Strania -The Stella Machina- SOUNDTRACK
Strania: The Stella Machina is a game developed by G.Rev and composed by Keishi Yonao. Featuring music for both the original game and the downloadable content in which you play as the opposing forces, the Strania -The Stella Machina- Soundtrack features a variety of electronic pieces with a bit of a retro flair to them. In addition, there are also some bonus arrangements from members of the Supersweep team. How does the album turn out?
The album is broken up by disc, the first featuring the music of the main game. Entitled the Strania Disc, it provides a very upbeat, heroic sound through its various stage and boss themes, of which there is a uniqiue boss theme for each stage. The first stage theme is rather upbeat, providing a heroic, adventurous melody with some smooth synthesizer work. I particularly enjoy the B section with the more subdued synthesizer focus because I really enjoy how the accompanying components help build a really spacey and futuristic atmosphere. The subsequent boss theme isn't sinister, as one might expect, but rather continues with the futuristic, spacey environment. In addition, the melody is definitely more of a heroic one. I really like the synthesizer manipulation in this theme. It doesn't always sound like a boss theme, compared to most shmup games, but the composition is quite strong.
The rest of the soundtrack follows the same pattern: a stage theme following by an accompanying boss theme. There is quite a variety in the stage themes. The second, for instance, sounds like a futuristic Genesis track with its blend of an allurring synthesized melody and FM-inspired accompaniment. The third, on the other hand, has a more heroic sound with its strong melody and also creates an impending sense of urgency through its heavy industrial accompaniment. The fourth is the most upbeat so far, providing some bubbly chords in the accompaniment that complement the soaring melody quite well. In a way, I get a bit of a tropical vibe from this electronic piece, although the game is definitely more mechanical in nature. The fifth stage theme one of the more complex stage themes on this disc, providing some exhilarating electronic passages with some fantastic industrial accompaniment to really provide a striking contrast. The melody, however, is the star of the show, with its memorable progression, building intensity as it goes on.
Of the boss themes, the second has a more intense feel than the first that suits the progression of the game. I really like the trance soundscape combined with the frenetic synthesizer melody it really helps give it a sense of urgency without the need for heavy bombast. The third boss theme is even more sinister, complementing the stage theme with its heavy industrial focus, while strings help give it a bit of sinister touches. There is also some jazz influence in the chords of the boss theme that really help distinguish it from the other boss themes. The fourth boss theme manages to provide a bit more mystery, but it's not as engaging or tense of a theme compared to some of the others on the disc. I do like the melody of the theme, though, and overall, it's a compositionally sound theme with a touch of heroism. Likewise, the bass-punctuated fifth boss theme is a bit weaker and doesn't have as much drive as the others.
One of the best stage themes on the first disc is most definitely the sixth stage theme. It opens up with a very mysterious, slightly ominous tone, particularly through the intriguing use of piano. As the theme progresses, it definitely vibe reminding me of Mega Man X's Ice Stage, providing pensive electronic tones that provide a bit of relaxation, but at the same time, motivate the listener. The corresponding boss theme opens up with some distorted electronic work and some guitar riffs, providing an instant feeling of energy and a great boss atmosphere. The synthesizer work in the melody though, when present, is what truly makes this theme shine, adding some frenetic passages that accentuate the dark atmosphere provided by the accompaniment. The last stage serves as the final boss theme as well. It is definitely one of the most intense boss/stage themes as well, providing epic choral work to some heavy electronic beats. It's a slower paced theme, but the atmosphere is definitely there to give it that sense of finality.
The ending theme has a very martial and uplifting heroic tone, through its use of militaristic percussion, ambient synthesizer, piano, and futuristic synthesizer melody. It gives a sense of a job well done and really fits well with the heroic natured stage themes. The first disc also finishes with two bonus remixes by members of Supersweep. The first, a stage one remix by Takahiro Eguchi, features a bit more of a trance vibe, features some interesting electronic manipulation, particularly in the accompaniment, and replaces the synthesizer melody with electric guitar. It's an exhilarating version of the original and really manages to capture my attention, more so than the original. The second remix, a stage four remix by setzer, surprisingly opts for no electric guitar. The remix keeps its upbeat vibe, replaces the original synthesizer melody with some higher toned synth samples, throws in some beautiful acoustic guitar work, and adds a bit of a house beat. I also particularly enjoy the progression, as it changes constantly throughout, providing a real nice of arrangement. It's definitely the better of the two remixes, in my opinion.
The second disc, the Vower disc, features the music for the downloadable content portion of the game, which puts you in control of the enemy. A whole new soundtrack was created for the mode that is an interesting mirror. As such, the musical direction of this disc is a huge contrast to the Strania side. The stage one focuses on heavy, edgy electronic beats combined with a bit of an uplifting melody that gives off a nice spacey vibe. Overall, the focus on heavier beats gives the music a bit more of a sinister touch and the composition is also quite strong. As for the corresponding boss theme, it's definitely more intense than the Strania counterpart. Edgy beats that are almost a variation of the combination heard in the stage theme, combined with some smooth synthesizer work, make this a pretty great listen. The theme isn't as boss-like as some other shmups, but it definitely has a lot of character and is well composed.
Looking at more stage themes in the Vower disc, there are plenty of highlights. The stage two theme is curiously reminiscent of "Derezzed" by Daft Punk from Tron: Legacy. There's definitely an edge heard in the accompaniment and the mysterious, almost haunting, melody is a fine contrast to the edgier rhythms incorporated into this track. The introduction to stage three's theme provides some great funky bass guitar work and Yonao also incorporates some trance accompaniment into the mix, making for an ethereal combination that really works quite wonderfully together. Of all the stage themes thus far, the fourth stage theme is the tamest in terms of edginess. In fact, it sounds as if it belongs more on the Strania side of the album, particularly the more heroic sounding melody line. However, to its credit, it does a lot of interesting electronic manipulation in the accompaniment to provide a bit of a more experimental feel. As for the fifth, its completely entrancing with its quickened tempo and frenetic synthesizers.
Moving to the boss themes, the second boss theme complements the edgy feel of the stage theme. There are plenty of fast paced distorted electronic rhythms that really contrast nicely with the more melodic sections of the theme. I also enjoy the brief, ambient section that serves as a nice bridge before the loop, as it adds a nice touch of ethereality to the mix. The third boss theme features the same edgy electronic accompaniment as many of the boss themes; however, the combination of synthesizer and keyboard work really make this one stand out as one of the more intense boss themes. It provides that exhilarating atmosphere mixed with the right amount of tension. While the fourth stage theme may be tame, the fourth boss theme opens up with attitude. Featuring a heavy distorted electronic tone that just oozes tension, it moves into a rather frenetic synthesizer and keyboard melody that really contrasts quite nicely with the darker electronic accompaniment heard in the theme. The fifth boss theme has a somewhat jazzy and ethereal feel to it. I really enjoy the ethereality of the synth accompaniment and how the introduction focuses a bit on some jazz influence. As for the melody, it features plenty of quick tempo runs that are intriguing but a little unappealing.
The sixth stage theme is one of the most intriguing and best on the Vower side. Featuring ominous choral work, heavy industrial influence, some distorted bass guitar work, as well as ethnic vibes coming from the percussion and choral work, it sounds like something straight out of the Shadow Hearts series. It's quite an experimental theme, especially compared to the other stage themes on both this and the first disc. It's a theme with tons of energy and atmosphere in the bucket load. Similarly, the respective boss theme manages to incorporate some slick bass guitar work to provide a lot of tense and ominous tones. I also like the ethereal and haunting melody as I think it really works amazingly with the crazy bass work featured in the soundtrack. Out of all the stage/boss theme combinations across the entire album, this is definitely the most successful pairing. Unlike the epic nature of the Strania side's last stage theme, the Vower side's respective theme is definitely a bit more mysterious and features a more heroic tone. The melody is definitely more reminiscent of the Strania side, which, in a way, makes sense given that it's the enemy that is being faced. It does have a great soundscape though, with lots of futuristic and adventurous tones.
The ending theme features an edgier sound than its counterpart on the first disc, focusing on guitar riffs and sinister sounding synthesizer work. Overall, it's got a great atmosphere that really gives a feeling of accomplishment in defeating the good guys. As with the first disc, there are also two bonus remixes by members of Supersweep. The first, a remix of the stage five theme by Kazuhiro Kobayashi, is a fantastic jazzy interpretation of the theme. The piano work really gives the melody a light and refreshing air while the percussion and strings work really works well to give it a bit of a dance vibe. The synthesizer sections carry a bit of a saxophone feel to them, helping to round out the lounge feeling. The other remix, by the Polo Rockers, a duo comprising of setzer and Takahiro Eguchi, is of the ending theme. It's an intense synth rock rendition of the original, focusing on the harder sounds of the Vower soundtrack. I really like the guitar breakdowns, as they provide a bit of funk to the mix. In addition, the inclusion of some FM synth sounding elements help give it a bit of a retro feel, while the synth elements really provide that spacey vibe. In the end, both of these remixes are wonderful, but I think Kazuhiro Kobayashi's is more refreshing, as it takes the original in a direction it wasn't originally to begin with.
In the end, the Strania -The Stella Machine- Soundtrack is definitely one of Keishi Yonao's best works to date. While some of the boss themes don't conform to the styles of most of the shmups on the market, they are well composed and provide a memorable melody, for the most part. Overall, I think that Yonao did a capable job of portraying both the heroic and villainous sides of the game, providing a nice blend of guitar, synthesizer, and electronic elements. It's definitely worth picking up if you get a chance, especially if you've played the game and enjoyed it quite a bit.
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