Motoi Sakuraba comes and goes; at least on my playlist. He can send you into beautiful, enigmatic fantasy worlds, or he can just grate your ears with repetitive drum/bass work. It’s been standard for me in the last four years, whenever I write about a Sakuraba album, to warn readers that I have a love/hate relationship with this man’s music.
Motoi Sakuraba comes and goes; through time, through the decades. He’s always been a very productive, very prolific composer. But he has “off” years in the same way I might have an “off” day. Whole strings of albums will come out that just disappoint me time and time again. But, ultimately, Sakuraba does not fail to please. His “mid-90s” era sported some excellent stuff. In 1998, I was blown away by his score for Star Ocean: The Second Story.
Motoi Sakuraba makes his mark, here, in 1996, with “Shining the Holy Ark.” This is a great place to stop, and look at how Sakuraba has shaped himself and his music; that is, if you can find it.
Indeed, “Shining the Holy Ark Original Soundtrack” is one of the rarest, most-sought-after Sakuraba albums to date. I mean, who’s ever heard of “Oo Records,” or seen the catalog number that starts with “OOCO”…in my experience, the only time I see those letters is in reference to this album. Its obscurity is quite disappointing.
But what is it that makes this album so good? First of all, the softer pieces are divine. Track 4, “Search in the Void,” offers some great piano and violin parts among the droning melancholy of the synth chords. Track 7 is a piano solo track: really well-done Sakuraba. It alone has highs and lows, fasts and slows that you could not expect.
Jam-band prog-rock appears for at least 30% of this album. Some of the longer tracks, including the second and third tracks of the album, feature some excellent rhythmic pieces that pre-date classic battle themes from “Tales of Destiny” or “Star Ocean: The Second Story.”
I found one song that I simply couldn’t stand: track 8, the second part of the “Festival of Darkness.” The song just grates on my ears.
But overall…this is a glorious album. All Sakuraba fans know about this album, and those fortunate enough to own a copy cherish it as a gem in their collection of dusty old VGM albums. If I could ask Sakuraba to reprint just one soundtrack of his, this would be the one.