Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Song of the Week - Ramble On (1969)

Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II (1969; Atlantic Records)
The Song of the Week is a little late this week due to unforeseen circumstances, but here I am, publishing in a strange location, looking out a strange window at a gloomy sky and in need of a song that just brings a smile to my face.  It may not be Here Comes the Sun, but it is at least just as good (in my opinion).  So, let's do this thing.

When I think of "epic" songs, there are a number of tunes from the 60's, 70's and even the 90's that come to mind.  My definition of epic may vary from another's but I picture a song with a strong theme or story, powerful lyrics filled with imagery and poetry, and a sound that is big and a song that is not necessarily long, but is definitely somewhat of a journey.  So a big journey, a big epic quest, a story filled with imagery and poetry; yeah, let's roll with that.

Led Zeppelin is a strong contender for the greatest rock band of all time, standing strong alongside the Beatles and the Rolling Stones as amazingly talented, influential and indelible, and one of my personal favorites is their  homage to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, Ramble On.  The song is filled with slightly abstract references to themes and phrases from Tolkien's works including the Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings and some of Tolkien's standalone poetry.

Now, if you aren't a fan of at least one Led Zeppelin song then I can only assume you are either hearing impaired or you have never heard one, so this is your chance.  That said, Ramble On is not considered Zeppelin's greatest tune by most "experts".  No, that honor would most likely go to Whole Lotta Love, their inspirational and accessible anthem from the very same year.  Still, I love the rhythm and sudden changes in tone that this song takes.  The sounds flow together so smoothly, the melody is catchy as hell and Robert Plant's voice is at its best here.  I always though he sounded better when he's able to hold his notes just a little longer, but that is purely subjective.

The Song:

Another game soundtrack spotlight is coming very, very soon.  Until next time...

Led Zeppelin II and all contents therein are property of Atlantic Records (1969).  The video is from and I do not own it or its contents.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Game Soundtrack Spotlight - Super Castlevania IV (1991)

Super Castlevania IV (1991; Konami, Inc.)
by Christopher McElfresh

Before I began, I apologize about not getting something out there sooner.  I will work to be more consistent from here on out.  Anyway, let us begin.

If I had to name one single game soundtrack that I was my absolute, all-time favorite, I would really have to think long and hard for an honest answer.  When I think back on years of amazing game music a few notable titles come to mind.  The previously-covered Life Force, Mega Man 3, Mega Man X, Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII, Street Fighter II...  MAN!  Picking one would be almost impossible for me.  I know what my favorite movie is.  I know what my favorite game is.  However, I cannot name what my favorite song of all time is, in video games or otherwise.  I could not pick only one, because it is just too hard to say.  Still, when I try to think of one game soundtrack that stands out as consistently-good, vibrant, well-composed, towering over most of the games of its era, I think of Super Castlevania IV.

Konami has been responsible for some of the best video game music in the history of the industry.  The soundtracks to games like Life Force, Contra and Contra III remain some of my favorites of all time.  Konami developed a very distinct sound and style over the years through recurring themes and over a number of composers.  While Capcom's music was often electronic and energetic, Nintendo was often whimsical  and Squaresoft's was very orchestral and anthemic  Konami found an interesting middle ground between modern and classic styles and showed a distinctly high level of maturity in their productions.  Castlevania is one of the key examples of this style and it has remained one of the best series for game music over the years.

Super Castlevania IV remains my favorite game in the franchise.  Yes, I like it more than Symphony of the Night.  This is not the popular opinion, i know, but to me, it is the most inventive, most exciting and most fun action/platformer on the Super Nintendo, save for a few other rare titles.  The soundtrack however, is a whole other subject.

Super Castlevania IV's soundtrack is not merely good, it is an example of how some video game music can endure the test of time.  It is one of the most experimental, complex and influential video game soundtracks of the 16-bit era.  I would say that, with the exception of Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger, the music in Castlevania IV may actually also be of the highest caliber on an artistic level, of course, "artistic" is a purely subjective word, and you may not agree, but I can think of few soundtracks that are on this level from any era, let alone the early 90's.

The soundtrack was composed by Masanori Adachi and Taro Kudo.  Adachi composed the music for another personal favorite soundtrack of mine, Contra III: the Alien Wars (and yes, it is coming), Kudo worked on music for the fan-favorite Super Mario RPG: the Legend of the Seven Stars.  Two roots, two artistic directions, coming together to form a blissfully-good set of tunes.  So let us have a listen and if you have never heard this soundtrack before, prepare to be awed!

The Soundtrack-
Dance of the Holy Man (Simon's Theme) - The Song
The first main theme of the game, following a few prologue pieces is an energetic, memorable and famous piece of music that has become one of several reproduced and covered songs from the Castlevania canon.

Forest of Monsters - The Song
One of my favorite songs on the soundtrack is both melodic and chilling, a pitch-bending, upbeat theme that goes from creepy to lively in a matter of seconds.  This is one of my favorite songs on the soundtrack.

The Cave - The Song
Here is where the soundtrack begins to show its range.  This spirited, percussion-free song is beautiful in its simplicity.  While most game music was loud and thumping, this song was melancholy and atmospheric.

The Submerged City - The Song
This song starts with a fade-in of an anachronistic synthesized organ followed by what almost sounds like carnival music circa 1910 but then the song takes a hard right turn into a jazz piece, which is both unexpected and brilliant.

Clockwork Mansion 1 - The Rotating Room - The Song
This is a very interesting song.  The organ is a fast, full, melodic sound and when those drums kick in, they just slam you with a pounding aggression.  Then, everything just sort of... stops.  The sound goes from powerful to this creepy series of sounds.  Every tone leads up to a building tension then, out of nowhere, the organ returns.  The bridge in this song is really good too, and it all flows together well despite being such a bizarre composition.

Stage 4-2 - Clockwork Mansion 2 - Spinning Tale - The Song
This is a variation on the Clockwork Mansion theme with a smooth rhythm and some slick bass.  The melody is basically a sped-up version of the previous theme but with more of an emphasis on the bridge.  It all leads up to this quickly-chirping trumpet filling the background.

Boss Theme 1 - The Song
This is one of the best boss themes on the SNES in my opinion.  The song starts off strong, with menace, and aggression.  The song is less about melody than about tone.  It has a certain power to it that I really like. It is a short loop because most of the boss battles in this game are quite short, and that is okay.

Stage 7-1 - The Library - The Song
I love this song.  It is one of my favorites in the entire game.  Lacking any percussion until much later in the song, the rhythm is held using a gentle harp and flute bouncing in the background.  The lead melody is nice down-beat piece.

Stage 8-1 - The Torture Chamber - The Song
This is another one of the creepier tunes.  Bone-like percussion and a very simple melody are the highlight.  Later on, the song fills with a reverberating tone that just makes it.  The mournful strings come in and fill in the background as the song plays on.

Stage 9-1 - Treasury Room - The Song
Just listening to the opening of this song you may have no idea how this song was going to end, but it takes a great turn to be one of the best songs in the game.  The echoing drums and woodwind harmony just kill it here.  There's more organ here too, and it just sounds great.  This is an epic tune all leading to the climax of the song with blaring trumpets and a fast riff.

Stage A-1 - Bloody Tears - The Song
Bloody Tears is a series classic, going back to Castlevania II.  It remains one of the most famous video game themes of all time, covered by live bands, and the search "Bloody Tears cover" yields over 1,600 results.  It is just as powerful and anthemic as ever here, with a full 16-bit composition that is full and powerful.

Stage B-1 - Vampire Killer - The Song
The very first song from the very first Castlevania.  It is really the song that started it all.  It has had a number of iterations through the years, and the classic is still the best, but this is probably my favorite version of this song aside from the original.  This is why I love this soundtrack, it embraces the past as well as builds for the future, it is an exemplary mix of nostalgia and inspiration.

Stage B-2 - Beginning - The Song
Yet another throwback, Beginning was the song played in the towns in Castlevania II: Simon's Quest.  This mix is a nice throwback, not straying too far from the original composition.  Instead, the result is a nice full and inspired cover.

Stage B-4 - Dracula Battle (The Final Battle) - The Song
It all comes down to this.  This is it, the menacing and deadly final about with the Prince of Darkness himself. The Dracula battle has this powerful organ riff that just plays over and over, it is incredibly simple, but memorably epic.  I knew, my first time beating this game, that when I heard that song, the end was near.  I just sounds like a triumphant push for victory, does it not?

So, that was one of my all-time favorite game soundtracks from one of my all-time favorite games.  If you have not played this game, I believe it is on Wii Virtual Console.  It is WELL worth your money.  If you love action platformers, with the exception of Super Metroid and a few other titles, it is the best.  Give it a shot and play the game as well as listen to it.

All above music and Super Castlevania IV are properties of Konami, Inc.  The video files were found on YouTube and I do not own the videos or their contents.