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Salamander 2 Original Game Soundtrack :: Review by Chris

Salamander 2 Original Game Soundtrack Album Title: Salamander 2 Original Game Soundtrack
Record Label: King Records
Catalog No.: KICA-7695
Release Date: April 5, 1996
Purchase: Buy at eBay


After scoring Gradius, Yie Ar Kung Fu, and Knightmare, Miki Higashino tackled her fourth solo score, the 1986 Gradius series Arcade spinoff Salamander. The score maintained the upbeat and melodic flavour of Gradius, but was far more refined musically and technologically. It thus stands as an intermediate between Gradius and Gradius III but still establishes a curious character of its own. Ten years later, the series was revived but Higashino, busy with the Suikoden franchise, didn't return and was replaced by Bemani artist Naoki Maeda the little-known Yo Takamine. The result was one of the greatest shooter scores ever created. Both scores were commemorated in 2003's Salamander Arcade Soundtrack after the successful equivalent release for the Gradius series a year later. The result is an excellent and accessible album that has a few problems where the decision of 'to purchase or not to purchase' is concerned.


After a brief but well done orchestral introduction, Salamander 2 dives straight into the stage themes. Though the 1st stage's "Silvery Wings Again" doesn't exude with excellence, its pronounced melody and rhythmical accompaniment set the scene for some exceptional works. "Sensation" features the catchiest opening figures of the score while evoking an otherworldly floating feel with its mesmerising synth lead. "All Is Vanity" offers a delicious and brooding soundscape only possible through the score's superior technical capacity, maintaining it with exemplarily timed additions of keyboard licks and orch hits during its extensive development. The score further intensifies with "Serious! Serious! Serious!", a fine blend of crisis motifs and triumphant fluorishes, not to mention derivation and individualism; similarly, the beat-heavy "Speed" is full of impetus in its introduction and danger in its development with just enough melodic fragments to provide a jubilant undertone. The straightforward melody and exacting pace of the final stage's "Dear Blue" makes its pre-loop turn wonderfully sinister.

Unlike other games in the Gradius / Salamander franchise, Salamander 2 features multiple boss themes. There are four altogether, some used only once, others used for several stage bosses, creating a decent variety. The 1st stage boss theme "Theme of the Gorem" is an excellent arrangement of the Salamander's boss theme. The first section sounds alien on the synth presented while the more melodic passage is very fulfilling. The even stages boss theme "Theme of the Mechanical Boss" is a percussion and synth fest surely fitting for the enemy depicted while the 3rd and 5th stage's "Theme of the Living Boss" exudes an incredible sound through its fusion of synthetic instruments. The final boss theme "Giga's Rage" is climactic, dominated by crisp furious scalar synth runs and, in moderately anthemic passages, dramatic ascending chord progressions. This is the most intense music I've heard in the Gradius / Salamander franchise and makes it all the more clear that Yo Takamine and Naoki Maeda have excelled where even Motoaki Furukawa and Miki Higashino have disappointed.

Naoki Maeda offers three arrangements of some classic Salamander series themes. The Arcade Salamander's 1st and 3rd stage themes, "Power of Anger" and "Planet Ratis", are arranged. The former maintains all the catchiness of the original but makes it more outwardly emotional and powerful due to fuller synth and plenty of frills in the accompaniment. "Planet Ratis" is another accomplished arrangement featuring a hard rock bass line but a lighter melody. The other addition is an arrangement of the MSX Salamander's bonus stage theme "Last Exit". This trance-infused arrangement is very enjoyable even without familiarity with the little-known original. The final Salamander 2 themes are the ecstatic synthy ending theme "Beginning from the Endless", the groovy naming BGM "What's Your Name?", and some concluding twiddles to accompany the game over screen. Nothing exceptional, but a pleasant conclusion.

But that's not quite the end of the soundtrack! There are four bonus unused tracks only available on this release, probably created before it emerged Salamander 2 would only have six stages. "No Future" is a good composition but lacks the same rhythmic drive and timbral intensity as the other stage themes, sounding more like a fairly elated but unusually long credits theme. "Fire Tripper" is quite laid-back in its primary section too but, like some of the delightful stage themes previously, incorporates a contrasting second section and a bass-focused bridge. Definitely one to revisit. "Nervous Breakdown" is a wonderful track too but very different from most tracks given it adopts a jubilant techno approach; it could have worked wonderfully in context if the entire score were written like this but it sticks out like a sore thumb among the rest of the stage themes. The soundtrack concludes with Yo Takamine's rendition of the Life Force exclusive "Thunderbolt". The crisp phrases of the leading synth line and dense accompaniment make it great fun. Bravo!


The Salamander 2 Original Game Soundtrack is a memorable, emotional, and technically accomplished soundtrack that shines with respect to both stage and boss themes. It surpasses all four main Gradius scores musically and technologically, in my opinion, remaining my favourite of Konami's shooter scores. However, this particular version of the soundtrack is out-of-print and made redundant by the Salamander Arcade Soundtrack. This set reproduces this score without the worthwhile but unessential unreleased tracks; it instead includes the melodically satisfying and historically interesting soundtrack to Salamander and some unremarkable jazz fusion arrangements from Motoaki Furukawa. Overall, I'd highly recommend listening to Salamander 2's score, but only hardcore fans should buy the Original Game Soundtrack above the Arcade Soundtrack no matter how neat the "Thunderbolt" remix is.

Overall Score: 8/10