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Collaborative Fan Album, Fire Pro M: Volume One (Review)

May 12, 2016 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook Collaborative Fan Album, Fire Pro M: Volume One (Review)on Twitter

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Sometimes you stumble upon a fascinating fandom, dip a tentative toe into their murky waters and then seize up in uncertainty, unsure if you’re ready for the plunge. Maybe it’s the world of Persona or a MOBA but for me it was Fire Pro Wrestling. A couple years ago I picked up Fire Pro Wrestling Returns because it was a PlayStation 2 game with sprites and that seemed uncommon. I’d heard the name and seen some scuzzy VHS dubs of Japanese wrestling in the 90’s but that was all the exposure I had. Bewildered by the game’s complex mechanics I turned to the internet and that’s when my toe hit the chilly surface of the Fire Pro waters.

First appearing in 1989 and with a library of 30+ titles steeped in the mystery of Japanese Pro Wrestling — saying nothing of the fan communities that have grown around them — I found myself frozen. “It wasn’t a lake,” I repeated the words of Alan Wake, “it was an ocean.” I shied away and haven’t invested myself in the game since but every now and then I think about the series. So when I was perusing Bandcamp last week and saw Fire Pro M: Volume One I couldn’t help but take a tentative look inside.

The album is a re-release of a 2009 collaboration from various Fire Pro communities and boldly states that it’s for Japanese wrestling game enthusiasts by Japanese wrestling game enthusiasts”. Despite that warning and the numerous names I’d not heard of — SonnyBone, Jason Blackhart, DJKM, RapidFire, Wackydeli, R’lyeh Liberation Front, OctoberRaven, Wonderland — I continued listening. I don’t think I understand Fire Pro any better but I’ve now spent more time with this album than any of the games in the franchise and think it’s worth a listen: fan, fanatic or not.

It isn’t the title track but your first stop should be “8-Bit Angel”, a remix of an original FPW theme with crunchy drums, humming bass and tinny melodies evocative of the NES. It’s fun and bouncy but it’s notable because of the text-to-speech sample at the bridge. The stilted vocaloid complains about the games, listing their shortcomings before labeling it “teh suxors”. You may not know the wrestling terminology but you can probably appreciate the derisive sentiment. It’s a good reminder that these fans deal with the same baseless hatred that might be thrown at your favorite niche games too. It helped me appreciate the rest of the album, even if the inside jokes and references flew right past me. The quality jams, chippy tunes and general weirdness don’t hurt either.

Back to the beginning, “Six Man Jamble” sets the stage with punchy beats and some wild chiptune guitar as it builds to a nice head-bopping pace. Changing styles is “Mellow Elbow” by Jason Blackhart. A cover of the track “Hyper Elbow”, it opens with acoustic bass guitar and a twinkly synth melody before a light piano interludes. It’s such a dramatic shift from the frantic sound of the original version that I’d put it on par with my beloved V-Jams in terms of classy covers.

Only slightly less acoustic is “Results of Tha Brainbustar”. It’s got a funky synth horn section that sings Fire Pro Wrestling G’s Results Screen tune in a wonderful staccato medley that backs up the the main theme. It feels like a wrestler donned a trenchcoat and fedora and set out into the jazzy noir underworld of Gunpoint. SonnyBone moves back towards the electronic with “Serious Time”, a darker cover whose grumbly low end reminds me of Grant Kirkhope’s Perfect Dark soundtrack punctuated by choppy percussion and high and low alternating synths.

Three other tracks, also from SonnyBone, round out what I’d call the wrestling-lite portion of the album. “It will be the Foundation of Your Training” has a mellow, spacey vibe with punctuated synths, a somber piano melody and airy choral samples. Similar in tone is “Human <3”, a wistful chiptune remix of Fire Pro Wrestling’s Options theme and a tribute to Human Entertainment, the founders of the series. Finally is “Rastar Scrawlz” that immediately hits with sawing synth guitars and crashing percussion reminiscent of “E1M1” from DOOM.

Track titles aside, everything up to this point has been mostly free of “wrestling talk” but here’s where it gets highly referential and not a little crass. But that’s the intercontinental world of wrestling for you. “[ ] + X” is a hip hop collaboration between RapidFire, SonnyBone and DJKM whose sound is entertaining but impenetrable even with the included lyric sheet. Equally baffling but highly listenable is “Violence Kouno” from OctoberRaven, FF Robot and SonnyBone. It’s another crunchy, thumping chiptune track with an added layer of text-to-speech shittalking that only makes sense to the FPW community but is nonetheless entertaining to listen to.

Even more entertaining is “Big Nasty Sunrise”, another chippy SonnyBone remix of Stan Hansen’s All Japan Pro Wrestling theme song. The tune races and rises with frantic drumming and charging synths but what really amps it up are the samples of Hansen. He goes on a classic pro wrestler tear, throwing accusations and insults perfect for sampling. In the context of the song his refrain of “you’re a copycat, I’m the real lariat” is enough to get the catchy song stuck in my head for days. It’s my favorite song on the album.

The original SonnyBone tune, “Old Dogs (I Just Jump)”, comes in his now-familiar style and thumps along with a low bassy melody. It’s the perfect backup for the samples of a dejected Dennis Stamp from the wrestling documentary, Beyond the Mat. It’s a short track but just as catchy and fun (and a little sad) as “Big Nasty Sunrise”. Then there’s “HOGAN’T” by wackydeli which is “a country western rock epic about one of the community’s greatest inside jokes” that I can’t even begin to tackle.

Fire Pro M: Volume One kinda did the trick for me: despite the in-jokes and references that I’m completely oblivious to the music made the whole thing feel more approachable. I’m not going import shopping anytime soon but I think I will give that PlayStation 2 game another shot. Even without an interest in Fire Pro (or wrestling in general) SonnyBone wraps the diverse contributions around his quality electronic style for an overall enjoyable album. It’s available now on Bandcamp for a pay-what-you-want price.

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