Turrican Soundtrack Anthology
Turrican Soundtrack Anthology
Chris Huelsbeck Productions
November 26, 2013
Download at Bandcamp
With Turrican, Chris Hülsbeck established himself as one of the finest game composers in the industry and became one of the first Western artists to receive international recognition. His work on the critically-acclaimed and fan-favorite European shooter platformer series pushed Amiga technology to its highest potential, while at the same time creating unforgettable melodies that are still in the minds of players to this day. After nearly two decades of being completely dormant, Turrican finally returned. However, its comeback was not in the form of a new game, but instead something that had been in high demand for years: a complete soundtrack anthology.
This ambitious project was considered too huge for private funding, and thus was placed on Kickstarter, a popular resource that has now become the go-to medium for developers wishing to make their ideas reality. Hülsbeck promised that the Turrican Soundtrack Anthology would contain the full scores for the original Amiga trilogy, newly remastered with modern technology. Initially asking for $75,000, the project reached its funding goal in only two weeks. It went to make a grand total of over $175,500, allowing a fourth disc with bonus tracks to be included with the release. By its end, Turrican Soundtrack Anthology was one of the most successful Kickstarter projects in history. With all the money involved and the massive hype, this album clearly has a lot to live up to. But as expected with the high standard set forth by Chris Hülsbeck, it fully exceeds expectations and represents the definitive Turrican listening experience.
The first disc is dedicated to the remastered score for the original Turrican. The first Turrican track “Shoot or Die” makes it seem like the series was never gone from the limelight. Hearing Hülsbeck’s seminal theme was the moment I became fully convinced that those hundreds of thousands of dollars and months of hype were all worth it in the making of this album. The brand new synthesizers are joined with deeper percussion and electric guitar solos. From the beginning, new life is breathed into these old tracks.
“Mountain Madness” re-introduces another memorable Turrican theme, and is once again benefited by the new sound system. I even found myself tapping my foot while listening to the enhanced drum beats, while enjoying every moment of its melody. “Thunder Plains” continues with a similar upbeat percussion/synth melody, but feels lighter and airy. The intensity is further built up with the new remastering of “Fistful of Steel,” making the ominous boss track all the more effective. Hülsbeck demonstrates his darker style with pieces like “Outpost” and “Enemy Mine.” The former benefits from low octave bass and industrial-beat melody that has far more resonance now with the new percussion effects, while the latter utilizes haunting choral synth that’s not unlike the ones heard in the acclaimed SNES platformer Super Metroid, though obviously is more enhanced due to the modern sound update.
“Techno Dungeon” is one of the stand-outs on this release, piano bars and richer bass adding in sound aspects that simply were not possible with Amiga hardware. On the other hand, “Base Invader,” “Flightmare,” and “Pathfinder” have improvements that are more superficial due to the original tracks already having great sound. “Tower of Morgul” sounds akin to an improvised synth jam session in an old studio, but additionally features great melodic progression and a nice fade-out. Reaching the end of the first disc, “Faces of Terror” has Manus Buchart on electric guitar. While I enjoyed his performance, I found it a bit brief to say the least as the track does not even reach the 2:20 mark. The ending theme to Turrican, “Victory,” is given a superb arrangement here, making an excellent collection of thematic melodies all the more sweet.
The score for the game is complimented by two extra bonus tracks. First up is “Transformers Medley 2013,” composed by the legendary Vince DiCola, known for his scores on the animated Transformers film and Rocky IV. The piece itself will definitely be standard fare for fans of the composer, but I have to wonder why synth orchestration was used seeing as Hülsbeck already had hired the WDR Radio Orchestra to do work on this anthology (Disc 4). Regardless, it’s a spirited endeavor definitely worthy of the Turrican legacy, especially in regard to its piano and electric guitar performances. DiCola being featured on this album is a reunion in it and of itself; Hülsbeck was heavily inspired by the Hollywood composer when writing the original Turrican score. Having him here is nostalgically coming full circle. The other bonus track is simply an enhanced medley of the “Loader” tracks from the game. Despite the individual pieces’ short runtimes, they are memorable little pieces that are anything but forgettable filler.
Turrican II: The Final Fight
Oh yeah, now we get to the great stuff. Every major game composer has what they consider to be their masterpiece, and Turrican II: The Final Fight is undoubtedly Chris Hülsbeck’s. I already found his score on the original game to be fantastic, but the sequel blew it completely out of the water. High quality synths? Check. Memorable melodies? You bet. Kick-ass composition that rivals that of cinematic scores? Don’t even ask. As one can imagine, the idea of “enhancing” or dare I even say “remaking” such a breathtaking soundtrack left me both excited and concerned. Could Hülsbeck pull it off in making his finest work even better? Once again, my expectations were completely exceeded moreso than I could ever have imagined.
Holy hot-damn, Hülsbeck’s remastering of Turrican II’s main theme is nothing short of pure electronic ecstasy. Up there with “One Night in Neo Kobe City,” “Theme of Solid Snake,” and “Welcome to Rapture,” “The Final Fight” is one of the best opening tracks to any game I’ve ever heard. What we’re given is seven straight minutes of unforgettable melodies, addicting techno beats, crisp percussion, and looping improvisation. You simply have to hear it to believe it.
After that spectacular introduction, we are treated to the rest of Turrican II’s excellent score. The warping synth in the background leads into the stage’s epic melody that gives off the feeling of an adventure just beginning. This is also evident in the track’s later portion which goes off into ominous ambience hinting at the danger ahead. “Traps” hints at the Turrican theme several times, but focuses more on an original upbeat rhythm that’s mixed in with darker synths. “Warhead” takes this even further, being exceedingly menacing and haunting. All of this is of course enhanced greatly by Hülsbeck’s impeccable new sound design for this album.
The updated version of “Exploring Secret Dungeons” truly shines through with the use of live electric guitar courtesy of Charlie Siete, who later returns on the fourth disc. “The Great Bath,” follows with a melody that’s deliciously melancholic and surprisingly waltz-like. “Metal Stars” and “Check the Gripper” on the other hand offer a dazzling fusion of funk and techno, a combination that works exceedingly well. Then comes Hülsbeck’s famous “Concerto for Lasers and Enemies.” In the compositional style of a militaristic orchestra piece, it feels right at home with Turrican space-opera setting.
“Go for the Gunhed,” what I can assume to be a boss-fight track, has heavy use of percussion with echoic synth notes in the background. A later track, “Dragonfight” is similarly composed, though feels more industrial. Next is the heroic “Unidirectional Fight,” with a militaristic melody. There’s plenty of fast-paced action in the later portion of the soundtrack. “Powerslide Into Hypercycle Drive” opens with synthesized words and primarily utilizes face-paced arcadey sound, while “The Wall” is deeply urban with its low octave keys and electronic pings towards the end. It matches the in-game context brilliantly while still satisfying on a stand-alone basis.
Another industrial theme, “Mr. Walker and His Factory” begins oddly with ambience, transitions into hip-hop synth, and uses throughout what sounds like metallic percussion. “The Final Challenge” is absolutely fantastic, harkening back to the main themes established by the introductory cutscene as our main character shoots his way through the difficult last stage. “Go For the Nuke” is everything a final boss theme should be: nail-bitingly tense, dark, and chilling. “Freedom” and “The Hero” finish Turrican II off spectacularly, recounting old themes with melancholic melodies as the credits role. Hearing these will undoubtedly trigger memories of those long evenings sitting in front of an Amiga screen for hours on end wanting to reach the conclusion. And once again, Hülsbeck’s dazzling remaster allows key tracks like these to meet their fullest potential.
The second disc closes with a new remix of fan-favorite Turrican II track “The Final Fight” by indie guitar group Machinae Supremacy. Quite simply, it’s a fantastic look at one of the best pieces from the game. From start to finish, it’s a jamming kick-ass remix that’s full of passion, energy, and sheer charisma to the source material. A must listen, and one of the best new highlights on this release. Overall, the Turrican II disc alone is worth the price of the entire Anthology. It’s a labor of love to Hülsbeck’s masterpiece, and astonishingly even surpasses the original soundtrack.
Turrican 3: Payment Day
Rounding off the main trilogy is Turrican 3: Payment Day. The swan song to the Amiga, it was a bold farewell that delivered one last great hit. Sound-wise, the quality was excellent, though I personally felt that melodies were a slight notch below the previous games. Regardless, what’s featured on this anthology is an excellent update that blows the original away and makes me enjoy it far more than when it was originally released. You know that you’ve succeeded when you can manage to change my entire opinion on a score. That’s exactly what Chris Hülsbeck does with the Turrican 3 soundtrack. With this update, now it can finally take its rightful place in being on par with the other two games. Tracks I thought had forgettable melodies now come out stronger than ever with fantastic instrumentation and mixing.
Hearing “Payment Day” makes me forget that this was ever even an Amiga game. This track could easily fit with a 1980s action film or current indie game given its excellent sound production values. Ominous piano lines open the piece, later joined by synth lines and a drum kit. The game’s faster-paced main theme is then introduced, leading into some improvisation and great percussion backing. All in all, it’s a fantastic opener and a worthy successor to “The Final Fight.”
“Factory Action” on the other hand feels upbeat and spirited. Its composition is very akin to the stages of Mega Man 2, especially with the repeated melodic intervals that pop out even more with the new sound. The similarly composed tracks “The Elevator,” “Second Floor,” and “Meat Beast Boss” all start off simply enough, but quickly build up melodically, becoming a blend of techno and ominous ambience. “Platform Action” is absolutely fantastic with its transition from dark organ-like synths to a memorable melody of fast-paced electronica. “Wet Dungeon” on the other hand has an engrossing and mysterious melody that sounds better than ever.
“Do the Bath Man” is slower in tempo compared to the other tracks, but is packed with great percussion and electronic blips. “Swim or Die” is appropriately titled, befitting of its underwater setting and almost sounding like the twisted counterpart to Donkey Kong Country’s atmospheric “Aquatic Ambience.” The following track “Sea Monster Boss” picks up the pace, benefiting greatly from enhanced choral synth. Things change from ocean to sky however with “Air Combat.” A melody that’s quite akin to “Beginning” from Castlevania III, Romeo Knight’s jamming electric guitar riffs are paired with unmatched synth and percussion mixing. Even “Penultimate” and “The Machine,” tracks I somewhat dismissed as fillers, now are fully fleshed out having excellent mixing and melodies.
“Scrap Yard” is divided into two parts. Although I didn’t really care for the original version, I was completely into this new version. It feels far livelier and spirited, especially due to Manus Buchart’s and Josh Fossgreen’s passionate guitar performances. “Crane Boss” is a progressive build-up of bass and urban synths, being a fast-paced and frantic boss battle theme. “Alien Disaster” is a soundscape showcase of militaristic drums and industrial ambience, almost having a cinematic feel from a Ridley Scott sci-fi. Meanwhile “Screw Nut Hall” has a downbeat but techno progressive melody, while “Climb to Survive” is just as powerful and impressive as its original version, being all the more successful here. “Hall of Heroes” combines Hollywood-style strings and mesmerizing guitar chords into a satisfying conclusion. This is further exemplified with “Credits,” finishing off the score strongly with melancholic piano bars, jazzy beats, and of course Hülsbeck’s trademark synth.
The bonus track included on the disc is a remix of “Payment Day” by veteran British composer Allister Brimble. His direction is an interesting take on Hülsbeck’s piece, focusing more on strings and minimalistic electronic notes, later adding in electric guitar. An all-around memorable and superbly crafted interpretation. Turrican II will always be my favorite, however Hülsbeck has proven to me that he can not only compose an excellent follow-up, but fix any and all imperfections that ever existed. With this disc, he has transformed a good score into a great one.
Turrican Soundtrack Anthology could have ended at Disc 3, but due to exceeding its original financial goal, a full-fledge fourth disc was included. Like the rest of the collection, utmost care was put into the creation of it, making it anything but a forgettable throwaway bonus. On the contrary, it actually features some of the best tracks included!
An eleven minute orchestral medley opens Disc 4, “Turrican II – Anthology Suite.” This was a newly crafted professional recording specifically made for this release, and the results are simply masterful. The WDR Radio Orchestra & WDR Radio Choir, the same symphony responsible for the Symphonic Game Music Concerts series, performs Roger Wanamo’s arrangement with absolute precision and skill. Hearing the orchestra’s passionate takes on such tracks like “The Final Fight,” and “Concerto for Lasers and Enemies” brought a chill down my spine. The chorus in particular singing the notes to “The Great Bath” will bring a tear to the eye of any Turrican fan. This suite is a pure love letter to the series, and hits every note with pure pathos.
The next tracks are remixes of the soundtracks for Super Turrican, Mega Turrican, and Super Turrican 2 by long-time friend and associate colleague of Chris Hülsbeck’s, Fabian Del Priore. Super Turrican and Mega Turrican themselves were already remixes of Turrican 3’s score for different hardware, so at this point it can easily be said that these melodies have been through just about everything. While one would think that there’s nothing to be done with tracks that are already arranged, Priore is still able to craft something fresh and exciting.
Most of his remixes such as “Space Chaos,” “Buggy Panic,” and “Desert Storm” use synth orchestration, quirky synths, and other innovative mixing. The highlights though are the ones that use live musicians in recordings that are similar to studio jam sessions. “Steam and Pressure” has charged hard rock, distant piano notes, and killer percussion that provide much musical variety throughout its nearly five minute runtime. “Born to Be Wild” and “Wormland” feature similar rock instrumentation, additionally with frenetically paced synth lines. “Face the Sunset,” “Boss-A-Nova,” and “Farewell” close the disc off with more fantastic electric guitar arrangements. VGM lovers of rock will be in heaven.
Is it possible to give this album a score even higher than perfect? I came into Turrican knowing absolutely nothing about the series or its music. Yet in my many months of being exposed to it, I have formed an affinity that I only wish I could have felt when the series originally made its debut. Absolutely every aspect of this anthology is superb. The flawless remastering. Classic tracks given new life. Old scores becoming innovative and great once again. The sublime new arrangements performed with absolutely care and passion. Simply holding this physical CD set in my hands is a testament to how far the video game music industry has come and the fact that such projects can happen due to the pure love of the fans. Whether you’re a longtime veteran of the series, a newbie like me, or someone with any appreciation for video game music; the Turrican Soundtrack Anthology is a must-own. And in an age where CDs are slowly fading away, I urge everyone to buy the physical release. This is a collection that should be in every listener’s library. It earns my full praise and a hearty recommendation.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on December 14, 2014 by Oliver Jia. Last modified on August 12, 2015.