Armored Core Tribute Album - The Answer :: Review by Chris
While OverClocked ReMix usually focuses their attentions on mainstream video game music, many of its members have much wider tastes. One of them is Mattias Häggström Gerdt (aka Another Soundscape), who has adored the adrenaline-pumping mecha action and unique hybridised soundtracks of the Armored Core series for several years. In 2010, he decided to create a tribute album for the series, The Answer, featuring eleven representative remixes. One of the most ambitious and proud fan arrangers out there, Gerdt wasn't satisfied with releasing the album on OverClocked ReMix alone and even travelled to Japan to market a physical version. Is the album good enough to deserve such exuberant promotion?
Gerdt opens the album with a bizarre yet representative remix entitled "Morning, Thinker". He instantly captures the ethereal atmosphere of the Armored Core series by blending meditative guitar licks with aseptic electronic beats. However, he also expands considerably beyond these origins to incorporate wild, electrofied, semi-rocking vocal parts in a strange yet compelling way. The electronic sampling is top-notch throughout often exceeding even that on the game soundtracks themselves while the vocals, courtesy of Deia Vengen, add to the abstract yet personal feel. The elaborate synth improvisations and other complex developments keep listeners entertained throughout. This ensure the final track, as improbable as it is on a paper, is nothing short of awe-inspiring on audio.
Gerdt's treatment of the source material is consistently impressive throughout the release. The first track actually combines three compositions into one the rocking vocal lines from Armored Core 4's "Thinker", the shifting industrial parts of Armored Core 3: Silent Line's "Morning, Lemontea", and, for those that listen closer, even some ethereal piano motifs from Armored Core: for Answer's "Someone Is Always Moving on the Surface". The final hybrid shouldn't work, but it does thanks to Gerdt's considerable inspiration and talent. The latter track takes a more focal role on "Twisted on the Surface" thereafter, providing soothing minimalistic core to the remix; in combination, various thrashing guitars and even occasional chiptunes interpret distinct material in other sections.
While such tracks are something of a departure from the IDM origins of the series' music, many arrangements feature a more introspective sound. Based on the original Armored Core, "Apex in Techno" demonstrates Gerdt understands the rhythmical and textural subtleties of more experimental electronica out there. There are sufficient catchy riffs and warm interludes to appeal to mainstream audiences, unlike the coldest techno out there, but the track is mostly an experiment in sampling and quite an accomplished one at that. Much the same applies to "Shining" and "Atom Smasher", despite their slightly harder sound. The former is particular impressive for the way it incorporates the jagged shape and complex rhythms of Armored Core: Nexus into a highly accessible piece that is at times soothing, at others edgy.
A slightly less appealing track is "Death to the King" whose core elements thrashing guitars and soft synthpads are too divergent and repetitive to sustain attention. This track is also one of those that deviates too much from the European electronic influence of the series in favour of a Americanised rock sound only found prominently in one of the series' most flawed soundtracks, Armored Core 4. I also couldn't help but think the penultimate track "Over the Pain" was a little excessive, given similar upbeat rocking vocal tracks on "Morning, Thinker" and "Ray of Speed". Instead of skewing the series towards such tracks, it would have been more enjoyable to hear Gerdt present the deepest tracks of the series including "Someone Is Always On to bring more drama and diversity to the release.
Finally, it is worth mentioning Gerdt's collaborations with vocalist Jillian Aversa on this release. "We Can See No.373" takes a more subtle approach than the rocking vocal tracks on the album and focuses more on experimental electronic soundscaping. At times pure, at others distorted, the ever-changing treatment of Aversa's voice blurs the boundaries of human and machine. Finally, "Goodbye, Thinker" rounds off the album in a fitting manner. The vocals here are presented straight without all the manipulations and breaks of other tracks, giving them a more expressive quality. The reprise of the motif from "Thinker" is also a nice touch, given it helps to bring the release round full circle and provide an overriding perspective on the experience.
Some years ago, Gerdt gained my disapproval with his tendencies towards overexuberant self-promotion. However, The Answer demonstrates that he is not deluded and has much artistic creativity and commitment. He persevered on The Answer to offer a rich and meaningful tribute to the Armored Core series while conveying a voice of his own. His choice to focus more on rock vocal themes than blooming minimalistic masterpieces results in a slightly skewed representation of the series. However, such tracks make the album all the more compelling. Freely available through OverClocked ReMix, this album isn't suitable for the average OverClocked listener, but should be worthwhile for those willing to try something completely different.
Overall Score: 8/10