Shadow Hearts Arrange Tracks -Near Death Experience-
Shadow Hearts Arrange Tracks -Near Death Experience-
August 24, 2005
Buy at CDJapan
Relased on the same day as the Shadow Hearts -From the New World- Original Soundtrack, Shadow Hearts Arrange Tracks -Near Death Experience- is an arranged album featuring tracks and composers from all three games of the series. Yoshitaka Hirota, the man behind every Shadow Hearts album to date, arranges the majority of the tracks, all of which are his originally. Newcomer Tomoko Imoto, who had worked with Hirota on the most recent soundtrack, arranges two tracks, her “Wheel of Fortune,” from the 3rd installment of the series, and Hirota’s “Asian Parfait,” from the 1st game. Yasunori Mitsuda and Kenji Ito, who have both worked on Shadow Hearts: Covenant with Hirota, arrange two tracks each, both being their own original compositions. With some great arrangers, this album has very small chances of being bad. But… Is it good?
As the European battle theme from Shadow Hearts is the first arranged track and is also the name of the album, we can expect it to be good. While not as strong as “Brain Hopper,” the Chinese battle theme, the original is still enjoyable, and Hirota has made it even better this time. Gone is the lack of emotion the original suffered from, because the choir has been reworked, so it sounds more dynamic and fast-paced now. Hirota still uses the same guitar techniques he used before right from the start, and the guitar is accompanied by some percussion and some synth until the choir joins in. I don’t know if those women are singing lyrics or not, but I have to say the chanting sounds cool. At 0:51, the usual Hirota battle theme bass joins, and this is when the original theme begins, but, like I said before, with more briskness, like it should’ve been in the first place. Hirota didn’t change the instrumentation one bit; the guitar, wailing male choir, bass, percussion, and female choir are still there, though he did do some welcome changes, like giving more exposure to the female choir, for example. After a brief guitar interlude, the women come back in full force. I can’t get enough of that choir — it’s too awesome. Hirota, more experienced now, also improved the guitar lines, which were too repetitive in the original track and are sound great. I feel like this battle theme can now compete in the big leagues with other Shadow Hearts battle themes, like the new “Dead Fingers Talk.” It finally got the treatment it deserves. However, I must say that I was disappointed in the ending — after such a long guitar section, I expected something more, not just echoing notes.
For me, "Astaroth" marked the return of Mitsuda’s decent battle themes, which I had not heard since Chrono Trigger. Needless to say, I was excited that it was in this album. Heck, Mitsuda even arranged it himself. Unfortunately, the 8-minute note mix fails to be as good as the original, principally because the strange yet cool chanting dude is barely in this arrangement and a really awful female chanter takes his place in the last minute of the track, doing a poor job and ruining the whole thing. Mitsuda also repeats too many passages he shouldn’t repeat, and too low to boot, so everything else is louder and we can barely hear it. The cool dude chants a bit in the beginning and then that’s it. Out of 292 seconds, he is feature for less than 12. That’s a shame. Although the arrangement still feels like "Astaroth," it ultimately fails for focusing on bad repetitions and due to some really bad decisions on Mitsuda’s part.
Imoto’s first arrangement is fantastic. The original "The Wheel of Fortune" is nothing special, but this arrangement is almost as good as it gets. The "Fortuna" rendition aims for a "holy" effect, utilising a choir in a superb way. Of course, it’s the same melody as the original, which is the ‘ICARO’ theme, present in every Shadow Hearts soundtrack thus far. It’s therefore a rather important theme, so there was no way it could have been left out of this album. Even though Imoto repeats the theme several times, it’s not a problem, because of the way she does it. It’s first sung by an a capella female choir, then a harp accompanies a higher-pitched female choir, but here’s the thing: it sounds like they’re singing something, not just chanting. A woodwind instrument can also be heard at times, although it’s at very low volume. Soon after, a male choir is introduced briefly, along with a very soft string accompainiment. At 2:16, a short drum roll and a cymbal crash announce a new section of the track, which features bells, string and brass, along with some percussion as accompaniment. This is when it gets awesome. Unfortunately, the next part is quieter, and not so great; the female choir is now resting a bit, and the melody is being played by woodwinds, with a guitar accompaning it. At 3:17, a layer of strings is added, and it gives some much needed depth to that part of the arrangement. Thankfully, the female choir comes back and 4:24 marks the point where an organ backs up the ICAROin’ women, and then strings, winds, some percussion, and a guitar join in as well to produce the aforementioned "holy" feeling. What I don’t like is the ending. It feels sudden, like there is some more after it. Nonetheless, a fantastic arrangement.
With “Never Ending Sadness – Pain Edit”, Ito transforms a great string quartet track into a haunting piece for piano and violin, with some creepy kind of "windy" noises. The piano begins by itself, but soon after it’ll just serve as a pretty basic accompaniment for the violin, which plays the melody from the original "Never Ending Sadness." At 1:28, the piano gets to shine a little bit, playing the melody without the violin, but my favourite part comes when the violin returns suddenly in a startling manner at 1:21, playing a slow descending solo and then what I can only describe as a "frightening" melody. Though the piano accompanies this section, Hirota obviously hates prolonging this, so we return to the solo piano melody again for a short while. After that, the piano and violin repeat the beginning of the track, and end very discreetly. A great work by Ito here, folks.
“Ala of Sacrum – Spirit of the Air” is even weirder. This one features the same bizarre choices of sounds (relaxing sounds, like running water) and instruments, but goes one step further and adds some techno beats as well. Some synth effects begin this track, and these are soon joined by a tribal rhythm being played on some sort of drum. An acoustic guitar is also heard from time to time, and the whole ensemble really does give out an airy, natural feeling. At 1:44, the techno beats I mentioned before enter, and the same drums used before are reused, but the rhythm played is different, and the electronica complements it rather well. Some kind of flute joins the party at 2:14, and, soon after, you can hear some strings and synth way in the background. The melody sounds like something you would hear in those movies with tribes in, if you know what I mean. Now comes the weird part: at 2:44, the percussion goes AWOL, and in its place come an electric guitar and a choir. The transition between segments is not bad, though it feels sudden. Right before the percussion’s return, we get to hear more of running water, for some reason. It’s just there. Instruments start to go away, and we know the arrangement is almost over. The first to go is percussion, followed by the flute-like instrument. The track ends with some "natural" forest noises. It’s all very weird.
Mitsuda chooses to arrange the second Shadow Hearts game’s "Twilight Street" in a very simple way, using nothing but a piano and some very low synth noises for a good portion of the track. Up until 1:30, the arrangement is basically the original melody with some simple accompaniment on the piano. At 1:44, percussion joins in, and the piano gets a lot livelier, and a flute of some kind joins later on; you can tell it’s very Mitsuda-ish. The woodwind helps to recreate the mood of the original track, which was played in some European cities, like Paris, for example. The last portion of the piece is a repeat of the slow beginning, which is quite fitting.
Moving to “Deep in Coma”, it’s like Hirota chose the battle themes I dislike in purpose. I prefer "Vicious 1915" over "Deep in Coma" any day of the week. Anyway, that’s besides the point. After a looooong percussion-only intro, the now familiar singing-but-not-chanting female choir appears, but the track doesn’t really begin until 0:52, where we can hear strings way in the background, playing some sort of chord sequence. A problem I see with this track is that there’s too much ambience and not enough melody. I’m not a fan of electronica, so that’s why, and too much of the same rhythm over and over again can get tiring. At 1:38, we hear a woman chanting some more, and that is the beginning of the original "Deep in Coma," which was not sung, but played by an instrument instead. We finally get to hear something that really resembles the original battle theme, in the form of the female choir. There’s something about women and chorus that Hirota seems to have mastered, because I’ve yet to see him misuse such a choir. The arrangement doesn’t develop much further than this. The weird choir I mentioned before comes back, then the original’s "melody," then weird choir, and finally the end. I got tired of it.
The original "Asian Parfait" had a very distinctive Asian atmosphere, and I was glad to hear it was not gone. Not only is it still there, but Imoto greatly improved it! It begins with the main melody from the Shadow Hearts piece played on a violin with some rather innocent, playful accompaniment on winds, tuned percussion, and other instruments also featuring. Soon after, an Asian flute plays the same melody, now accompanied by some percussion and some traditional Asian instruments. I love that chime build-up at 0:42, because right after it, the strings play an awesome chord in the background. Speaking of chimes, they appear all the time throughout the arrangement, which is great, because they sound all magical, and that’s a nice image to project on the listeners’ minds. At 1:03, a violin or fiddle plays that same melody again, and that makes me want more of it, because we go back to listening to the flute straight afterwards. The track’s only real development begins at 2:04, which is when the now over-repeated melody gets some variation, albeit a small one. The only problem I see with this arrangement is that it relies waaaay too much on one simple melody, so, after repeated listens, it could get very annoying, despite being an above-average arrangement.
Moving to the ninth track, the once tense Japanese Map theme “Gray Memories” is now a weird electronica track that I simply cannot bring myself to like. Ito managed to mess everything up, even the echoing piano, because it’s way too repetitive. And "Floating Edit"? Floating on what? Crap? It feels like it. The only hint of the original theme is in the echoing piano, which is accompanied by a nasty, repetitive, electronic beat. At times, a wailing and echoing female choir chants something, but that doesn’t help the track at all. At 1:46, a violin joins in, and it’s the only good thing about the arrangement, but it’s gone in less than 30 seconds. Sometime later, at 3:16, the wailing female choir gets is accompanied by nothing more than very low synth beats, before the annoying rest comes back a few seconds later. This part is actually pretty cool, because it features an electric guitar. The problem is that it drags on for too long, making me want to turn it off, which I should have done right from the start.
Finally, my favourite arrangement of all is “The 3 Karma”. I didn’t think the original "The 3 Karma" could be improved in any way, but Hirota did it. Long gone is the original’s ample use of piano, as Hirota embraces strings now more than ever. A guitar begins by playing a passage that is situated in the middle of the original track, and so you realize this isn’t a regular arrangement. At 0:35, beats very reminiscent of the game version appear, and strings begin playing the melody shortly thereafter. Bells, also from the original version, appear and are used as accompaniment past the 1 minute mark. Then, the track’s original intro is played (still in the organ, just like in the game), but now it’s got strings backing it up. There’s nothing more awesome than strings used properly, like in this arrangement. Hirota uses them perfectly, playing both the melody and serving as a freaky accompaniment. At 3:11, another part of the original track is used, but, this time, with strings AND (a regular) choir responsible for the melody. The next section is another familiar one to the original T3K, but a choir was added. Then, the guitar plays a passage that would not seem out of place in Shadow Heart: Covenant‘s "The Fate ~ Cluster Amarylis." At 4:54, one of the coolest weird choruses appear, and lead us to the next section, which was a really creepy one on the original track, but these voices got the creepy factor up now, thanks to the use of both the game’s choir and a new one. Oh, and the violin also contributes to the creepiness. The final (unfortunately) part of the track is not as good as the rest, and features mainly a guitar, accompanied by creepy strings, and that’s it. It suddenly ends. This arrangement is a masterpiece. The ending doesn’t matter, because EVERYTHING ELSE completely shadows it. And I do mean everything, from the strings, to the choir, to the awesome guitar accompaniment, present throught the track, to the percussion, that’s always keeping our feet tapping, to the use of some parts of the original.
Hirota ends the album with another arrangement from the first game. "Sphere -qu-" was a very mysterious track on the Original Soundtrack, and was one of the weirder ones that album is famous for. It isn’t too impressive either, so it was a bit odd to see this track being arranged. I would be accurate in saying this arrangement is akin to the ones in "Brink of Time," because it’s really peculiar, has some additions that shouldn’t be there, yet it sounds right sometimes. I would go as far as saying it’s bizarre. It begins with some birds chirping, and the sound of running water, which are soon joined by a saxophone-type instrument. A cool beat is heard then (and will be heard, for the majority of this piece), and some low-pitched chords are the only thing that this arrangement and the original track have in common, besides the name. A fair warning, though: some patience is needed to listen to this track in its entirety, because a) it’s got barely any variation, b) it makes zero sense, with the birds and the river and the coins from the "Result" tracks, and c) those two reasons should be enough. It sure is an experimental arrangement, maybe too experimental for some people, so most should ignore this track. It is eerily relaxing, though.
I’ll keep it short: this album is fantastic. Apart from "Grey Memories," there is nothing that should keep
you from purchasing it. You know what? Forget about "Grey Memories." There is nothing that should keep you from buying this album. Hirota, Mitsuda, Ito and Imoto did a fantastic job here, and now they’ve made me want a new arrange album. If I were to rate each arranger, I would put Hirota first (because he was responsible for the best arrangement of the album: "The 3 Karma." I never knew it would be possible to beat the original, but there you go.), then Imoto ("The Wheel of Fortune" surprised me, and "Asian Parfait" is still a solid arrangement, despite repetition), followed by Mitsuda ("Twilight Street" is phenomenal), and then Ito (he’s in last because of "Grey Memories."). Since this album has just been released the other day, chances are it’s easy to find. Get it now at VGM World before it becomes a rarity and forces you to pay a second mortage on your house just to buy it on eBay.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on August 1, 2012 by Eduardo Friedman. Last modified on August 1, 2012.