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Soundtrack of the Month 07/2010: Raystorm

July 2, 2010 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook Soundtrack of the Month 07/2010: Raystormon Twitter

It’s been quite a long while since I wrote a soundtrack of the month article, but this one has been high on my list for quite some time. Connary’s recent review of the Rayforce –PCB Version- album on iTunes again brought Raystorm to the front of my mind, and what better time to feature it as our soundtrack of the month with the recent release of Raystorm HD on the Xbox Live Arcade?

While I always was and still am terrible at shooters (including Raystorm), it’s always been my favorite game in the genre, and the music is a big part of that. In fact, I recall spending countless hours scouring the Internet for music from the game before I knew soundtrack albums existed. Once I did learn that the soundtrack existed, however, it wasn’t long before I hunted it down and added it to my collection.

Hit the jump to find out why you may want to do the same if you haven’t already.

The album opens with a number of tracks that I actually completely forgot about. My mind immediately jumps to the first stage theme, “Geometic City” when I think of Raystorm, but there are actually three tracks that precede it. “Origin (Throw A Coin)” in particular stands out for its abstract piano progression that descends into madness with a perpetual sense of movement. While most of us never played this game in the arcade, this mesmerizing melody would have definitely caught my attention among the cacophony of sound that is typical of arcades.

It’s then on to the aforementioned “Geometric City,” which is simply a masterpiece. It’s smooth, it’s light, but it’s distinctly futuristic. I love the groovy synth lines and dreamy tones that linger in the background. Given that we’re also commemorating the XBLA release of Raystorm HD, I do feel compelled to note the fact that the replacement of the game’s original soundtrack with the Neu Tanz Mix versions was a bit of a disappointment, as many of the arrangements don’t pack nearly as big of a punch.

“Aquarium” is another low key piece that stands out with its gentle guitar-like synth lines and use of ambient ocean sounds that include dolphins. Later, keeping with this same style, “Toxoplasma” is an airy piece with a majestic melody set against driving electronic percussion, providing a nice contrast and matching the stage’s cloudy environments perfectly.

Things get a lot more intense from here on out. “Muddling Through” brings in jazz influences with bits of piano and funky synth melodies. The track title itself effectively describes one of my typical playthroughs, as things tend to fall apart for me around here, and it’s only the third stage! Next, while “Catharsis” plods along at a very slow pace, the contorted pads and heavy use of dissonance makes it a tense listening experience. “Slaughter Hour” gets a nice drum ‘n’ bass thing going with some snappy percussion, but retains a light atmosphere with its sluggish melody. It’s one of the longest tracks on the album, and is definitely one of my favorites.

Getting towards the end, the musical accompaniments to some of the epic battles and end-game areas are incredibly effective. “Metaphor” is one of those tracks I searched desperately for as a kid as the layered arpeggios, belltone melody, and unique percussive elements combined are still to this day one of the coolest things I’ve heard in a videogame. “Molecular Clock” is another boss theme that will have you on the edge of your seat with its rapidly moving chord progression and scattered percussion that sound like a distorted and mangled mechanical heart beat. On the topic of heart beats, “Heart Land” makes direct use of this sound as players approach the final showdown (and it’s a shame that this final corridor was axed from the HD version of the game). When that battle comes, it’s “Intolerance” that greets you with its incredible synthesized orchestra, complete with strings, brass, and electronic accents that include a chugging electronic bassline and metallic percussion. It’s an epic track in every sense of the word.

Your reward for taking down the final mechanical monstrosity is “Ceramic Heart,” a moving piano ballad that quickly goes from beautiful to strange with its overlaying of what sounds like a French female speaking over a radio, but it’s quickly back to the piano goodness that the track starts out with. “Endless Stairs (Name Entry)” is actually somewhat triumphant despite the fact that it also appears when you fail your mission, but it’s still lovely.

And that’s not all. There are some arranged tracks that are tucked away on the tail end of the album, two of which feature Kuniaki Haishima, a composer we’ve been talking about a whole lot lately as he’s responsible for Metroid: Other M. The first remix, “Aquarium (Haishima Arrange),” goes back and forth between a cinematic orchestral and loungey jazz music, both of which sound amazing. “Toxoplasma (Haishima Arrange),” on the other hand, is much more intense with electric guitar, lots of brass, and distorted electronic elements. There’s an even more beautiful arrangement of “Ceramic Heart” titled “Coeur de Ceramique (Piano & Quartet Arrange),” which is pretty self-explanatory from the title alone. It’s worth noting that these are, in fact, live players, which is a nice treat. I have to say that this version is much more upbeat compared to the original. Finally, it’s out with a bang with “Intolerance (Orchestra Arrange),” an absolutely stunning live orchestral version of the final boss theme that deserves to be featured at some of these orchestral game music concerts that are going on all over the world.

And there you have it. I can’t stress enough how much I love this album and game. Even the booklet drips with quality, containing unique artwork and commentary for each track, information about the game, and an extensive list of credits. This is certainly some of my favorite music from ZUNTATA, and more specifically, from Tamayo Kawamoto, and I highly recommend picking up Raystorm HD on the Xbox Live Arcade if you’re a fan of schmups and somehow missed out on this one. The album itself is out of print, but if you happen to see it around, you should definitely pick it up. You won’t be sorry!

Do you have fond memories of Raystorm? Have you picked up Raystorm HD and have any thoughts about the alterations made to the game in the “EXTRA” version?

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