Shadow Hearts Arrange Tracks -Near Death Experience-
Shadow Hearts Arrange Tracks -Near Death Experience-
August 24, 2005
Buy at CDJapan
It’s no secret that I love Shadow Hearts. I have the 2004 Roger Bacon World Tour T-shirt, and I have an autographed glossy black and white photo of Yoshitaka Hirota in hot pants. I have a giant foam finger that says “Yuri FTW”. I also have a shiny little disc that goes by the name of “near death experience”, the arranged album for the Shadow Hearts series, and for the most part I’m pretty excited about it. Arranged albums are touch-and-go with me, but after letting this disc sink in I’ve become pretty pleased with what Hirota and his crew have come up with. Like a pillowcase full of Halloween candy and a few pieces of coal, Shadow Hearts Arrange Tracks is pretty sweet… most of the time.
There’s an interesting spectrum of source material represented here, with a few themes from each of the Shadow Hearts soundtracks that includes a nice little spread of the different composers’ respective styles. Hirota takes the main stage with five tunes (including one arranged by relative newcomer Tomoko Imoto, who also has one of her own), while Kenji Ito and Yasunori Mitsuda each have two arrangements of their own original compositions. And then there’s the massive “The 3 Karma”, the fantastic collaboration between Hirota, Mitsuda and Ito, crowning both this arrange album and the original Shadow Hearts II soundtrack with a nasty diadem. I’m fairly content with the track selection, but I can only imagine how amazing arranges of other Shadow Hearts tunes would sound in comparison to the few clunkers on this disc.
First up: my man Hirota’s arrangements, which are arranged in a more New Age style than their original counterparts. The title track, “n.d.e. / near death experience – Muddy Water edit”, is a watered down version of the original Shadow Hearts’ Europe battle theme as far as percussion is concerned; ironic, considering the name of the arrangement. The piece is fairly subdued and features female vocals singing the main melody line, backed by what sounds like a twelve-string acoustic guitar and bongo-lead percussion. As far as I can tell the instruments are all live, which gives this arrangement a more vibrant feel despite the more laid-back tempo compared to the original. Similar to “n.d.e.” is the arrangement for “Deep in Coma – minimal work”, the Japan battle theme from Shadow Hearts II. Although there are more electronic elements and voice manipulation on the female vocals on this one, it has a familiar feel after hearing “n.d.e.”. I dig ’em both.
On the other side of the spectrum is “Ala of Sacrum – Spirit of the Air”, a very atmospheric and airy arrangement from the piece of the same name on the Shadow Hearts From the New World soundtrack. A slowly plucked acoustic guitar, light synth swells and bongos lay the groundwork for the flute melody that commandeers the first half of the track, which picks up when Hirota adds in some of his trademark female vocals and sporadic electronic accentuation to the percussion track. I love the first half of the piece because of its awesome atmosphere. His rendition of “Sphere -qu-” is similar in style, adding in the familiar sound effects from the victory fanfare themes from the series over the light swells and bird chirping in the background. The bagpipes on the track used to bug me at first, but I’ve grown accustomed to them after several listens.
Yasunori Mitsuda delivers out two great arrangements this time around, with “Astaroth -8-minute note mix” and “Town of Twilight – Ambient Remix”. I prefer these to the originals from the Shadow Hearts II soundtrack because of their more relaxed arrangements. Mitsuda puts his acoustic guitar to work with his first arrangement, backing “Astaroth” with some chill percussion for a good portion of the track until it kicks into a more lively section featuring a fiddle playing the main melody. The progression is great and the percussion fluctuates without being jarring. “Town of Twilight” is simply gorgeous, with some great piano work and slow electronic drum programming. The main riff is played in half-time on the piano (compared to the acoustic guitar from the soundtrack version) and slowly builds itself into a beautiful piece. Although his contributions are scant, Mitsuda really stepped it up with his two arrangements for the album.
Tomoko Imoto has two passable entries with “The Wheel of Fortune – Fortuna”, a vocal-driven rendition of the tune from From the New World, and “Asian Parfait – Jasmine”. Her arrangement of Hirota’s “Asian Parfait” leaves a lot to be desired, as it’s too cheery and stands out from the rest of the lot… in a bad way. And speaking of standing out in a bad way, Kenji Ito produces two clunkers with his generic violin muzak arrangement of “Never Ending Sadness – Pain edit” and the laughable “Gray Memories – Floating edit”. “Gray Memories” has to be heard to be believed. Mix two parts bad decision (I’d like to know if Ito even listened to the beat when he put it down on the track) and one part stolen inspiration in the form of Hirota-esque female chanting (albeit poorly done) and you have one stinking pile of dookie.
Finally, there’s “The 3 Karma – Cogito, ergo sum”, an awesome remix of the final battle theme from Shadow Hearts II. It is definitely less intense than its soundtrack equivalent, but it still has some great qualities. Hirota, Mitsuda and Ito stretched this bad boy out to six minutes and threw in some acoustic guitar and manipulated vocals for extra spice. Like a parent with twins that I can never tell apart unless they’re wearing shirts embroidered with their names, I really can’t say which version of the theme I prefer over the other. I love ’em both.
While “near death experience” is a fairly solid album, it does have some shortcomings in the form of a few weak links on an otherwise strong chain. Some Shadow Hearts fans might be turned off by the more relaxed and pseudo-New Age vibe that most of the CD puts on. I would have initially included myself in this group but I grew to really enjoy and love the more pleasing arrangements for what they are after several listens. For fans of the series or more experimental and relaxed VGM, I’d say go for it and grab this puppy; for us Shadow Hearts fanatics this album is a sure winner. I will see you guys at the taping for Hirota’s Ed Sullivan performance — I’ll be wearing a red halter top in the front row.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by Tommy Ciulla. Last modified on August 1, 2012.