Gun Hazard Original Sound Version :: Review by Kero Hazel
Some teams were just meant to be. I think Nobuo Uematsu and Yasunori Mitsuda, individually two of the biggest names in video game music, make a terrific team. The two collaborated for the Chrono Trigger soundtrack, and they returned for Front Mission: Gun Hazard. Whereas every other Front Mission soundtrack apart from Front Mission 3 has been the work of newcomers to the game music industry, Gun Hazard was primarily the work of veterans. There were two newcomers that played a small but welcome role in the soundtrack as well: Junya Nakano and Masashi Hamauzu, who would later come to be game music veterans in their own right. We end up with a two disc soundtrack that just oozes professionalism. It's still Front Mission through and through, though, and it's a credit to the composers for the other games that their works sound as good as Uematsu and Mitsuda.
Gun Hazard gets off to a great start from the opening track, "Gun Hazard." Right away all fears of inferior synth quality (which was really only an issue with the first Front Mission) melt away as the theme song plays. Fears of inconsistency with the established style are also put to rest. The opening track is a true representative of the soundtrack it shares its name with. The album is very militaristic throughout that is, full of marchy rhythms and cool percussion effects. Some of the very best mood-setting pieces in the world of game music can be found right here. With "Tension," an early track on the first disc, the name says everything. Amid the echoing cadence of factory noises, a melody which is almost jazzy emerges. The extremely high quality percussion means everything to this track, and the songs that follow are no different. FM:GH is easily the most mood-setting of the Front Mission soundtracks, and I think it owes this primarily to the fantastic percussion work.
Mitsuda's "Cavern" on Disc Two is a wonderful ambient piece, utilizing more distinct drums, ratchets, and sound samples than I can count. Electronic instruments play their odd little layered melodies and then studdently drop out, and all you can hear is a heartbeat and a voice whispering "slayer" in the darkness. I don't know where he comes up with this stuff, but it's more than just a little creepy. Hamauzu also makes a very cool contribution called "Approach to a Shrine," which is another great example of instruments setting the mood. The piece has an Eastern flair to it, owing to the metal xylophone-like instrument playing chords typical of that region. Melodies and harmonies are layered and flow together easily, despite there being some very different instruments in there some electronic, others (like the deep bell) very traditional. It's a track that feels restful and restless at the same time; I guess the characters can feel the tranquility of the nearby shrine, but still have to be on the lookout for enemy ambushes.
Ancient shrines and whatnot are well and good, of course, but the heart of Front Mission: Gun Hazard is industrial music. It's already met halfway by the electronic instruments, and those hammering factory sounds are some of the best ambience around. "Voice of Ark," "Galeon," and "A-R-K," to name a few, are industrial tracks that all sound like the player being pursued. The slow "Invasion" and the two "Warning" tracks which follow it are more industrial goodness. Uematsu's, the second of the two, is especially interesting, featuring a weird melody instrument that sounds kind of like a snake charmer's flute at least, that's the way they always sound in the movies. As long as you're listening to those tracks, keep going with the next one, "Genoce," which is another battle theme from the sound of it. Mitsuda's "Royce Felder" is some fantastic mood music. First we have a hopelessly sad harmony played on harp and strings, then the tears are choked back as a march picks up the shattered pieces and carries on, like a true soldier.
Careful listeners might catch a few glimpses of Uematsu's trademark work in here. This composition job shortly preceded Final Fantasy VII, if I'm not mistaken, and there are a couple of tracks that even use similar instruments. "Warning Two" already has a few hints of that game in it, and "Cenktrich" reminds me heavily of "Aerith's Theme." With all those symphonic strings in the background, and lofty melodies, it has that same warm spacey feeling that takes me back to the days of spikey hair and buster swords. Uematsu also takes us back to a simpler time with "Blue Sky ~Blue Sky~" (the track so pretty they named it twice!), whose simple sad chimings almost sound like they could be from Final Fantasy V era. And finally, he gives us a glimpse of the future (looking forward from 1996 anyway) in "Transaction," which has sort of a sneaky jazz going on, possibly the predecessor for the Deling sewers music of Final Fantasy VIII.
Many of the other highlights of the soundtrack are the remaining battle themes. The final track of Disc One, "Naval Fortress," is a nice battle theme, as well as the final battle "Impatience" by Hamauzu, which has an eerily controlled melody but disguises a fierce tempo underneath. "Atlas" and "202," both by Uematsu, sound like preludes to battle. The first is definitely more inspirational, grand organ passages rising from the depths and weaving together like nobody's business. The second is deep in industrial territory, and it's much darker. Nevertheless, it has its own share of heroic harmonies and melodies that speak of grim determination. Finally, Uematsu gives us "Sentinel". It's a dynamic, fluid piece that is the closest thing I've ever heard to a military battle played out in music. You can practically hear the marching, the weapons ringing in your ears; you can even track the progress of the fighting as harmonies turn tragic and then hopeful as the heroes gain ground. A brilliant narrative jewel.
There you have it, the soundtrack to Front Mission's little brother, Gun Hazard. As a musical work, though, this thing is little brother to nobody. It's primarily a thumping example of fine industrial music, but with ample influence from other styles as well. One of Gun Hazard's musical strengths is its terrific track arrangement. A harsh lesson was learned in Front Mission, where too many tracks of one kind (battle themes, for example) fell grouped together, leaving large segments of the CD sounding the same. Gun Hazard really mixes things up, and provides a perfect balance between having too many different styles going on and having everything sound the same. It does this despite having four different composers; with the exception of the tracks that remind you of Final Fantasy, it's nigh impossible to tell which musician wrote what. You'll find a filler track here and there, but at least nothing that's annoying to listen to. As an out-of-print soundtrack, you'll be hard pressed to find this little wonder, but it is out there. Just keep scouring the horizons, good listeners.