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Death Smiles Premium Arrange Album :: Review by Don

Death Smiles Premium Arrange Album Album Title: Death Smiles Premium Arrange Album
Record Label: Cave
Catalog No.: CVST-0009
Release Date: April 23, 2009
Purchase: Buy at eBay


"Rarely does a soundtrack come along that gets my blood pumping as much as Death Smiles. Even rarer is the fact that this is the second soundtrack in 2008 that impresses me to no end. Every composition on here adds to the overall feeling of Halloween. From the carnivalesque music featured in "Invitation to Another World," to the heavy gothic rock influenced pieces, such as "Burning Halloween Town" or "Hades Castle," and even some electronica-focused compositions such as "Crossing the Ravine...," the soundtrack to Death Smiles is a definite must for any fan of Namiki, rock, or shooter soundtracks. With the integration of key motifs in the related stages, Namiki crafts an extremely cohesive soundtrack full of intensity and wonder. I fear Namiki may have set the bar a bit too high, because from now on, this is the standard by which I'll be judging him."

These words were my thoughts on the original soundtrack. When I first heard that an arranged album was in the works, in October of last year, I was both intrigued, yet at the same time, very concerned. Considering I thought the original soundtrack was a masterpiece in its own right, I couldn't comprehend, for some reason or another, how someone would be able to adapt these styles. Despite this, as soon as preorders for the limited edition version of the Xbox 360 port, the only place to currently find this arrange album, I placed my order.

In early February, the tracklisting and arrangers for the arranged album were released. In addition, it was confirmed that the album would feature a new original piece by Namiki, for the arrange album, as well as the list of arrangers was released. Seeing industry veterans who work with Manabu Namiki, such as Masaharu Iwata and the other members of Basiscape, helped ease my mind a bit. However, I was very unfamiliar with a few arrangers on the list, such as Soshi Hosoi, and was unsure of how they would arrange such pieces. In addition, in early March, I found out that my preorder for the limited addition would have a chance of being unfulfilled, due to a production cut, and despite my apprehension towards the album to begin with, I was very upset. Fortunately, my preorder was met and I was able to listen to the album. Was it worth the excruciatingly painful suspense and wait?


Before moving onto the arranged portion of the album, I'll mention the original piece composed by Namiki. Entitled "Memories of the Ruined Crystal Temple," it was used to accompany the additional stage added in the Mega Black Label version of the arcade game. Featuring Noriyuki Kamikura on guitar once again, it combines an electrifying guitar section alongside some crystalline synth. The melody is very nice and peaceful, creating a direct contrast with a lot of the more octane-fueled themes on the original soundtrack. I think he did a fantastic job with this one. This piece also received a peaceful arrangement by Mitsuhiro Kaneda's take on "Memories of the Ruined Crystal Temple". Unlike the original, this arrangement is completely devoid of electric guitar, focusing more on a variety of bubbly and crystalline synth lines. In fact, upon first listen, this reminded me of Mitsuto Suzuki's solo albums. It's a calming piece of electronica and an interesting take on the original. I think he really nailed the whole "crystal" sound.

Manabu Namiki also opens up the arrange album with a new rendition of "Invitation from Another World". While I was expecting something electronica based, given the style of the original, I was greeted with something unexpected, a recurring theme for this arrange album. The most intriguing part of his arrangement is how it sounds like its being played from an old phonograph. In addition, he also adds some horror sound effects, such as bloodcurdling screams and werewolf howls and the like. Rather than opting to elaborate on the style of his original, he decides to create a gothic arrangement, with organ, strings, and some interesting percussion usage. It opens up the album quite nicely, but in my opinion, the true stars of the arrange album are what follow.

When I first heard that Yasuhisa Watanabe was arranging "Burning Halloween Town," I was a bit surprised. I really thought that Manabu Namiki would end up handling this one. To transform a piece that relied heavily upon the gothic rock motif set forth by the original is no easy feat, yet Watanabe manages to do so quite skillfully. His arrangement is quite a departure from the original, relying on bouncy, spacey synth lines, and a pretty infectious beat, yet at the same time, Watanabe respects the original material by incorporating the use of organ into his arrangement. It's definitely something I wasn't expecting, but in the end, I left quite impressed. It also makes me wonder if this how Death Smiles 2 will end up sounding, given the fact its Christmas themed.

One of the composers that I was not familiar with was Toshiya Yamanaka. His rendition of "Gravekeeper's Anger" is also quite different from what I expected. Featuring an intriguing beat, with more of a dance feel, some spacey synth usage, some organ incorporation, with a slight jazz influence, it manages to create an interesting atmosphere. However, at the same time, he manages to respect the original by incorporating a few electric guitar solos and a synth solo that really heighten the experience. I'd even dare say the guitar solos are better than the guitar work heard in the original. One of the biggest surprises for me was Soshi Hosoi. Given my unfamiliarity with his work, I was quite apprehensive on how he would take the atmospherically rich original and make it his own. To me, his arrangement is the most creative of the entire bunch. Emulating Nobuyoshi Sano a bit, it gives off a Drakengard-influenced style, full of repeating sections, intentional skips in the track, slow and fast forwarded melodic sections. Although most of the arrangement is essentially a rearranging of the material into a more chaotic and distorted nature, which greatly heightens the atmosphere of the original, he manages to throw in a jazzy piano line and some futuristic synth lines.

Well, as I said, the unexpected was a recurring theme. Yoshimi Kudo, who co-composed alongside Namiki in DoDonPachi Dai-Fukkatsu, provides yet another engaging surprise. His take on "The Witch of the Bottomless Swamp" was not only unexpected, but awesome. Rather than focusing on the raw edge given by the guitar riffs in the original, Kudo decided to create a very jazzy arrangement. Now, upon hearing this, I was absolutely floored. Instead of using classical jazz instruments, he retains the nice gothic rock flavor of the original by incorporating sexy harpsichord and organ lines and rhythmic guitar accompaniments and solos. It's one of the most fun arrangements on the album and really showcases Kudo's skill in arranging.

Ryu Umemoto, another composer with which I have little familiarity, provided an interesting take on "Rebellion of the Lake Village". While the original had a synth focus with some frenetic electric guitar work incorporated into the mix, this interpretation is definitely more synth focused. The beat is a mix between techno and industrial, while the melody features a fairly futuristic sound. There is some electric guitar thrown in, but mainly in riff form, but the end result is quite pleasing. Continuing with less familiar composers, Raito's take on the original "Awakened Giant Beast" is definitely a far cry from the original. Gone are the exotic and ethnic percussion lines and vocals. Gone are the electric guitar pieces. In their stead, we are giving a driving electronica arrangement of the original that features a nice rave-like beat, with some barking synth that emulates the opening of the original. Throw in some nice orchestral melodic lines that tie the original melody together, and you have another interesting arrangement. This is perfect driving music, if you ask me!

Those who have read my recent reviews know full well how awesome I think Asuza Chiba is. Her contributions to DoDonPachi Dai-Fukkatsu and Let's Tap are utterly amazing. When I heard she was arranging the stage clear theme, "Angels' Melancholy," of all things, I was shocked. Surely her style would be more adaptive to one of the fuller themes, I thought. Instead, what we are given is, in my opinion, her best work to date. Combining both Celtic and Scottish influences, she transforms the relatively unimportant stage clear theme into something exquisite. Beautiful piano, bagpipe, and woodwind sections grace the arrangement with their intoxicating melodies, clearly setting a different atmosphere than many of the arrangements heard on this album. The last of the composers with which I'm unfamiliar is Shuichiro Nakazawa. His take on "Crossing the Ravine..." is another favorite of mine. The original theme focused more on a synth line than most of the soundtrack and this arrangement also accentuates that fact. Opening with a suspenseful and haunting introduction, filled with bagpipe and strings, it quickly transforms into a catchy dance beat with spooky and futuristic synth lines with some of the motifs heard in the introduction laced throughout the piece.

This brings me to Noriyuki Kamikura. For those who didn't know, Kamikura was the one playing electric guitar in the original soundtrack. Knowing this well in advance, this was the one arrangement to which I was most looking forward, considering it was my favorite theme on the original, full of high octane energy and an excellent mix of choral accents and gothic rock. His arrangement, for lack of a better word, astounds me. Starting out with a harp gliss and soft orchestral opening, it really transforms the energetic original into something more passive. However, those fearing an orchestral arrangement have nothing to fear. Soon after that, the gothic rock kicks in! In fact, I find the electric guitar work to be edgier in this piece and it really adds a lot more energy and power to the original. However, the entire arrangement isn't rock. While there is a focus on rock throughout, there are also calmer sections interspersed throughout. The harpsichord lines are extremely beneficial to the arrangement and help accentuate that gothic rock feel. Perhaps the most intriguing part of the arrangement though, is the jazzy jam session thrown in the middle! In the end, this mixture of gothic orchestral rock is something that shouldn't be missed. I like this more than the original!

"Waltz for the Noble Ghosts" was one of the weaker themes on the original yet Norihiro Furukawa transforms it here into something much stronger. There is ominous opening with deep piano and suspenseful strings before a haunting take on the original is offered in triple time. At first glance, you might think there is very little difference between the original and the arrangement, and while the melody for the most part remains unchanged, the instrumentation used gives a much darker atmosphere. Considering its length though, I was surprised to hear such a direct interpretation and couldn't imagine it possibly continuing on for three more minutes in this fashion. The moment I thought this, the atmosphere changed drastically. Frenetic piano lines, an even darker atmosphere with choral accents, and some crazy orchestration make for an even crazier take on the original. Chaotic and lush, it offers the best of both worlds!

Masaharu Iwata decided to arrange both boss themes in "Mad with Hatred in the Banquet of Madness and Blood". Given the fact that both of these themes are fairly similar, it wasn't hard incorporating both into one theme. His take on the boss theme is also quite interesting and entertaining. Basically a driving orchestral arrangement over a slightly industrial beat, it manages to create an intriguing atmosphere. The most striking thing about this arrangement is that fact that for most of it, the original theme is barely discernable, with melodic fragments heard here and there. There are sections of the arrangement where the original melody is fully released, though. It's another one of the surprises on the album for me. Lastly, Kimihiro Abe, who has also worked with Namiki on a Cave soundtrack, closes the arrangements with "To the Wandering Beloved Souls". It's another peaceful arrangement that opens with a beautiful harpsichord passage. However, it quickly moves into a more ethereal piece with a light jazz influence. There are also some happier passages towards the end that really accentuate the main melody. It's a beautiful way to end the arrangements.


As mentioned before, I went into this album not knowing what to expect and very apprehensive. I left awestruck. This is definitely a worthy arrange album to the masterpiece that was the original soundtrack. There were many surprises throughout the album and each arranger crafted a unique interpretation of the main themes. This has only heightened by anticipation for the upcoming Ketsui Arrange Album, but at the same time, it's also set the bar fairly high. To its advantage though, the upcoming album features an even more diverse cast of arrangers so it might pan out to be better than this. If you are a fan of the original soundtrack and want to hear an interesting interpretation of the gothic rock themes heard therein, I highly suggest trying to find this. Be warned, though, that it might cost a pretty penny. It's definitely worth it in my opinion.

Overall Score: 10/10