Van Gough might not be a familiar name for game music fans, and I’ll admit I had never heard of them until very recently. They are an Oklahoma City based power metal band, headed by the multi-talented Clay Withrow. While their styles is very different, they can in some ways be compared to Powerglove’s inspiration from Dragonforce, as Van Gough use a style of playing very much inspired by other well known acts like Dream Theater. Over the years, they have released a few very well received albums under both the Van Gough band name and Withrow himself doing solo work.
One very constant thing with the original music Van Gough makes is the immediate inspiration of video game music. Reviews and fans of their older works have often noted this, and Van Gough realized to take their video game love one step further and create a new album consisting of only video game arrangements. With a fresh name with a fresh approach, you’re always in for an interesting album.
Read the review after the jump
The CD comes in very nice and artistic foldout cardboard, with the front artwork featuring a shadowy figure carrying an arsenal of various kinds, and a dark red color scheme, giving it a very violent and intimidating look. The logo for the album itself is modeled after the Castlevania logo. The artwork across the entire packaging was done by Alex Yarborough, and it’s very consistent and simple, while still being quite effective showcasing the mood of the actual music and band. Usually you’ll see bands start out focusing on game arrangements and eventually move on to do original works, but here you got the interesting scenario of a band who’s been successful with their original material going into doing game arrangements. As I mentioned before this creates a very interesting take on the idea, and one way of telling is the tracklist. While you’ll find many classics here that have been done many times in the game arrangement community over the years, it also features some games which almost never gets the treatment it deserves.
A few of those titles are Wave Race 64, Star Fox, Metroid Prime and Killer Instinct. A problem with many of the albums that come out from the community is the reliance on fan favorite material, which many listeners have been forever desensitized to, and the result is that they all blend together and have trouble sticking out. This album is a bit more clever as they alternate a lot between the popular and less known sources, and as such it doesn’t feel stale. In addition to Withrow on guitars, bass and keyboards, the CD also features Brandon Lopez on drums, Abe Hartley on backup keyboards and Carlton Dorsey on additional bass tracks. The CD features all live instruments.
The style of the music is very melodic and hard hitting, with solid guitar playing pretty much all throughout. This album was made in between working on their new original CD, and the liner note explains the process of arranging all the different tracks, which again adds a nice personal touch to the packaging. As you’ll read the liner notes and discover the time frame of when the different songs were recorded and arranged, you’ll notice that the songs do have slightly varying qualities, as the first song, Mega Man 2’s “Wily’s Castle”, is very straight forward, and the mix is kinda shaky. The song is slowed down, drums are a bit flat, but the performance overall is enjoyable, and I’m glad to say that it’s the only real dud, and Van Gough were smart enough to explain the reason on the CD itself, so I won’t criticize it too much.
As the album progresses, it gets better pretty much on a per track basis. Wave Race 64 was one of my favorite titles on N64, and I was very happy to see it featured on the CD. This song is a medley of the “Title Theme” and “Marine Fortress”, and it’s features some really good guitar work, especially the solos. The drums here are mixed much better, and the punch it delivers perfectly backs up the guitar and synth. It has somewhat of a Jun Senoue feeling, which comes back multiple times on this CD. They also did a Super Castlevania IV medley consisting of “Simon’s Theme”, “Beginning”, “Cave”, “Into The Castle” and “Bloody Tears”. While Castlevania has been done many times, what I really like about this medley is that the mood changes along with the melody, and captures the essence of Castlevania quite well. The performance is at its strongest here, and Van Gough really delivers.
2 other songs that I found notable was the “Green Hill Terror” medley, consisting of tracks from Sonic The Hedgehog. They arrange the tracks quite heavily, adding a more melodic sound to some of the tracks and again the change of mood and atmosphere to represent the different sources. It’s very clever and gives the medley a unique feeling. The other song is “Corneria” from StarFox. It’s a soundtrack, while previously featured on some albums, that deserves more attention. “Corneria” is the most famous track from the game, and again is quite solid work, with the song being more synth based fittingly. It breaks down midway into this really nice slow section with acoustics along with the synth before kicking back into metal territory.
One of my favorite tracks of the album however is “Killer Instinct”. The melody is not only based on Killer Instinct from RARE, but it also works as an original track showcasing more of Van Gough’s style outside of these game arrangements. Some of the title track melody from the game is worked in, which is very similar to the arrangement done on Killer Cuts, which was released along with the game on the SNES release. The original parts added and the variations to the melody keeps both the arrangement and original impressive all the way.
In addition to these tracks, you’ll see Super Mario Bros, Metroid Prime 2 and Donkey Kong Country, and the Metroid Prime 2 track especially is quite wonderful, with awesome atmosphere and wide sound scape, at 7 minutes length. While my expectations to the album was more or less neutral seeing I had no previous experience with them, this album definitely impressed me, and best of all, it made me interested in their original works, thanks to the good production values and the clever showcasing of some original melodies worked into the arrangements. After hearing this album, I’m quite interested in hearing more from the band in the future. Maybe MAGFest could approach them to do a live show?
Game On! will be released on April 27th
Available at: Official Van Gough WebsiteTags: Arrangements, Castlevania, Killer Instinct, Mega Man, Power Metal, Remixes, Van Gough, Wave Race 64