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Seven Sword-Swinging Beats: The Scythian Steppes (Review)

June 26, 2012 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook Seven Sword-Swinging Beats: The Scythian Steppes (Review)on Twitter

Last year, an indie adventure game was released for iOS called Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP that ended up being an underground hit amongst indie gamers. It ended up winning Independent Games Festival Mobile Achievement in Art award, and gained more notoriety by being included on the Humble Indie Bundle V pack last month. It was also ported to PC and is now available on Steam.

Not a bad go of it for Capybara Games or game composer Jim Guthrie by any means.

Now that Sword & Sworcery is about to be released in Japan for gamers in the land of the rising sun to enjoy (with big thanks to the two-way localization house 8-4), some of their local and best-known composers have decided to put their particular spin on the game’s music for the localized debut with the arranged album The Scythian Steppes. The names of these composers should ring a bell with some: Yamane, Yamaoka, & Suzuki are just a few of them.

Take a listen to the new spin on Guthrie’s “Thrillmarillion” soundtrack after the jump.

Coming from someone who didn’t have the pleasure of playing Sword & Sworcery, I knew it was going to be difficult to really identify with Scythian Steppes, even moreso because I hadn’t sampled Jim Guthrie’s original renditions of the soundtrack. As with a lot of gamers and music enthusiasts, our attachment to certain themes and songs comes from the experiences and emotional triggers that can be associated with particular tunes. Thankfully the challenge was an enjoyable one, especially when not only being subjected to fantastic original music, but also being able to pick out the hints of influence from the contributing composers.

Mitsuto Suzuki did the arrangement for the first track “Little Furnace,” and his ambient electronic style can be heard in the form of soft and almost distant bell-work and calming synths that make you feel like you’re flying through serene skies. Coupled with the track’s amazing drum work that really brings home the rhythm of the piece, and you have a fantastic opener to what will prove to be a fun and diverse album.

“Ballad of the Space Babies,” rearranged by macotom3, is a fun tune with a very distinct “pop-like” melody to it, with traces of techno sprinkled about. The synths are heavier in this, with ambient vocals strung-about that accent the melody nicely and give it a slight 8-bit chiptune feel to the whole song. This offsets the more mellow and down-to-earth beat from “Lone Star,” rearranged by Baiyon, that features a more bass-heavy tone and repetitive rhythms in the first half of the song. The melody doesn’t start building up until about halfway through the song, leaving you to wonder if the odd vocal rifts and emphasis on bass are all the tune will offer, which is pretty much the prevalent and defining part of the entire piece and leaves a bit to be desired if you’re looking for more melodic and catchy beats like with “Space Babies.”

Decasségui Hip features two tracks on the album he contributed to. “The Maelstrom” is an ambient piece that focuses on slow piano work, complimented with a myriad of background sounds from crickets to rainfall and augmented with synths. The tune is very relaxing and not too complicated with what was added to it, though some of the overlapping background additions may seem overpowering at points. The second track, “The Prettiest Weed,” amps up the rhythm with a techno-beat and varying synth channels that intersect with some distinct piano and string notes. This provides a more energy-driven melody that complements “Maelstrom” and its more subdued tone.

Michiru Yamane provides her touch to “Unknowable Geometry,” which starts with some low flute-work and strings to start things off. It then turns to a more energetic mood, where Yamane’s flavor starts to shine through with the strings that sound amazingly reminiscent to “Garden Forgotten by Time” from her work in Castlevania: Lament of Innocence. There’s an emotional drive injected into the melody that gives the piece a lot of power, and was probably — not surprisingly — my favorite piece on the album.

Last on the album is “Bones McCoy” (I love the piece for the title alone, being a Trek fan) that has been augmented by Akira Yamaoka, which becomes very evident about a minute into the piece. Starting off with with ominous piano and key work, the tune blasts into heavy guitar and drum addition that fully transform the song from ominous to a twisted head-banging delight. Yamaoka’s guitar melody is made manifest about halfway-through, giving the piece not only a incredible beat, but also a eerie soul of sorts that wraps up the album delightfully.

For $5 on Bandcamp, The Scythian Steppes is worth the buy. Even if you are like me and have no connection to the Sword & Sworcery game or the original music by Jim Guthrie, I highly recommend giving this remixed album a listen-through for its diversity and for the wide variety of talent that not only created the music but also contributed to its makeover.

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