Real quick – Disc 1 and 2 = Great. Disc 3 and 4 = WHOOOOAAA
Digital Devil Saga.
Out of nowhere, we get this incredible tale from Atlus. A story of Serph and his friends, it’s unique, touching, haunting and epic on a hundred levels. Part of that can be attributed to a certain Shoji Meguro. Man, this guy is awesome. He’s an accomplished musician, having written the excellent Persona and Soul Hackers soundtracks, as well as the more recent Nocturne.
But I would argue that Digital Devil Saga is his greatest work yet. Breaking off the shackles of hardware synth, his style has flourished. He is a self-admitted rocker, but he’s grown outside of his own genre and created an insane hybrid of rock, techno, breakbeat and orchestral, all with a very frantic and claustrophobic feel. This doesn’t sound like someone who’s branching out and trying new things…it sounds like Mr. Meguro has secretly been concocting this music in his secret lab for years and years, fine tuning every little strand, until finally unleashing his perfect product.
“Integral” is the name of this massive, four-disc OST. Containing every single song from both parts 1 and 2, nothing was left out. Beginning from disc 1, the tracklist generally moves along how it would with the story, with only a few tracks out of order. The battle themes are collected in two or three long strands, and while that might seem odd, it makes for thrilling, intense listening. (We’ll talk about that later).
“Pray” kicks off the first disc. An arranged vocal of Sera’s song, this was only in the Japanese edition. We got “Danger” by Etro Anime instead, which, while a nice song, is exclusive to the Western version, so it’s not on this set.
“Hideout of the Chickens” is one of the many area themes. Very reminiscent of his older work, the song is a rich combo of sweet, silky jazz sensibilities and steady rock. Many of the area themes also feature two movements. Sometimes they are totally different from each other, as is the case with the smooth, Soukaigi-esque “The River of Samsara” and its odd second movement. Other times the second theme is a faster or more intense version of the first, like “Man’s Tomb.”
The soundtrack as also contains all the short movie scene music, which, though short, are just as well made as the longer songs. The hunting song, “Blade”, is an awesome, frantic rock tune, and “Never Ending Rain” is strikingly beautiful. Also of note are all the characters themes, listed by their Atma, such the hero Serph’s tragic-sounding theme “Watercrown” and Argilla’s “Seismic Wave.” Round it out with “Hari-Hara,” a fantastic battle tune. Starting with a very mellow and sad sounding guitar/piano intro, it moves into full jam session style rock. The second movement adds in an orchestra for a fitting final conclusion to DDS1.
And now, the fun part. It’s time for disc 3 and 4, the music from DDS2. This is what I meant by Meguro fine-tuning songs in his basement for ages. There is a HUGE, very sudden change in music from the second you start DDS2. I have a feeling this was partially to emphasize the extreme difference between the two halves of the story, but whatever happened, it was good. We move from the depressing, rainy rock and jazz of the Junkyard to a very strange new world, filled with a bizarre, haunting, melodic and wonderful electronica. You’re instantly hit with a pop-techno slap in the face (I mean that in a good way.) “Alive” is an excellent, energetic vocal, with flawless singing, guitar solos, and a solid dance beat. “The Atonement” is a very lovely, but very oppressive orchestral title theme.
Like most of this music, “Amaravati” isn’t the kind of techno you dance to. This is strange, new, cold music, but it’s so groovy too! “Man Hunting” is similar, but much slower and deliberate. Rife with thick, chunky saw tooth basses, leads and pads, an extremely tight and articulate beat and plenty of guitar. And you know a song has to be good when it’s called “Meeeeaaaat!” In the story the music is intensely creepy, but on its own it still does well. The songs’ counterpart, “Prisoner’s Nightmare” is equally frightening, but in a “CRAP!! PANIC!!!!” kind of way, thanks to throwing a many more layers of percussion and lots of guitar on top of an already panicked song.
Ok, ok, ok, ok, here’s the best part!! BATTLE TUNES!
Digital Devil Saga 101:
“Battle for Survival”
I don’t even need to think about it. These songs are the *best* battle themes I have ever heard. I have heard every Final Fantasy, every Dragon Quest. I have heard your Konami Battle Shooting Perfect Motoaki Club, I have heard (and loved) Endless Neo Disco Mix Classic ’89 Falcom Supreme Ys Box Meets Dave Matthews. But this is good. In my strange little mind, Ryo Yonemitsu and Sound Team JDK teaming up to make Ys IV’s music was musically the best thing that ever happened, but I do not pause to say these tunes may have trumped that.
More? OK. “Battle for Survival” is the regular battle tunage. From the second the first riff hits, the song will not let up for even a fraction of a second. Layers and layers of fresh, crisp percussion, synth and guitar, all put together so tightly and cleanly in a beautiful package. A very strong melody throughout the song, and a haunting, wistful synth around the one minute mark complete the picture.
But then it got better! “Madness.” Beginning with some wild synth, the guitar wails around for a bit until the soft piano comes along, floating over the frenzied breakbeats. The main chorus breaks out at 0:45, and I just can’t get enough of it. Despite being in an insanely fast battle song, the melody is beautiful and even romantic; it’s obvious what Meguro meant when he said he ‘waits for God to send music down to him.’
“Heroic,” “Big,” and “Epic” are all along the same lines – a furious, fiery mixture of heavy rock, blistering electronica and blazing, shimmering synth pushing along these bold, exciting, uplifting, even fun, melody lines. “Brahman” goes even higher, beginning with an epic synth/orchestral intro, which leads right into the techno madness that follows. There is a slight sound of relief around 1:05 with the gentle piano, and then the sad, hopeful main melody, all still being forced along by a masterful techno beat and a lot of soul. A perfect final confrontation. It’s brilliant.
I can’t forget the victory theme, and “Relief” is about as unconventional and freakin’ awesome as one can hope for. More of that thick, thick, thick synth. The bass drum plods along the beat like some kind of twisted victory march (a “We’re done with you, who’s next?” kind of thing).
I know I shouldn’t just sit here and rattle off individual track names, but I can’t help myself. The jazzy “Road to Sodom” tracks, the hopeful “What is it to Live a Life”, the claustrophobic and frenetic “Rest in Peace, My Friend”, the sorrowful and relaxing “Karma Terminal,” the last minute rush and desperate, sinking feeling of “One-Way Stairs” – it’s all just too good.
The packaging is nice, with notes from the composer, a full tracklist, and a bit of artwork. Each disc has one of the character’s Atma symbols, and the entire package is covered with a cool hex pattern.
Shoji Meguro has created his finest work yet – a soundtrack that is not just long, but full of excellent music. The music is completely out of the ordinary, not only for him, but for a game, for a movie, for anything. But instead of sounding like an experiment, out came a masterpiece of rock, techno, orchestral, and most of all, emotion.