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Release Date: September 16th, 2016

Track Listing:

  1. Hai Yo (Ashes)
  2. BERSERK-Forces 2016
  3. Aria
  4. FORCES II
  5. ZODDO II
  6. Horde of Thistledown (Large Chamber ver.)
  7. INDRA 2016
  8. Ash Crow
  9. Sign
  10. Sign-3
  11. Aria (Karaoke)
  12. Ashes (Karaoke)
  13. Ash Crow (Karaoke)

Hirasawa Susumu has been making his own brand of unique synth-based music since the mid-1980s, but the 90s was when his music took a much bigger turn and he started writing soundtracks for TV shows, movies, and video games. His soundtrack for the 1997 anime of Miura Kentaro’s Berserk came to define and give power to the exceptional series and give the anime the staying power it needed to become a cult classic. Over the last 20 years, he has maintained his working relationship with Miura and Berserk, continuing to make music for all the projects that have manifested from the series in that time.

With a new anime airing over the Summer of 2016, Hirasawa released a new album of mostly Berserk-related music, called Ash Crow, which features some new tracks that are not available anywhere else as well as a few previous recordings and a few new self-remixes to round out the album. If you’ve seen or played anything from Berserk, much of this will feel familiar to you and you could probably pick out one of his musical pieces from the series just by listening, given the particular nature of the work, but there’s still a lot of new content here.

Review

The album starts with “Hai Yo (Ashes)” the new song that was made specifically for the new 2016 anime of Berserk, and it’s safe to say this song is better than anything else that has come from the fairly mishandled new TV show. It booms with his signature dark and brooding choral arrangements mixed with a plethora of other symphonic instruments like harp, timpani, lots of strings, and synth horns. His vocals maintain the usual shadowy, powerful, and emotional delivery that’s found consistently in his work and the “dark epic” feel that runs throughout all of his Berserk music is strong here, and it’s one of the strongest songs he’s done for the series so far, which says a lot.

Next is a new remix of the classic “Forces” from the 1997 Berserk anime (titled “Forces 2016” here,) and this is one hell of a remix. All the synths are overhauled with more modern sounds, having a dark and gritty lead synth that sounds like a distorted guitar starting off the song and carrying through til the end. The vocals are copied from the original song (not a bad thing) and cleaned up a little, with new horns over the original bagpipe-driven war march sounds of the original. With a new lead synth for the whole piece and the other tweaks, it all comes together for a great update to an already-powerful song. This is a highly recommended listen, even for those who have listened to the original “Forces” more than you’d like to admit (like me.)

“Forces II” is also included here, originally featured in the Sega Dreamcast Berserk game, and the song is almost as good as the original “Forces” in its own way and highly worth a listen if you’re not familiar with this piece. “Indra 2016” is an update of another vocal song from the Dreamcast game, and it revisits the musical themes from “Forces II” in a much slower and more dramatic presentation, and is another powerful piece on it’s own.

There’s an update of a Hirasawa solo song called “Horde of Thistledown (Large Chamber ver.)” which wasn’t featured in Berserk, but the theme and dark feel of the song would fit with the series and world, in any case. It features (obviously) an actual large chamber orchestra, and his compositions being played and mixed with this kind of arrangement is a huge success, lending even more of an emotional feel to the track.

Two tracks related to the PlayStation 2 Berserk game, “Sign” and a new re-imagining of it for this album called “Sign-3” are featured here, both great vocal pieces that complement each other well and use similar music themes, and definitely worth a listen if you had overlooked them before. (If you’re wondering, “Sign 2” was on the original soundtrack for the game.) “Aria” from the 2012 Berserk movies is also included, but it’s not one of the stronger vocal tracks from the series.

An instrumental track from the Dreamcast game called “Zoddo II” is presented in its original version, which is another moody and gloomy track that fits the feel of the Berserk world well. There’s also a brand new track for the album called “Ash Crow,” which leaves a bit to be desired and doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the album nor do anything musically interesting in its running time, being the only track here which I would say fails to deliver.

Conclusion:

Overall, this album has lots of great new sounds for fans of Hirasawa or Berserk, and is a great introduction to either of those things if you’re not familiar yet. It all fits together well thematically and delivers his unique brand of experimental, haunting, and progressive orchestral synth music in one concise package. Check this out if you fit either of those categories or if you’re open to new and unique kinds of music from Japan.

You can purchase the album directly from his website from anywhere in the world, or purchase at the usual major import sites like CDJapan.

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