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An Cinniùint :: Review by Kero Hazel

An Cinniùint Album Title: An Cinniùint
Record Label: Sleigh Bells
Catalog No.: SBPS-0001/2
Release Date: December 25, 2001
Purchase: Buy at VGM World


Whenever you want to talk about the genius composer Yasunori Mitsuda, it always keeps coming back to Xenogears. Far be it from poor creatures like myself, who don't think the Xenogears Original Soundtrack was that spectacular, to stand in the way of popular opinion. But as much as I like to go against the grain concerning the soundtrack for Xenogears, I can't deny the fact that it had a profound impact on Mitsuda's musical career. The true beauty in the Xenogears Original Soundtrack, I suppose, is the huge stylistic realm that it opened up, Xenogears itself being merely a door that lead to greater things.

An Cinniùint, the soundtrack for the game Tsugunai: Atonement, is one of those greater things. It's a special soundtrack for Mitsuda, as the original soundtrack was not released by DigiCube, as the publisher of the game declined to produce it. As a composer, Mitsuda did not hold the rights to the recordings made for Tsugunai: Atonement; he did, however, keep the rights to the music itself. And so, after re-recording all of the music, he has released the soundtrack under his own label, Sleigh Bells. Now for the tracks.

Track-by-Track Reviews

Disc One

1) Opening

Did I mention that Yasunori Mitsuda is a big fan of Celtic music? You can certainly tell from this opener. Some cool stuff happens between the fiddles and the flutes. The sounds of the two just seem to melt into a single instrument. It's quite a lively piece, made very powerful thanks to the drums and layered harmonies.

2) Tsugunai

Set in 3/4 (waltz) time, this track is a beautiful little flute piece. I can't help but get an Eastern vibe from it, possibly due to the string instrument in the background, which reminds me of a particular Japanese instrument whose name escapes me. I'm not quite certain of this, but I believe "tsugunai" is Japanese for "atonement".

3) Whilst I Sleep

Again with the Eastern flair, and again with the flute. This one isn't a solo, though; it's got several woodwinds participating, although these too drop out in a couple places. It's also a lot more on the ambient side; it reminds me of a dream that hasn't quite vanished after waking.

4) Morning Fog in the Village

This reminds me a lot of the world map music for Xenogears, and it's probably no accident. It begins with some ringing chimes, and we get some pleasant counterpoint from the strings. When the melody kicks in on the clarinet, it wraps everything up in a neat little package. With so many good tranquil tracks in a row, one wonders if Mitsuda can keep it up.

5) Cursed Forest

We will never know, for instead of another quiet village theme, we land in the middle of a haunting forest. I love the instrumentation here. It perfectly recreates the sensation of being alone and watched by some unknown presence, with just a hint of industrialisation.

6) Battle - Level 1

An interesting fusion of intense battle music and Celtic instruments. Great work with the percussion keeps the beat steady, but at the same time throws in some polyrhythm to keep things interesting. At one point, the action appears to die down as a lone electric guitar plays softly in the background, then everything comes back at once for another round of musical battle. A great battle theme, Mitsuda gets the point across and has some fun with it.

7) Spirit Tower

If Mitsuda keeps this up, all of us trained in the musical arts are going to have to re-learn music theory. I cannot, for the life of me, place this piece on the ambient/narrative spectrum. It's slow like ambient music, but there is definitely a story being told here. But anyway, this track is just choke-full of goodness. The instrumentation is an eerie blend of piano, chimes, voices, and this new-age "vibrating" sound that defies description. As the dark harmonies creep slowly towards an invisible climax, you can practically feel the evil dripping from the notes. This is one of my favorites on the soundtrack.

8) Enemy in My Path

Think of "Battle - Level 1," minus the Celtic stuff, minus some of the emotion, and plus a lot more industrial instruments. Whereas the first battle theme seemed to say "Let's kick some ass!," this battle theme says "Clear a path through the enemies, and get the hell outta here!" I swear that this piece helped to inspire a lot of the Xenosaga Original Soundtrack.

9) Victory!

This is in no way a small victory theme. This is a full-on parade thrown in honor of conquering heroes. Heavy on the drums and cymbals, it features a catchy melody/harmony combination.

10) Departure

I can tell we are deep within industrial territory, and it feels pretty good. Like an awakening giant, this track is powerful not because of what it reveals, but what it hints at. The pace is rather slow for an escape theme, but I think that just strings out the tension even more.

11) Collapse

The Game Over theme, no doubt. For just a brief instant, there is a burst of voices like the musical representation of light, then all is darkness. Okay, it's 51 seconds; that's a LONG instant, right?

12) A Peaceful Temple

The name says it all. It's pretty much a standard chorale — a church choir piece that resonates. That's not to say that it isn't extremely beautiful, but rather that it just isn't as unique as the other tracks on the soundtrack.

13) Early Afternoon in the Village

After those last two religious tracks, the best way to describe this piece would probably be to call it the reincarnation of "Village of Morning Mist." After a minute into it, you'll recognize the same melody. This version is slower, and seems to have more instruments working at the same time, though I personally prefer the former. What I do love about this version, however, is the stronger Celtic flavor, which seems to be very appropriate here.

14) Evening in the Village

Though this track starts out sounding like a flute/clarinet duet, it actually ends up being more like a solo with lots of filler instruments in the background. Each instrument seems to be doing this "cute" little up and down thing, while only the melody instrument actually does any work. It's still a great piece to relax to, though.

15) The Pub

And what a lively pub at that! If you really got into the mood, you could just pour yourself a pint and start dancing on the nearest table. I wouldn't recommend it, though.

16) Nabi Fairy

Just like in the Xenogears Original Soundtrack, Mitsuda takes us on a musical trip around the world. This one reminds me of Egypt, sailing down the Nile. It's got that distinctive harmony, and it has some good creative percussion too.

17) Find Him!

This is just one of those fun tracks that makes you wonder what's happening in the game (for those of us that haven't played it). It almost sounds like some kind of dance, but it's so comical that I think otherwise. Great instrumentation, and the harmony has a distinctive upbeat cool jazz feel to it.

18) Conspiracy Within Castle Walls

Just as I'm starting to get a little sick of the goofy songs, Mitsuda brings back the dark stuff I have come to love him for. Almost everything here is industrial-sounding, from the percussion to the eerie harmonic chimes; it even starts to permeate the traditional instruments like the strings. The way everything fits together reminds me of a sinister clock, each instrument falling precisely in line with some kind of sound effect cue.

19) Valley of the Goblins

"Valley of the Goblins" is pretty serious, but not exactly what I would call dark, and certainly not industrial. It starts off with an oscillating synth harp, or some other stringed instrument, and picks up other instruments along the way. None of them, not even the harp, stick around for very long, and none of them carry an extended melody. Each one of them, however, adds something to the whole, and this combination of brief melodic fragments and jazzy free-form interludes forms a great overall style.

20) The Flaming Tree

I can't really explain the title on this one, as this piece doesn't sound too much like fire. It's actually quite tranquil, and I think that water would be a more suitable descriptive element. It has sort of a soft jazz feel to it, staying well away from conventional key signatures and harmonies. Nice, but nothing spectacular.

Disc Two

1) Happiness

For some reason, the recurring themes in An Cinniùint are really hard for me to follow. For example, I'm sure I've heard the theme in this piece before, but I just can't place it. It's sort of complementary to the one introduced in "Village of Morning Mist," almost like a secondary theme or an exposition. The instrumentation is pretty subtle, which gives us a nice break from the "crowded" masses of instruments used in previous tracks. Mitsuda scores again with his trademark guitar style.

2) Black Shadow

Despite the title, this piece isn't all that dark. It's a bit sad, but I think the mood is more "contemplative" than anything else. The primary instrument is a keyboard, with some interesting droning ambient synthesizer in the background. It features slow moving harmonies, kind of like melting snow.

3) Ship Run Aground

This is a mysterious theme that doesn't have too much going for it as far as melody or composition are concerned (actually, there is not really a discernable melody anyway). The clever instrumentation saves the day, though, making this suitable for setting a mood, although it doesn't stand too well on its own.

4) Book of Legends

More mystery. The melodic instrument sounds like it could be an oboe, which is always good for this kind of music. The soft strings and piano in the background flesh out this piece nicely, and make for a nice interlude when the oboe drops out. Slightly more interesting than the previous track.

5) Vanished Body

Here we have some creepy voices forming a dissonant choir of agony; it's straight out of Dante's Inferno. Yet another mood-setting piece which isn't all that brilliant, musically speaking.

6) Fortress of Orcs

A bit like "Nabi Fairy," this piece has some harmonies that remind me of the Middle East. It's fairly ambient, dominated by drums and a exotic-sounding stringed instrument. Pretty simple, but in an elegant sort of way.

7) The Test

This one continues the general style of the previous track, but in a much more grandiose fashion. The number of instruments is easily doubled here. The instrument that carries the melody is particularly interesting to me, because I can't figure out exactly what it is. When you listen to this one, you just sort of go with the flow.

8) Battle - Level 2

Returning once more to the Celtic style somewhat, this track doesn't quite fit in my mind as a proper battle theme. First, it's too slow. Second, the Celtic instrument drops out early on in favor of this weird electric organ. Third, the whole bass section sounds more like improvized jazz than anything you'd normally find in battle music. Not that this is a bad track, by any means, but it is definitely not "ready for combat".

9) Purification

This is undoubtedly a victory theme. It begins with a nice string-heavy cymbal-crashing flourish, then eases into a slow rhythm led by chimes and woodwinds, fading away after a few repetitions.

10) Grief

Now I'm usually not one to judge a piece based on one instrument's melody line, but the flute passage here is just too beautiful for words; it has such an emotional timbre and the piano chords create the perfect harmonic balance. This is just one of those tracks you share with your friends to convince them of Mitsuda's greatness.

11) Fisela's Theme

Although this track begins with a short prelude of synth voices and clarinet, it is primarily a string piece. Piano, bass, guitar, and a mandolin-like instrument play some wonderful layered harmonies, surely the best aspect of this piece. The melody is simple, the key signature modal as in "The Flaming Tree," and the mood is kind of warm and cosy.

12) Cemetary

Like "Happiness" and "Morning Fog in the Village" before it, this track could easily be another candidate for the world map music. A flute takes the melody line for the whole song, developing a fairly elaborate and pretty theme. Piano and guitar have some broken chord action going on in the background, so the piece keeps flowing pretty steadily. Not very cemetery-like, but what are you gonna do?

13) Between Mirrors

Echoing cellos start off this dark track, soon accompanied by piano, chimes, and even more strings. The melody is pretty simplistic, but very catchy in a sinister sort of way. I feel this piece could have been handled a lot better, personally. Just when a new instrument comes in and starts hinting at some development, it promptly fades and lets the same old melody take over again.

14) Battle - Level 3

While the previous battle theme had musical goodness but no battle feeling, this one has plenty of action in it, but the music just isn't that good. Oh, the instrumentation is great, but the problem is that there are exactly three main segments to this theme, and each of them is pretty repetitive. I'm guessing that this track sounds a lot better to someone who's actually playing the game.

15) Sanctuary of Darkness

The bizarre chanting and surreal percussion instruments of this track make for an excellent ambient mood-setter. It includes a few touches of piano and other tones here and there. I shouldn't even need to mention the fabulous instrumentation. Subtle and sinister, two thumbs up.

16) The Devil

The gentle xylophone-like instrument in the background here always catches my attention for some reason in this piece. The chords it plays reminds me of "Schala's Theme" from Chrono Trigger, being very serene and concealing some inner sorrow. Meanwhile, we've got some ethereal voices and nice series of piano notes providing somewhat of a melody. It's pretty ambient, and very minimal, but it's very good all the same.

17) Hell's Resurrection

Cranking out yet another nice ambient track, Mitsuda makes use of some serious electronic distortion here. Even conventional instruments like the background orchestra are twisted until they become so surreal that you can't tell exactly what they are. Whereas "The Devil" was on the droning harmonic side, this track is more like noise. (And I mean the Noise style, not something that's merely atonal).

18) Battle with the Devil

Without a doubt the best fusion piece on the soundtrack. I would have loved to hear more of this kind of stuff elsewhere. Large sections of this are taken directly from "The Devil," and the rest is the same Celtic flavor that we've been hearing since track one of the first disc. It's got a healthy amount of composition and variation, but at the same time maintains a coherent feel throughout. Unfortunately, it does suffer the same tragic fate as "Battle - Level 2," not sounding enough like a battle theme.

19) Eternal Soul

Well, the big baddie is defeated, so now it's time to relax and enjoy the sweet bliss that is a hero's retirement. Yeah, this track is a bit hackneyed, as it reminds me of something you'd hear from the Willow soundtrack. I still have to respect the fact that it's a nice melody, a nice choice of instruments, and great harmonic interaction between those instruments.

20) All is Redeemed

This starts out as a flute piece, with a fair amount of backup from other instruments such as guitar and even some bells. It also features a segment done entirely on strings, and then the flute comes back to finish it off. It's not too spectacular, just a nice simple finishing touch for the soundtrack.


I think of An Cinniùint as a middle ground between the Xenogears Original Soundtrack and Xenosaga Original Soundtrack. It's not as dark as the latter, but not as light-hearted as Xenogears. Quality-wise, it's perhaps a toss up. For me, personally, I like it a lot, but it doesn't really have anything new from Mitsuda; it's pretty much the same stuff he's been doing for the past few years, albeit with a more concentrated and sophisticated Celtic feel. If you liked either of his Xeno soundtracks, then you should definitely give this one a try. However, I would not recommend it for anyone's first Mitsuda experience, as it doesn't have the finesse of his other works.

Overall Score: 7/10