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Biohazard Orchestra Album :: Review by Mal Cremin

Biohazard Orchestra Album Album Title: Biohazard Orchestra Album
Record Label: Suleputer
Catalog No.: CPCA-1034
Release Date: October 21, 1999
Purchase: Buy at Game Music Online

Review

A couple of years ago, I read about an orchestral concert in Japan where music for the first Resident Evil was performed. When I heard that this album was coming out, I assumed (especially given the title) that it was going to be the score for the first game, as a result of the concert having gone well. Not so. The Biohazard Orchestra Album is actually a selection of music from the first three games. This is good because Masami Ueda's scores for the two sequels are far superior to the committee-composed original. I am a little disappointed, though, because the scores for 2 and 3 are already fully-represented on CD, while the only soundtrack album available for the first game is an occasionally unsatisfying remix. Taken on its own terms, however, the Orchestra Album's shortfall is that it frequently betrays Ueda's fine music with pointless 'improvisations'.

Body

Credited here as main composer, Ueda had less input in the first Resident Evil. This is perhaps reflected in the fact that only a one track 'prologue' to this album is drawn from the first game — its foreboding mansion theme performed as a pipe organ solo. This choice of instrument creates a stereotypical horror sound, and I feel goes too far in making the material tacky. The original, synthesised version in the game suggests a string-section playing this piece, so choosing not to use strings on this album is a waste. A creepy church-organ effect may have sounded good on paper, but it plays badly and doesn't fit the rest of the album. In the Japanese release, the end credits theme was also given a beautiful arrangement, but this was oddly omited from the domestic release.

After the prologue, we come to the finest section of the album — a suite of music from Resident Evil 2. Performed by the New Japan Philharmonic, it sounds very much like the original synthesiser-arrangement, but the full orchestra enriches it. You can hear the resonance of the recording hall and Ueda's action music is very exciting to listen to. Quieter pieces come across well also. My favourite from the score, "A Secure Place", runs just 54 seconds on the original soundtrack album and here is extended to 1 minute 35 by quite good harmonic expansion with string and horn. Being my favourite from the original, I inevitably have a gripe. That is that the piano, mixed back to sound distant (for atmosphere?), is trimmed of its heavy notes, leaving the melody incomplete to my ears.

"A Secure Place" segues into a separate piece, "Leon and Claire", which accompanies the scene in the S.T.A.R.S Office where Leon hands Claire her missing brother's diary. This piece is very faithful to the original arrangement, and exemplifies what is strong about this album. It is a shame, then, that the track then goes inexplicably into a Miklos Roza-style fanfare ending. Resident Evil this is jarringly not. This is thus one track that sums up the whole album — great where it follows and enhances the original music, passable where it slightly deviates, and appalling where it goes into new and inappropriate areas.

Perhaps it is expected of adaptations and re-recordings, but why do albums like this have to introduce new material that doesn't fit in with what you've paid to listen to? The new material on this album is ruinous. A later track, supposedly from Resident Evil 3, lapses into something like a sixties/seventies TV theme tune. It's as if arranger Kazunori Miyake wants to demonstrate his awareness of American culture. Resident Evil being a Japanese pseudo-American entity, he is perhaps asserting his 'qualifications' for the job.

Less offensive is an entire track called "Fearful Is No Word For It'. Although purporting to be from Resident Evil 2, it was omitted to the Biohazard 2 Complete Track since it was a bonus track for the addition scenarios. The track is a running tension-piece, styled blatantly after Jerry Goldsmith. Being Goldsmith-style, it doesn't match the general sound of Ueda and Resident Evil, even if it is acceptable in its minor in-game context. A peculiar addition.

The orchestra album represents Resident Evil 3 more slimly. The desolate piece of music entitled "The City of Ruin" on the original soundtrack, is here called "The First Stage". It's a slow horn-based mood-setter for Jill's re-emergence in the empty broken streets of Raccoon. I found this less satisfying as an adaptation and was hoping for the superb "The Beginning of Nightmare" action piece that occurs at the very start of the game, when you first take control of Jill. Next, you get the action music for the CG movie intro, which is bizarrely reprised in the following track. Why, with the task of selecting from a huge source and a limit of just 44 minutes, do you waste your time and space with a reprise? Did Miyake like this sub-The Rock action signature particularly?

After a disappointing medley with the aforementioned TV nostalgia moment, we get Resident Evil 2's dated 'rock guitar' end titles. As if to remind us that we have been listening to an orchestral album, the New Japan Philharmonic joins in, and even goes off on a classical-style intermission. By the way, why is this final track labelled `Bonus Track'? Back when CDs were asserting themselves in the marketplace, they would have bonus tracks — as in, not on the vinyl or cassette versions. Today, CDs indicate bonus tracks even though the tracks are present on other format releases. And given that these 'bonuses' are often end title tracks — they are hardly 'extras'.

Summary

The producers of this album seem to have thought that it couldn't sell on just being an orchestral version of the music. 'Give them something more for their money', they may have reasoned. For my money, at least, they consequently gave me less. If you like the music of Resident Evil, and would like to own it on CD, you would be better off buying the original soundtrack albums. I would recommend this orchestra album only to completists who already own those other CDs and want more. They are moments of brilliance, but this isn't a coherent orchestral experience.

Overall Score: 6/10