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Steel Samurai's self-titled Second EP (Review)

Steel Samurai’s self-titled Second EP (Review)

August 17, 2017 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook Steel Samurai’s self-titled Second EP (Review)on Twitter

Steel Samurai's self-titled Second EP (Review)

Steel Samurai has been kicking around the Baltimore, Maryland scene since late 2013, making appearances at MAGFest and Bit Gen while contributing their brand of rock to an array of game music compilations. They specialize in power-rocking “the most ancient, unused and obscure video game compositions” and their second, self-titled EP definitely holds true to that mission statement.

Released on July 29th, Steel Samurai is a short EP but it rocks all the way through and covers a lot of rarely-revisited source material. The theme of the band’s namesake — the fictional TV hero from the also-fictional world of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney — opens things up with a powerful rendition of the traditional Japanese-style tune from the DS game. But track two is what really pulled me into this album.

In all my years I can’t remember anyone remixing the already-rockin’ music from the TurboDUO shooter, Gate of Thunder. In my youth the duo of Gate and Lords of Thunder were the bar by which all other video game rock was gauged (spoiler: nothing ever dethroned them) so at first I was a little dismayed by Steel Samurai’s rendition. “Space: Jam” is slower and less frenetic than the original but it’s all a setup for the fantastic breakdown and explosion into the latter part of the theme where synth organs join the mix. All this and there’s still time for an original bassy spin on the theme that simmers down to a sweet bluesy finish.

How can you possibly follow that up and still make me smile? By injecting a medley of melodies from Castlevania III with the Ghostbusters theme of course. Wait, huh? Congrats to the band for this potent nostalgia bomb!  Although the transitions feel a little jilted to me the individual arrangements are toe-tappin’ fun and when the Ghostbusters bits come in, I’m grinning. It adds just enough punch to what you could argue is “another rocked out Castlevania song” without going into gimmick territory. That combination of guitar rock with movie and game nostalgia reminds me of another favorite group, This Place Is Haunted, and that’s a very special place in my heart for Steel Samurai to land.

The next surprise is “Enter the Maelstrom” that combines two themes from Ecco the Dolphin: Tides of Time. The series has always felt New Age-y and mellow to me so I was floored to hear guitars kick off this track. The first half features the “Skyway” melody played by a haunting, organ-like synth that’s bolstered with a perfect balance of electric guitar and surf rock styles. It has that “beachy” surf sound but still feels like its charging into action and at the same time a little sad and forlorn. Around the halfway point the “Tube of Medusa” theme kicks that charging resolve into high gear with a faster, higher pitched guitar and synth lead that sings through the crash ending.

The track is an arrangement of “Airborne Riptide” that Steel Samurai contributed to Patient Corgi’s 2016 Ecco tribute album, SOUND WAVES. I didn’t hear it back then but it really shines here after a second pass and the additional guitar work pulls it into the overall style of this EP. As such it’s the most nuanced and accomplished arrangement on the album, and I say that with no real fondness for Ecco the Dolphin either.

Bands remixing Mega Man is second only to bands remixing Mario but leave it to Steel Samurai to pick the most un-remixed Mega Man for this album. It’s another twofer that melds the Concrete Man and Tornado Man themes from the oft-overlooked Mega Man 9 into a power rock pleasure. It may not be my favorite Mega Man game but they picked my two favorite themes from it to smash together. The arrangement is great and the dual themes work surprisingly well to keep the song consistent and fast; it makes for a fun finale to the album. There’s also a bonus sixth track for those who buy the album, an alternate take of “Steel Samurai” with original lyrics by Deirdre Fischer. I’m sure Phoenix Wright fans will get a kick out of it but I admit it flew over my head.

With their second EP, Steel Samurai has not only pulled inspiration from obscure video games, they’re obscure video games from very different decades, genres, and platforms. It’s a huge refinement of style over their first album and a testament to their hard work that the entire 22 minute EP sounds like it could’ve come from a single source. What’s more, it’s only been a year between releases which has me eagerly anticipating whatever Steel Samurai is up to next.

Steel Samurai is available as a $5 download from Bandcamp and there are still physical CD copies (that include the digital version) available for the same price as of this writing!

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