This is it. This is the album you have been waiting for your entire life. You may not know it yet, but I promise you that I’m telling the truth. Now, allow me to enlighten you.
For years, in the underground VGM circle, there was a man named Saitama Saishu Heiki (refered to commonly as SSH) who was a king of creating synth rock arrangements to some of the best VGM out there. SSH (as I will refer to him henceforth) released many “doujin” (fan) arrangements of battle themes from Final Fantasy, the Tales series, and other games on the internet. Those who knew of his work generally praised him for what he could do. SSH also got the chance to write some of his own music for an adventure title in Japan called “Lost Child”; this, too, was a decent soundtrack.
Then, after all these years of “fan” arrangements, SSH got his break with Gust. See, on a promotional album known as the Atelier Iris ~Eternal Mana 2~ Soundtrack Book, SSH did an arrangement of Deceitful Wings (from the first Atelier Iris) and had it officially published. To my knowledge, this was the first time SSH was officially recognized as an arranger by a company that produced games. Awesome.
Gust then decided to further support the endeavors of this wannabe-VGM-rock-star by allowing him to release an entire arranged album for Atelier Iris ~Eternal Mana~. That would be this album right here. Ten glorified versions of some of the best battle and dungeon themes Atelier Iris had to offer, as well as some bonus “outtake” tracks at the end. Nearly 73 minutes of rock ‘n’ roll glory. Get your fists in the air, bang your head, and get ready for a wild ride.
With guitar performances by Toshinori Hiramitsu, SSH’s work was simple: take the already fine compositions of Daisuke Achiwa and Ken Nakagawa, beef them up with some higher synth quality, lengthen the original version of the song by adding a few new parts and making necessary repetitions, lay down some hard drum and bass tracks, and let Hiramitsu do his thing on the guitar. The formula isn’t difficult to follow, yet the result is awesome. You have no idea how difficult it was for me to choose tracks to sample: you really ought to hear them all (in other words, buy it).
Almost every song contains a solo section, and not every solo is an electric guitar solo. There are a few keyboard solos, and almost every song has a quick break to feature some interesting sounds from the drums. These songs were meant for this style of arrangement; there’s nothing entirely original about it, it simply needed to be done. And now that it’s been done, everyone should be happy about it.
Some songs are straight rock; some keep a faster beat; others use the occasional sampled loop to keep the beat going. SSH has enough diversity on this album to keep it from getting boring. Among his better arrangements are “Alchemic Blast” and (obviously) “Deceitful Wings”, though I will say the solo in the bonus “Ver-0” track of Alchemic Blast was worlds better than what was put on the album proper. For those of you wondering, those bonus tracks haven’t been mixed as well, so the volume and sound quality is slightly lower, but they do feature some excellent solo work, even if the background music is essentially the same as what can be heard on the “official” album version.
I was surprised to hear some of the dungeon themes turn out as well as they did. I knew the battle themes would be good, but I had my doubts about the dungeon themes. The biggest surprise for me was “Huge Game Table”, the song for Ka Luda’s playground. Both versions of this song are outrageously good, though I preferred the official version to “Ver-2” of this song. Good going, SSH!
Take a listen to “Beat of Illusion.” This song is almost devoid of any guitar work, yet it is still a powerful song, featuring some of SSH’s trademark arrangement styles: catchy bass lines, melodic lines that punch in when you least expect it, and dynamic variations that make the song ten times better than the original version.
I have already listened to this album at least a dozen times, and I don’t expect to be getting tired of it any time soon. Bottom line: this album is a keeper. Though some may criticize it for being too straightforward in its rock arrangements, I am proud to say that I own such a well-produced rock arrangement album. It’s not too hard, but it’s certainly not soft either. I have loved very few arranged albums in my lifetime: Xenogears CREID, SaGa Frontier II Piano~Rhapsody, and Dark Chronicle Premium Arrange are three that I have always loved. Add DECEITFUL WINGS to the list. It’s really that good. Why are you still reading my review? Go buy this album! Sell your other albums for it! I’m not kidding around here!
And, if you’re reading this review years down the road, and the album is now unavailable, too bad for you. I’ll be listening to Horned Enigma on my 9-5 daily grind, driving to and from work rockin’ out to Ferocious Drive, and all you’ll have is The Black Mages. Hah!