Dirge of Cerberus Final Fantasy VII Original Soundtrack :: Review by Totz
There are lots of people out there that don't seem to care much for Square Enix's Compilation of Final Fantasy VII. Maybe it's because it feels like they're milking one of their most successful games, maybe it's because some people have already found closure in the original story, maybe it's just for the sake of it. I don't know, people are weird. Dirge of Cerberus Final Fantasy VII, the last part of the overall arc chronologically (there's still Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII but that's years before this one), focuses on Vincent Valentine and his quest to stop the Deep Ground Soldiers from probably either taking over or destroying the world. Anyway, even if the game might not be that good based on Japanese reviews, there's no denying the soundtrack is great.
But come on, with Masashi Hamauzu at the helm, did you have any doubts? Oh, you did, heathen? Then let's go and I'll show you to never have any doubts when He is composing.
There sure are lots of orchestral performances, right?
You know it. The Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Koji Haijima performed Hamauzu's compositions wonderfully. Mad props to them. Hey, you can't comment on how good a piece of music is without a shout-out to the performers, right? Also, you can't forget the arranger, Yoshihisa Hirano, because he did a wonderful job. Note that I could have mentioned some other live performances, but I thought I would pick the longest ones, since, theoretically, they would offer more variety. Make no mistake, the rest is equally good. So, let's get it on!
The album begins with "Fliker," a track that goes up and down like a roller-coaster, in the way that it start out as being an epic fanfare, but then quiets down, only to rise up again some time later. It keeps on doing this, and it neves ceases to be great. The way it passes the main theme around is amazing, as are all the parts in between each appearance of it. This orchestral masterpiece begins as a grandiose introduction, only to turn around and put a veil over its head, creating an aura of mystery, before finally unshrouding itself, as a lonely horn rendition of the theme, almost as if it is inviting you to see how it continues. So, how does it stack up to Hamauzu's and Hamaguchi's "UNLIMITED SaGa Overture"? While both feature the same idea (a theme being repeated by different instruments and with different accompaniments), "Fliker" goes unresolved at the end, while the Overture doesn't. But, alas, Kawazu's game didn't need any special melodic treatment it was a common RPG, whereas Dirge of Cerberus has a more ambient nature, which is expressed in many ways throughout the album. A great opener.
Anything that would come after such a fantastic opening track would need be pretty good to live up to it. And, thankfully, "Calm Before the Storm" lives up to the quality of "Fliker," but in a different, more elegant, way. Against the backdrop of a sweet sounding piano, strings and flutes play a certain motif. This thematic material will be important later on in soundtrack, as Lucrecia's theme, featured on both "Memories with Lucrecia" and "Lucrecia Crescent." Vincent has a very sad history with this woman, and blames himself for her death, so this innocent theme, aptly named, most likely represents their happy times together the precious moments they spent side-by-side. It's almost tear-jerking.
And continuing with Lucrecia's theme comes "Prologue of 'DIRGE OF CERBERUS'." This 2-part composition gets the best of both worlds: the sweet elegancy of Hamauzu's more melodic tracks and the excitement of his action compositions. It begins with some really quiet synth, which is joined by a piano and strings, the former playing Vincent's lady's motif, while the latter accompanies it, and that's it for the first half. The second part is much more chaotic, with some very clever use of instrumentation, such as the brass horns, because the ascending passage keeps changing instrument. And the ending? The main theme introduced in "Fliker." Expect to see a lot more of it.
Moving forward towards Disc Two, we get to "Marching Tune," a composition that uses a lot of themes and accompaniments from other tracks and melts them all into one masterpiece. You'll recognize other tracks such as "Fliker," "Trigger Situation," and "Girl Named Shelke" almost instantaneously, for most of them weren't radically changed, only slightly altered to fit in with the mood of this composition. As crazy as it may sound combining all these different music pieces in only one, it works, because Hamauzu didn't just write one after the other. He wrote bridges and transitions, and it shows, because the flow is incredible.
And going even more forward, there's the final battle theme, "Chaotic End," which lives up to its name, even if the beginning begs to differ. It begins somewhat slowly, with long brass notes and a slow string melody, but when it erupts, it is with powerful and intimidating brass passages and, again, the throwing of a theme around. It slows down a bit for a while, and comes back in full force when you least expect, with the help of a piano, before developing into a somawhat more mystical part, with glissandi and fast runs on the piano, with a slow string accompaniment. And before you know it, the horns get back up and start doing their thing, as always, with strings by their side. There's even a part with piano and xylophone, and it works very well, believe it or not. Amidst all the chaos and energy of the other instruments, these two sure are a breath of fresh air. After a repeat of the mystic part, "Chaotic End," well, ends on the quiet side, with strings, harp, piano and percussion. While the latter really goes out with a bang, the rest play a soft little melody, as if the chaos has already subsided, while the timpani really disagrees.
And to finish this part off, as well as the album, is "Hope for the Future." It's a very soft sounding piece of music, a lot like "Calm Before the Storm," but with some timpani hits to spice things up a bit. Around the 2:20 mark, Lucrecia's theme makes another appearance, to remind us (and Vincent!) that she's still around, in his heart. At this point, you might think it's over and there's like 40 seconds of silence, but nope. Guess what plays? The main theme. It had to be resolved, and it was.
And some great non-orchestral stuff as well.
Yep. Like "Trigger Situation," which was the first composition from the game ever released to the public, playing on the background in the official Dirge of Cerberus website. With some synth and piano prepping up the ground, we soon hear a faint suspended string note and a choir that keeps getting bigger and bigger. What follows is too good to be true. The percussion keeps on dancing, with the strings and the brass not playing anything specific (as in "recognizable"), until the violin gets all excited, and builds up for the next part, which has brass playing the same note on long rhythms, with strings accompaning it, a situation that is quickly reversed, but with strings playing an ascending run, so it can lead us to the ending, which is consisted of synth and ambient noises, a very empty sound.
Opposite the energy of "Trigger Situation" comes "Fragment of Memory," a moving piano, violin, and cello piece. If you know me, you'll remember I'm crazy about piano trios. And how glad I am, when I've got something as beautiful as this composition on one of my favourite ensembles. The piano is the main instrument, getting support from the strings, for most of the track, although there's a part towards the 2:30 mark where the violin takes the lead. It's magnificent.
After the destruction of the evil ShinRa Corporation, the world was without one of its main villains. Unfortunately, the damage to the Planet was already done. So, just to prove he isn't stupid as his lame robotic puppet, Reeve Tuesti is either leading the World Restoration Organization (that's what WRO stands for), or he is an active member or something like that. The "WRO March" is very noble, as if telling us these guys are good, unlike the dark, brooding "Shinra Company" from Final Fantasy VII. It is formulaic, yes, but that doesn't detract from the enjoyment one bit.
And for something terribly creeping, here's "Rosso the Crimson." After some haunting synth noises comes the terrifying strings, and then a piano with way too much reverb. It all adds to the idea that you're alone with this freak soldier guy, so you must be scared of it. It's a bit similar to what Hamauzu did with "Azul the Cerulean," which you'll see in the second to last section of the review, but with a different conception of fear.
>I've talked so much about Lucrecia's theme, so it's time to finally review the two tracks that have her name on them, "Memories with Lucrecia" and "Lucrecia Crescent." "Memories of Lucrecia" is very uplifting, mostly because of the flute runs towards the middle of the piece, but kind of sad at the same time, because these are memories that are never coming back. It begins with piano playing the theme with string accompaniment, and then the flute sweetens it up a up. "Lucrecia Crescent," while still sweet-sounding, is a bit more mature, instrument-wise. The theme is still there in all its glory, but the inclusion of a saxophone really made a difference. I have always associated saxes with nighttime, and since there is a "crescent" in the title, which is also a figure of the moon, I was in awe. It still has piano, violin and flute, but while "Memories with Lucrecia" was a bit simpler, "Lucrecia Crescent" has a much more developed piano accompaniment, which leads up to the first sax part. It sounds absolutely beautiful, especially when it plays the main theme.
Enough of Lucrecia now! It's time for Yuffie! She has two tracks devoted to her as well, namely "Mysterious Ninja" and "Ninja Girl of Wutai." The former is a nice, playful tune, with some exciting parts in between, nothing special. I'll tell you this, though: the theme from the beginning is a joy to listen to. So lively, so innocent. "Ninja Girl of Wutai" screams Musashiden II Blademaster in all directions. Using simply common instruments (no ethnic stuff involved), Hamauzu crafted a perfect Asian-sounding theme. This track would be nothing without Goto-san's amazing violin performance. More composers should mix live performances with synthesized instruments, because then the compositions gets the best out of both worlds.
Haha, tricked you! More Lucrecia! In "Splinter of Sadness," her theme appears yet again, played by the violin this time around, with piano and wind chimes accompaning it. At first, it features a lot of piano (low registers, fast, muddy) over synth, with some chimes sporadically appearing, but when the chimes chime in a little more, they announce it's time for the violin to take the lady's motif and play it. "Awakening," on the other hand, is nowhere near as delicate as "Splinter of Sadness." Nope, not one bit. Low suspended strings and a slow ascending brass passage start up the macabre feeling the track gives. Then, over some timpani rolls, strings hold a note while brass still ascends. Uh oh, it's going to wake up any time.... IT JUST DID! BAM! Like Mount freaking Vesuvius. A brass glissando sounds a lot like an alarm going off, and the pure, raw energy the strings and percussion pass onto you is enough to make you collapse. Finally, with some long, slow chords, it finishes its awakening process, ready to wreck havoc everywhere.
Hamauzu has written some of the most enjoyable battle themes ever, so I was expecting some mind-blowing stuff in this album. What I got, however, was... different.
The first one, "Arms of Shinra," starts out with some frantic string passages and some brass "thumping," and then a weird howling sound produced by the violin gets louder and louder, introducing us to the electric guitar, which will become an integral part in the composition, playing some riffs in the background (I say "integral" because it adds a lot to the track's uniqueness at this point. Stay tuned for more of it soon). Brass and strings then play possibly the only semblant of a melody you'll find in this track. I wish I could say that what they're playing is the original Shinra scale, but that's just wishful thinking. Anyway, the following part I found rather drawn out, and it is just guitar over electronic percussion and strings; the final part is the same thing, but with some distant long synth notes.
That's probably not what you were expecting, and neither was I. But fear not, as "Girl Named Shelke" is here to restore your faith, brother! The track begins a charming little piano over strings intro, but with a mighty timpani thump, Hamauzu reminds us, with a heavy-sounding basso ostinato, that it's no ordinary girl named Shelke; she's also a warrior.... named Shelke. And the melody... man, oh man, it's so light-hearted. You've got the violin, with some supporting roles played by piano and woodwinds. It contrasts with the powerful sound of the repeating bass, creating a very insteresting two-faced composition, expressing very well the enemy you're fighting in the game.
The next one, "Killing One Another," has some impact going on for its favour. It trades the need for a melody in exchange for relying, in the first part, solely on a repeating low string and timpani line, with some touches of violins, brass, and a piano in its high registers here and there. That goes on for about 50 seconds; you'll notice the repeating pattern stops for a moment, followed by a frantic bridge, and then another one takes its place, while high strings play around with a menacing descending, then ascending chord sequence. I'd say it's pretty close to Unlimited SaGa's "Battle Theme 2" if I had to draw a parallel between the two albums.
"Crimson Impact" is VERY interesting. For starters, it's a successful Yamazaki/Hamauzu partnership, where the synth not only adds to the composition's enjoyment, but is an intrinsic characteristic. Up until the 30 second mark, the track remains very simple; it starts out with a brass and string ostinato and what sounds like a man exhalling slowly. After an otherwordly synthy sound, a very simple brass passage begins, and with it comes percussion to join in the track's base. Now the good stuff comes, this was just an intro. With a simple crash of the cymbals and yet another creepy synth sound, the ostinato gets stronger and more aggressive. I find the next part a bit too messy, with too much stuff, but it soon turns much more mellow, with a beautiful violin passage. So now it basically dies out to repeat, but with an added extra: over the original repetition, we have a sound of clanging metal and snare drums, and only after that little something is done that it truly repeats. Simple, short, yet outstanding.
Finally, my favourite fight tune, "Messenger of the Dark." From a beginning that consists of nothing but few timpani thumps, a repeating percussion instrument (no drum, it's very light), whooshing synth and a contrabass line, it evolves into a violin melody being played over lower strings, piano and percussion; even horns and a xylophone join the party, because it's so awesome, but only as support instruments. After all, it's not their party, and they know it. Then, as Hamauzu cools us down with the same pattern from the beginning, he kicks it into overdrive and things get completely out of hand. You have horns playing a chord sequence, high strings playing rapid, frantic, nigh crazy passages, and a snare drum setting down a rhythm. Not only that, but there's a synth sound that seems to be shooting at you! And when you think it can't get crazier, in the final section, there are some feral sounds, topped over the unity of brass and strings, as they fight together to achieve a common goal. As always, we are lead right back to the piano, strings and percussion part in a way which only Hamauzu can write. It's just... Wow.
Last, but not least, it's "The Immaculate." Now, see, I still think one of Hamauzu's finest creations ever is FFX's "Decisive Battle." So I must compare every decisive battle theme he writes with that masterpiece. Unlimited SaGa's "BT Ultimate" came close to it, and it's a great techno-ish beat meets piano meets Hamauzu. "The Immaculate," however, falls short of expectations. It has some truly great moments, but overall, I felt it was probably the weakest fight tune of them all. As that desolate, chilling, and almost holy intro begins, we are led to think "It'll pick up steam soon." Thing is, it never does. It stays in the slow spectrum for pretty much the whole time. To add to the injury, it loops halfway, even though there's some new material later on, which is the great moment I mentioned earlier. I bet you thought I had forgotten about it. It's nice and all, but it's the clichéd militaristic music I've grown tired of since Front Mission 3: snare, brass, and strings. Finally, with what seems like a victorious fanfare, the track ends, as lonely and haunting as it had begun. For shame. For shame! It's just like the whole "L'Illusion" fiasco from the "Coi Vanni Giali" album. At least there's "Chaotic End"... *shrugs*
Some interesting fusions going on...
Hamauzu isn't just pretty orchestras and nice sounding violin melodies. No, no. As Disc Two of the Unlimited SaGa Original Soundtrack showed, Yamazaki and he make an excellent team, with the first working on the synth, and the latter, well, duh, the music. On this section, I chose compositions were the synth is really fundamental, so that's why tracks like "Trigger Situation" are elsewhere. In Dirge of Cerberus, our Masashi takes a small step towards the rock direction, with some great pieces. Among them are "Azul the Cerulean" and "Fight Tune 'Arms of Shinra'." As I have already discussed the latter (it's not my fault you skipped it because it was boring you!), I'll take some time to see what's so good with ol' Blue the Blue. Yeah. "Azul" means "Blue" in Spanish and Portuguese, and Cerulean is just some fancy name for anoter hue of blue, so the dude's name is Blue the Blue. Awesome.
"Azul the Cerulean" begins as a typical orchetral mysterious track, rather slowly, with suspended strings and some percussion to create suspense, then it quickly escalates into a feeling of danger around the 30 second mark: rapid violin passages, timpani thumps, and trombone accompany an oppressive chord sequence. Still, what's interesting about this track is what comes after all this, which is the electric (distortion?) guitar and a drum set. For an album that is pretty much all orchestral, it's certainly unexpected to find such a section. Anyway, it's not like the guitar does a whole lot, so don't expect a lot of rock. It mostly helps with the ambient nature of the composition, while giving it a certain edge. It's not long before we go right back to pure orchestral work. It's simply a repetition of percussion of the beginning, with some tremolos in the violins and more suspended strings and a bit of low brass. All in all, a very good score that seems fitting to Mr. Blue, combining the peril of the unknown with the danger of a really big guy.
"Abhorrence Whirls," "Undulation," and "Terminus" might seem like the typical boring, ambient kind of music 99.9% of the world hates... but I have already spoiled half the fun by placing them on this section of the review. What makes them so special, what sets them apart from the stuff I don't really like (don't forget I love Nakano's work, so it has to be some really dull, unrhythmic ambience to annoy me), is how the synth is manipulated. In the first track mentioned, Yamauzu (that's their name now, just to make it easier for me) combines slow, suspended strings with long, cold synth sounds to create a really chilling atmosphere. "Undulation" takes a different path: no instruments, just synth. It creates a very unique sound, if maybe a bit too simple. Had it been expanded a bit, it could have been one of the most creative tracks of the album. Finally, "Terminus" is all about being really, REALLY atmospheric, with it being a mix of a pure sounding synth muddling up a choir, with some strings at the end. If it doesn't bore you to tears, I'm sure you'll find it to be awe-inspiring.
"Silent Edge" combines the best of Hamauzu's ambience with some awesome guitar passages. A harp in the beginning makes you dive into a feeling of relaxation, so the strings, piano, echoing synth, percussion, and guitar can just take you away... It's almost breathtaking. But then something happens. The "edge" part of the title happens. The percussion gets faster, and the cello starts a syncopating rhythm. It's an unfortunately short section, which is followed by some long string notes, and then a return to the beginning. It could have been so much more... It could have been a contender!
After the rest "Silent Edge" just gave ya, here's a free history lesson: legend tells that once, somebody asked Hamauzu, "Hamauzu, what would be bestowed upon the world if you were to write a piece for jazz sax, piano, electric guitar, bass, strings, snare drum and trumpet?" to which he replied "...who are you and why are you stalking me? Get outta here!" Well, now, years later, I now the answer to that question: "Counteroffensive." Let me explain how it works: the base of the track is consisted of the snare, the bass, the electric guitar and the piano, while the sax plays some wiggling melodies. That's just in the beginning though, because soon it really starts to, um, counter...offensively... and it starts to get more action packed, with low syncopated strings, high rapid strings, and a trumpet playing an ascending melody to get us back to the initial bass, sax, and all. There's even a part where the piano plays all weird and stuff, all improvised, which just adds to the jazzy nature of the composition. Classy.
Nonetheless, no composition screams UNLIMITED DISC TWO more than "Sneaky Cait Sith." It's such a delightful amalgamation of quirky synth sounds, piano, a woodwind, and a cello that, by staying humorous throughout the duration of the track, is thus a perfect characterization of the near useless puppet. Oh, come on, you know that's true. 9 out of 10 dentists recommend not using Cait Sith in battle during Final Fantasy VII. The tenth dentist was too busy, you know, being a dentist and fixing people's teeth to play the game. I would have loved to see what Hamauzu would have done with Uematsu's original theme, though.
However, "Darkness" is beyond limits of awesomeness. If you had to pay a fine because you were awesome, you would see that track in court every day, trying to contest its ticket, because, darn, it's a piece of music, and it isn't made of money. After the initial creepy synth, some light percussion, piano, and, to some extent, later on, strings, carry the melody, while some more crazy shooting sounds add to feel of the piece. There's even a small section where synth a significant melodic role to break from the repetition of the piano. And to break it even more, the previously mentioned string part is to die for. Yamauzu shoots. THEY/HE SCORE(S).
You know who you would see in awesome traffic court as well? "Trespasser." Goodness, that composition knows no bounds. It's got synth, strings, electric guitar, a drum set, and goodness knows what else. It is basically a mystery tune spread out across suspended strings, synth sounds, and some electric guitar riffs. Think Musashiden II's "White Whale of the Sky," yet not so ethereal, more mysterious, a bit edgier on the unnatural sounds, and with some good guitar work. That was one of the best tracks of Hamauzu's previous work, and, naturally, "Trespasser," borrowing heavily from that style, is also one of the best compositions of Dirge of Cerberus, easily.
Along the same route, comes "Death and Rebirth." You may think it's a calm little choir piece, but when the metals start clanging and the percussion starts thumping and the choir starts getting more and more agitated, you know the situation isn't the best.
Oh, there's Gackt too
After discussing Hamauzu's compositions and Yamazaki's contributions, we can't forget to talk about vampire boy Gackt's as well.
The first, "Longing," is the strangest of the two, with the use of weird electronic noises to accompany the band's playing. Gackt's vocal are superb as usual, and, speaking of which, his singing sounds like it's being muffled by something, except on the chorus. But if you thought that was as odd as it gets, you're wrong. Towards the 2:25 mark, all the rocking takes a backseat to an organ, some strings, and even female chants! Creativity ran rampant on this one, it seems. In my 20 years of existence, never have I thought an organ would come to mind when I think about a longing feeling. Never ever... Also, I thought the guitar riffs were awesome, so kudos to his band as well.
"Redemption," however, is more my kind of music. It's, well, more normal than "Longing," but that's what not makes the song better in my opinion. It's a very good example of how less is more; instead of having crazy sections like the ones in the previous composition, it sticks to being a regular rock track, which is not a bad thing at all. It's straight up J-Rock, which could be what you were expecting from Gackt. That's what I had in mind, and my expectations were fulfilled, that's for sure.
Gackt did a wonderful job with both songs, each exploring a different side (maybe even feeling) of Vincent's quest to redeem himself after what happened to his love, Lucrecia, way back when, even before the happenings of Final Fantasy VII. So, were these good additions to an already marvelous soundtrack, or is it simply pointless rock from a guy who's in the game for no reason at all (actually, his character in the game is pretty awesome, from what I read)? It's the first one, trust me. An album with several pieces of music in one style can get dull rather quickly, so not only do we have Hamauzu's orchestral, electronica, and those crazy fusions, now we have Gackt's rock, the last piece of the puzzle.
This album is nearly perfect. What stops it from being flawless is that this is not the usual Hamauzu we know and love, and because of that, some people might not get into it, since it's a lot less melodic than his other works. If this soundtrack was a bit more like Unlimited SaGa it would have been a lot more accessible.
That doesn't mean I didn't like it. I LOVED it. It's ambient, but it's not dull like a lot of ambience out there. It's orchestral, but it's not orchestral just to be orchestral. It's powerful, it's creative, and very enjoyable. I can recommend it to pretty much anyone, but here's my advice again: Do not expect another Unlimited SaGa because this soundtrack, while better, is very different. It's not as melodic, and it doesn't have that many themes. It's a different facet of Hamauzu, one we haven't been aware of until now. It's very cinematic, so the impact comes not from themes, but from each composition itself.
Nonetheless, it's fantastic. It's amazing. I can, and will, run out of positive adjectives to describe the Dirge of Cerberus Final Fantasy VII Original Soundtrack. It's a work of genius. There, that's the last thing I'll say.
Overall Score: 10/10