What is a vocal-heavy soundtrack without the voice? What is a talking book without the talk?
Grimoire Rubrum is the book featured on the front cover of this new piano arranged album. Unlike Noir and Weiss, Rubrum (“red”) is unable to talk. Fitting that she be given the nod on this fully instrumental album.
Somehow, even without Emi Evans’ haunting vocals, the music of NieR retains its power. This is a much more relaxing listen than the OST or the -echo- arranged album. But it has that emotional spark that will make you weap. More importantly, however, there is a diversity to the soundscape, thanks to the unique group of arrangers and performers for the collection.
For example, we have Kumi Tanioka. Tanioka-san is one of my favorite ex-Square-Enix composers; she hasn’t done much of anything since the last Crystal Chronicles outing. But, back in 2008, I heard her perform 5 songs in a live piano concert, all FFXI pieces. These were her own arrangements, not the ones found on the two different FFXI piano albums. They were remarkable, but of course, they were never recorded. Now, seemingly out of nowhere, Tanioka re-appears. She performs her own arrangements of “Hills of Radiant Wind” and “Gods Bound by Rules.” Both are just glorious. I love these arrangements. The former is very decorative, bouncy, and harmonic. The latter, grandiose and epic.
Even more exciting, Tanioka performs an arrangement of fan-favorite “Grandma,” arranged by the very talented Masato Koda (Monster Hunter, Pia-coms, etc). Done in a Romantic-era style (think Chopin Preludes/Etudes), this is the concert piano piece to remember from the album. I adore it.
The two final tracks on the album are unique in their post-recording: filter effects and other mix-down techniques. Track 10, “The Wretched Automatons,” is arranged and performed by Ryuichi Takada. There’s nothing particularly complex about the arrangement itself. Instead, Takada laid down a simple transcription of the piece, and then mixed and filtered the hell out of it. I think that’s about the only way you can match the crazy feel of the original track. It’s still very mellow and ambient: I really enjoy listening to it.
“Ashes of Dreams” takes on an old-timey jazz sound. Arranged and performed by Yuri Misumi, the “jazz” comes in with all the improvised scale runs and intentionally out-of-sync melodic lines. The “old-timey” sound comes from the post-recorded mix, where various grain and vinyl filters are added to make it sound like you’re listening to it on your great-grandma’s gramophone. For all the tears shed over this ridiculously sad and melancholy vocal closer, it’s about time we can snap our fingers and just get into the melody of the piece. So thanks, Misumi-san, for letting that happen.
All the other tracks are arranged and performed by Keigo Hoashi, one of the three original composers with MONACA (the team that wrote the NieR soundtrack). His work is, well — it’s just fantastic. His work is the meat of the album, and it’s all just so freaking good. Also, please note that the versions of “Song of the Ancients” and “Emil” found on here are not at all the versions found on the “Nightmare Tracks” arrange album. These versions are cleaner, more deeply arranged, and better, all despite being shorter tracks at the end of the day. What Hoashi does with Song of the Ancients, Kainé, Emil, Repose, and all the others, is nothing short of my highest expectations for what this album could be.
The verdict? Much as I love Emi Evans, it seems she alone doesn’t “make” the NieR soundtrack. This piano collection is definitive proof. Now I need to hunt down the sheet music and start learning.