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Soundtrack of the Month 08/2010: Deathsmiles

Soundtrack of the Month 08/2010: Deathsmiles

August 2, 2010 | | 3 Comments Share thison Facebook Soundtrack of the Month 08/2010: Deathsmileson Twitter

Last month we provided you a review of the bonus soundtrack for the North American release of Deathsmiles. The game, and soundtrack, were published via Aksys Games. The soundtrack was actually the “Premium Arrange” soundtrack, originally published for retail purchase in Japan by developer CAVE. It’s certainly a good album, but after posting that arranged soundtrack review, we realized some readers might want to know more about the OST itself.

Well, it’s quite a good OST. Virtually the entire score is composed by Manabu Namiki (Basiscape), and it upholds the high quality standard people have expected from “shmup” soundtracks. That’s why we’ve chosen to add it to our prestigious “Soundtrack of the Month” list. After the jump, check out a detailed review of this fantastic soundtrack.

Released in May 2008, the Deathsmiles Original Sound Track (catalog number CVST-0008) was a landmark success, but only for the relatively small group of people following CAVE’s games outside Japan. (As for the company’s popularity within Japan, I cannot testify, though I suspect it’s fairly well-known). As far as my ears can distill the information, this score has three key features: incredible electric guitar work, life-like “ethnic” instrumentation, and a reliance on both harmonic and non-tonal voice samples.

A great track to focus in on, as it exemplifies two of the three “draws” of the soundtrack I just identified, is track 6, “Lost Forest – Stage B-1.” It’s not a guitar-heavy track. In fact, it’s a breath of fresh air after all the guitar found to that point, and all the more guitar you’ll find after this point in the OST. But this track uses all manner of strange instruments, from tabla drums and crystalline chimes to low whistles and bandneon. Melodically, it’s a perfect blend of fun and suspenseful anxiety. What a great track.

If you want all three of the “draws,” including the crazy guitar, you want the Stage A-1 theme “Burning Halloween Town” (track 2). Yes, piano and organ carry the melody for the most part, but the synthesized “rhythm section” includes all sorts of cool stuff. The orchestra hit and the creepy announcer voice at the beginning is such a great setup. And then, bam!, you’re right in the middle of the action.

Most of the music I find myself drawn to on this OST are the Stage _-1 tracks. For some reason, I don’t always cling to the 2nd half of a stage’s music. It’s a strange pattern, but it’s true, at least for me. A-1 is a perfect opener, B-1 is great, C-1 (Rebellion of the Lake Village) is great. And let’s not forget Final-1, “Hades Castle.” If you were looking for lots of vocal choir and chanting, this is the place to go. When comparing this OST to the two arranged albums released for Deathsmiles, very rarely is the original clearly superior to any arrangement. But in the case of “Hades Castle,” I think we have a case where the original just holds stronger than anything else. And at 6 minutes, with minimal looping and its own solo sections, people will be satisfied with the quality of this track in its original form. You can’t top perfection, after all.

There are a few weak spots on the OST, however. My least favorite track, without question, is “Hell’s Emperor.” Why? Because it’s lazy. It’s Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” spelled out, note-for-note, on organ, occasionally using a synth voice choir to strengthen it. And that’s all it is, for 3 minutes. Yes, they screw with the tempo a bit, but it’s little more than a transposition from sheet music to sequencer. That’s not to say it’s a bad song. Hell, it’s a great song! It’s one of Bach’s most well-recognized pieces! But I’d rather just go to a concert and hear a live performance, and I don’t see the value of making it the Final Boss music. This soundtrack thrives on originality, so why steal from a 400-year-old piece of music?

Some listeners may also find themselves disappointed with the two lyrical vocal tracks, “Period” (ending theme) and “Mad Symphony Death Smiles” (image song). The former is a simple jazz-pop ballad with some of the Baroque influence (harpsichord) and a male vocalist. For me, the best part of the song is the final minute, where all the vocals drop and you just have a nice chord progression against piano and pad synthesizers. Vocal samples of what sounds like children talking (though I assume these are characters from the game) really adds to the sentimental sound. The image song, on the other hand, is an allegro pop-rock ballad with female vocals. The chorus is a little awkward, because trying to say “Deathsmiles” in Japanese is hard. “Desusumairuzu!” — yeah, awkward.

The game’s six main characters are given some time on the OST disc as well: about 40 seconds each for a voice collection. Windia, Casper, Follet, Rosa, Sakura, and yes, even Jitterbug. They’re all there, yelling their special attack names, laughing, and letting out their death screams. Fantastic.

One track missing from the OST is Stage Extra-2. I don’t think it had even been written at the time (it’s a DLC level, if I’m not mistaken). That’s why the track was included on the Premium Arrange disc: it wasn’t yet written when the OST was published. It’s a shame, because it’s one of Namiki’s best tracks.

But really, almost every track on this album is a winner. You don’t need to be a die-hard shmup fan to enjoy this soundtrack. I’ve tested my premise by playing this one in the car with non-gamers listening, and they were able to get into it. As a matter of fact, I myself am rather noob-like when it comes to shmups. I’m familiar, on a cursory level, with most of CAVE’s games, and I know about plenty of other titles, including old Konami titles. But I’m not as well-versed in this stuff as I am with, say, the Falcom discography. One thing I do know, however, is that the Deathsmiles soundtrack rises to the top when you try to mix it with the rest of the stuff out there. This is one of the best soundtracks from any Basiscape team member, not just Manabu Namiki.

I should also note the “desktop accessory” bonus that comes with the OST. It’s the full deal, making you feel like you’re in the ’90s again. Icons, wallpaper, screen savers, sound clips, even a trailer movie. Good times!

Obligatory “call and response” statement: Do you agree with this review? disagree? Want to talk about other CAVE albums? Throw your thoughts in the comments section! We’re all interested in hearing what you have to say!

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