Contra -Shattered Soldier- Original Soundtrack
Contra -Shattered Soldier- Original Soundtrack
Konami Media Entertainment
December 18, 2002
Buy at CDJapan
With Contra: Shattered Soldier, known in Japan as Shin Contra, Konami managed to do the right thing by bringing back the series to its heart and soul. Reintroducing crazy, intense, and out-of-this-world action sequences along with some hard-as-nails challenges, it was an awesome blast of mental gameplay sections that are as Contra as it can get. To accompany this kickass-fest, some very appropriate music was composed by Sota Fujimori and Akira Yamaoka. While most people know and love Yamaoka’s work primarily for his atmospheric contribution to the Silent Hill franchise, he has also created a wide range of other music. In the case of Shin Contra, Yamaoka lets his inner metalhead come out full-force, rampaging everything in sight with his hard-edged and guitar-driven performance. Similar to his work on Gungage, Fujimori meanwhile managed most of the other electronica and trance-styled segments of the rest of the score. Despite being an undeniable winner in context, their resultant score is still slightly troublesome as a stand-alone listen. Let’s nevertheless see how the soundtrack fares outside of the chaotic and adrenaline-fueled scenery of the game…
It’s universal knowledge that Contra is one of the manliest game franchises in existence, and that’s a fact doesn’t require any explanations. Even the package of the Shin Contra Original Soundtrack doesn’t shy away of that by having a dangerous crimson-colored package and beautiful artwork of “provocative” ladies. Which brings me to Yamaoka’s opening track “Venus”. Here the listener is immediately bombarded with heavy guitar riffs and intense drumming that don’t provide any melody whatsoever, but merely a sonic fusion of heaviness and rhythm. Despite not being musically complex, the track manages to capture the listener’s attention and provides a somewhat memorable opening to the rest of the album. For better or worse, “Venus” lays the foundation of Yamaoka’s style of non-melodic heavy metal jams that are presented throughout the rest of the soundtrack.
While Yamaoka’s guitar-focused contributions to Contra: Shattered Soldier is undeniably energetic and impressive, it is slightly repetitive and for some it will feel like he was rather lazy when creating the score. This, of course, is not due to his lack of talent, but merely trying to contextually adapt his music for the intense action of the game. Unfortunately, this is quite problematic, because not only the music is extremely heavy to the point that it requires an appreciation of the heavy metal genre, but has a more rhythmic and riff-based focus rather a melodic one, something that might not be welcomed by most game music enthusiasts. Material such as the “Mountains Area” theme are likely to be especially inaccessible to mainstream listeners.
Despite these shortcomings, Mr. Yamaoka really knows how to rock hard. Tracks like “Fortress”, “Mountains Area”, “Hell Drive”, and “Sky to the Ocean” are all full of fast and scorching electric guitar riffs in conjunction with some really intense percussion. On top of that, various electronic textures and under-layering help in making each individual track much more interesting and fitting for the futuristic setting of the game. Likewise “Slave Beast Taka” can be described as an industrial nightmare, with its trashy and chaotic electronic percussion and distorted guitars.
Despite his mainly guitar-focused approach, Yamaoka contributed also some more electronica-influenced tracks, and as well managed and produced the characterizing sound of the score. “Select Stage” is an interesting mix of dramatic string sections and electronic under-layering that result into a climatic but brief interlude to the chaos of the rest of the soundtrack. “Islands” is a drug-induced arrangement of the classic “Jungle” theme from the first Contra, and features frantic electronic leads and a very over-the-top attitude… Speaking of over-the-top, I find it impossible to write “Super Power Robot Yakozuna Jr.” without smiling. Even the track itself is an extravagant mix of vocal samples, pumping beats, and various trance elements, that make it quite fun to listen. EOn the other hand, “Maximum Speed” mixes the previous heavy metal elements with aforementioned electonica, resulting in a blazing action theme. ven more interestingly, “Relic of Moirai” is an atmospheric theme full of hypnotizing beats and ethereal melodies, something that really stands out due to the rest of the aggressive themes.
Sota Fujimori’s contribution to the score is mostly electronic-influenced, mixing various trance and techno elements. Despite this fact, Fujimori’s music is just as heavy as Yamaoka’s metal tracks, featuring deep and heavy bass, intense beats, and loud trance leads. The best example for this, as well as one the best tracks of the album, is absolutely “Battle Train” which offers one hell of a futuristic trip full of blasting trance sounds and frantic electronic percussion. It’s truly a memorable and adrenaline-inducing track, serving its purpose well in both the stage and the soundtrack.
Fortunately, Fujimori manages to add substantial variety to his well-established style. “The Dusk Gathers”, “Jinmen-Gyo” and “Lance Lullaby” are catchy and entertaining electronic themes, while “Submarine Power Plant” is a fantastic mix of some catchy and well-heard samples. Even more surprisingly, “The Crawler Tank” and “A True Last Boss” take a pseudo-orchestral approach, and are quite cinematic in their execution. The former is particularly remarkable with its industrial elements mixed with orchestral elements that inspire urgency and danger.
The ending portion of the soundtrack is reserved for Akira Yamaoka’s last compositions. Most of these tracks are quite short, but are still well-executed. The most exceptional of the bunch are “Recollection” and “Dearest”. The former stands true to its title and features atmospheric sound effects that sound like they are played backwards, all this in conjunction to a minimalistic but catchy percussion. The latter follows the same heavy metal style previously heard, reintroducing intense riffs, scorching guitar leads, and hard-hitting and terrific drumming.
There are a few elements to the album presentation that might become issues for some, so they are worth addressing. Most themes don’t loop, resulting in slightly short play times, and some even end abruptly, flowing immediately into the next track. Despite this being an artistic choice, many perfectionists might want complete tracks that loop twice and have appropriate fades. Secondly, the way the various tracks are ordered can become quite confusing since after listening to Yamaoka’s metal track, the listener is later attacked by Fujimori’s electronic leads. Despite these issues could be problematic to some, sometimes they give more edge and personality to the otherwise well-produced and well-presented disc.
In the end, it’s very difficult to judge the Contra: Shattered Soldier soundtrack. Technically, it’s accomplished and very well-produced, and every instrument and sample is of high quality. Mot importantly, the soundtrack does its job superbly in-context, fitting extremely well for the futuristic setting and action-packed gameplay. Outside of context, the soundtrack is still very entertaining, but the lack of melodic focus, particularly on Yamaoka’s themes, could be potentially alienating to most people who don’t appreciate the respective genres. What’s more, the soundtrack features an incoherent mix of hard rocking jams alongside techno-flavored tracks, that might result into a tiresome listening experience. Also, the overall aggressiveness and intense nature of the album can become rather difficult to taste on one sitting. Ultimately, if you totally despise heavy metal, or electronic music for that matter, the divisive nature of the album is not be worth spending your money for. Otherwise, the soundtrack is what it is — a heavy, adrenaline-inducing, and futuristic aural trip to Contra’s hellish and dangerous landscapes full of intense action, chaos, alien monsters, and heart-pumping moments, and that is more than enough for some.
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Posted on August 1, 2012 by George Capi. Last modified on January 19, 2016.