Before I begin my review, I must give a note regarding different versions of this CD release. The regular print of this album only has the first disc with its nine vocal tracks. People who picked up the limited edition within the first few weeks of its release also received a second disc containing instrumental versions of the tracks, which are good enough to make an arranged album on their own, as well as a third disc containing trailers for upcoming Falcom games and other bonus materials. We have sampled here three tracks from the bonus instrumental disc, and that is all the more I will mention in this review about the disc.
Two companies that know how to “milk” a game’s music are Falcom and Konami. These two companies have attempted nearly every style of arrangement for their massive collection of games. And though Falcom is clearly the smaller of these two companies, I feel that Falcom’s releases always have a certain level of quality Konami lacks. it’s that special touch, that certain artistic flair that proves Falcom is working to bring something fresh to the field.
If there is one style of arrangement that is truly “hit or miss” for VGM fans, it is the vocal arrangement. Be it J-Pop, J-Rock, or either one of the two with English being attempted, it can turn out to either be a fair success or a joke.
If I am correct in my assessment of Falcom history, it has been a long time since a full vocal album has been released. There were the four “Vocal Collections”, which compiled vocal tracks from various Falcom soundtracks. After these four CDs were released, Falcom Special Box ’97 featured “Midori Kawani Sings Ys”. After that, I don’t think a vocal album had been attempted. Now, nearly a decade later, Falcom takes a risk by choosing to arrange their latest flagship-series game, Ys VI, with a vocal album. At the time of this review, only the OST and this vocal album have been released: no orchestrated CD, no instrumental rock album, no “Super Arrange Version”: just the Songs of Zemeth.
Though the album contains nine tracks, there are only four different performers for the album. “Jill’s Project” does all the hard rock, comprising of tracks 1 and 6. Ayako Shibazaki dominates the album by singing tracks 3, 5, 7, and 9. Vocalist “u-mi”, who has worked with Falcom before, performs on track 8. Hiroko Yamawaki sings on tracks 2 and 4.
As I said, a vocal album can be a “hit or miss” deal, but I believe it is more appropriate in this case, where different arrangers and performers collaborate to make one published disc, to judge the hitting and missing on a track-by-track basis.
The opening track, from its roots in the OST version, is one hard-rock power-packed song. The fact that we here a male singing “I’m here for you!!” is what really brings the neo-80s cheese to life. Though you may not enjoy this song, only a Falcom-hater would be unable to appreciate this song for what it is. It is definitely not my favorite track on the album, but it stands for something beyond itself: it is VGM J-Rock, and it cannot be silenced. I enjoyed this track simply because Falcom had the nerve to make it happen.
The next three tracks are probably my favorites on the album. If I can be honest, these three tracks make me dance. Standing, sitting, laying down, or contorted in some sort of Buddhist meditatition pose, it doesn’t matter: if these songs come on, I cannot help but dance. These songs are jazz/disco/fusion/pop fun to the core, each with a little twist. Yamawaki is definitely the best vocalist on the album, and when she hits the chorus on “Desire”, I want to sing along (being a male, I certainly make everything sound quite awkward, but I just couldn’t care less). “Pandora” is filled with booming drums and a catchy melody, making it another beautiful piece. “Lapis Lazuli”, both on this track and in its bonus track form (slight differences in arrangement and vocal performance), are certainly good songs. There happens to be some pretty poor “Engrish” happening on this song, including the words “earth” and “future” being butchered beyond recognition. However, I am again pleased to hear it, as it hearkens back to the songs on Special Box ’89. The jazz piano and the mute trumpet are especially effective in making a specific effect. The “whisper” vocals of the original version of the song are enigmatic, and I am slightly reminded of Wild ARMs 2nd Ignitions’ vocal track “Zephyrs”, which was also a very disco/jazz-influenced piece.
Shibazaki’s other two vocals are definitely the album’s filler tracks. “Fight Your Way” has great instrumental arrangement backing it, but the vocals are nothing to be entirely impressed over. I enjoy it, but then again, I enjoy most things in the VGM world. However, there is one song I don’t particularly enjoy, and that is “A Smile’s Whereabouts.” This song is reminiscent of the sorts of Falcom vocals found on the Popful Mail drama albums: it’s a little *too* bright to enjoy. It is saccharine-sweet. The instrumental background is bland, and the melody is not very far-reaching. The cheese on this one is a little too much for me to handle, so I have no qualms about skipping it.
Between these two tracks rests the other hard rock song for the album, MIGHTY OBSTACLE. And yes, it certainly is mighty. This song follows the same formula on the vocal front as the opening track, but I think the formula works better on this piece, which is definitely more frantic and minor-key-oriented. I actually don’t mind this song, and I don’t even think of it as “cheesy” J-Rock. It’s kind of cool in its own way.
That leaves u-mi’s “Cumulus”. I’ve heard people refer to this song as boring. It is based off of “Olha”, a melodic theme from Ys VI that many people thought lacked in the beauty and creativity departments. However, it is my belief that u-mi made this once boring song into something truly relaxing, truly worth listening to. The song is well over six minutes long, and the repetition of the melody does much to help sink in a certain mood. At the song’s climax, somewhere around the fourth minute (and also sampled on this site!), we have a low drum rumble accompanying some “ahh”s in the descant, which make the song beautifully epic. I am reminded of the ending vocal for Langrisser V when I hear this piece. After my “dance party” from tracks 2, 3, and 4, it is good to finally cool down with this wonderfully slow tune.
Overall, The Songs of Zemeth was an album no one expected, and a lot of people might not have even wanted it. However, when I return to the Ys VI OST, and then think about what arrangements were done, I must admit that the work done on this album was profound enough to warrant some praise. I do enjoy this CD; one half more than the other, sure, but everyone has favorite songs! If you liked the Ark of Napishtim as a game, and you liked the music from the OST, why not complete your set of Ys VI-related materials and pick up this album as well? I think this is one album that will grow on you; I know it did just that to me.