December marked the release of Symphonic Shades, the album release for the highly-praised concert that took place in Germany last year featuring the music of veteran composer Chris Hülsbeck. It features orchestrated arrangements from many classic games, including titles such as Turrican and R-Type. With only 1,000 copies having been printed, we were fortunate enough to be able to review this album, so join us after the jump.
I must confess that a large factor in my enjoyment of game music would be the sense of nostalgia. Unfortunately for me, I never had the pleasure of growing up with a Commodore 64 or Amiga, so I was afraid that this album may be lost on me. The only benefit I saw to this being that I could objectively review the music for what it was, and to put it simply, it was amazing.
The case itself is rather unassuming. You have what looks like Robocop in a metal tux with a laser powered baton on the cover, and the track list features the names of the games which were arranged. It would be hard to imagine a title like Grand Monster Slam sounding like anything but a mix of Tecmo Super bowl, and maybe One Winged Angel. You can, however, imagine my surprise when it turned out to be a beautifully orchestrated theme that could easily be mistaken for a film score.
Ranging from a piano solo, to a full symphony and a choir, the title of the album certainly fits. After one play through, I found myself hitting up YouTube trying to find examples from the original scores. It didn’t take long for me to connect with the music, and gain a better understanding of what was accomplished with this album. Suffice to say, the arrangements themselves were masterfully done. It also becomes apparent that a lot of thought was put into the ordering of the tracks, for example, Rony Barrak‘s percussion solo transitions perfectly into the suite from Tunnel B1. Also included on the album is the original song “Karawane der Elefanten”, which I believe translates roughly to “Elephant Caravan”, though don’t quote me on that. The song easily captures the grandiose feeling of elephants marching with string runs, heavy brass and a choir, separated by lighter sections that keep the piece flowing.
From what I gathered, the recordings primarily took place over the course of two concerts with some studio recordings thrown in. You’d have to really give the album’s production credit for making these additions almost seamless. For an album with live recordings, they certainly came out rather crisp and vibrant. I was also impressed with the length of many of the tracks. The majority come in at over 4 minutes in length, including the nine minute epic main theme from Turrican II, which rounds out disc.
With 15 tracks in total, Hülsbeck gives us a full CD of beautiful orchestrations which are arranged so well that you’ll enjoy them even if you’ve never played any of the games. Perhaps my only complaint lies in the fact that the booklet, which is presented with glossy paper with fully colored prints, and a high quality case to hold it in, is entirely in German. While I couldn’t understand the majority of the liner notes, thus making this review slightly more difficult, it was truly trivial considering the quality of the music itself. Do us a favor and pick up a copy if you can find one, and if you can’t, you’re still in luck. Word has it that there are new concerts planned for later this year. Though, if you live in the states, you might need a passport.Tags: Chris Hülsbeck, Concerts, Germany, Reviews, Symphonic Shades, Turrican