip or Treat” is one of the last timid tracks for a while, and once again it sounds like Mitsuda’s work, but is in fact Hirota’s. Hirota shows here how talented and diverse he can be with his creations. While not as daring as “Bacon’s Juice,” the theme is still sweet and, more importantly, pure, which forms a good bond with the title “Everyday.”
Ah, yes the turning point, “Nobody Knocks the Door” is ambient stuff; voices, noises, and distant percussion effects greet us as we begin to feel the end draw upon us. “Star Shape” is slightly upbeat, but the brooding piano reminds us that times are dire. 37 seconds into the track, a synth choir highlights the calamitous situation. The slight beats are used not to make the track upbeat but rather to emphasize the urgency of the situation. The theme is sweet yet tense, so it is a clever collaboration of feelings. Moving on to the final part of this trilogy, “Middle of Nowhere” is a real tear-jerker. It isn’t sad or emotional, rather, it is because it captures the feeling of urgency so well. It is your typical pipe organ piece which usually goes with a villain or a very dark time. Hirota’s signature catchy percussion is incorporated and slight chimes follow. The piece is so bold that it basically shouts out “Finish me off or be destroyed.”
On to the last of the battle themes, “Demon’s Gig” is one of the more elegant themes. The track starts off with a bold female voice which I believe is the highlight of the track. It gets straight to the point but does not quite highlight the urgency of the situation. I guess with the quality of the previous battle tracks I would have expected something a little more threatening. “Sicking F***ing” makes up for the lack of urgency in the previous track because of its fast paced beat. It gets faster as the track progresses and is backed up by clanging and clanking noises. “Sign of Him (The Creation of God)” is your typical build-up battle track that consists of ambience. This is discarded at 1 minute and 4 seconds into the track where it is replaced by heavy percussion and a backing chorus. On cue, a grunty guitar enters which adds a very industrial/primitive feeling to the theme. The collaboration between the primitive percussion and dirty sounding guitar is really a work of art.
Moving on to the final two battle themes, “Imbroglio” shows us Hirota’s electronic side. It is highly experimental because of the orchestral touch which enters at the 1:03 mark because of the pipe organ. This adds to the epic feeling of the theme which is carried on in “Bate Me Bate Me,” which is short and certainly not sweet. The highlight is once again the percussion which seems to increase in tempo as the track draws to its end. Sadly I do not feel it provided an epic enough ending to this series of astoundingly epic last battle themes. “Result” is a very interesting victory theme, towards the end of the track, it sounds as if someone is rubbing their hands against rubber which is a curious supplement to the track. Unfortunately it does not quite hit the spot on closure providing after the series of battle themes that were before it.
Moving on to the album’s closing, “Black Cat Floating in Blue Sky” re-introduces Hirota’s captivating emotional side. This track makes up for the lack of closure provided in “Result,” while it is not epic, it certainly shouts out the word “peace” during its play time. However, this is just a prelude to the amazing vocal piece, “Shadow Hearts.” The beautiful Asian feeling Hirota masterfully conducts is brought back to us this time containing a slight celtic flair which forms a solid bond with, Hiroko Kasahara’s magnificent voice. I do not consider this your regular J-Pop ballad, it is certainly more sophisticated than that. Simply put: I love it with a passion.
“Opening Demo Mix/I” and “Opening Demo/Mix II” are interesting arrangements of the first track from Disc One, but are really nothing special. Finally to wrap up the soundtrack, “True Voice” gives the listener to have a taste of a proper arrangement of the ICARO theme. It is much more solid than the “Opening Demo” tracks and is certainly more expressive. A great end to this amazing album.
As you can tell from above, Hirota is certainly not scared to take risks when creating music. The results are a mixed bag, though it focuses more on the good side. His tracks are creative and without a doubt evocative and sensual. They reach out and fiddle around with our senses and emotions, and few people can create music that does it on such an advanced level. I would recommend this album to anyone because of the variety of musical styles expressed in it. However, be warned this album does consist of a lot of what people can only consider, acquired taste music. On the plus side, I am quite confident anyone with a taste for adventure and creativity will enjoy this soundtrack significantly.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on August 1, 2012 by Nick. Last modified on August 1, 2012.