I’ve written elsewhere that metal isn’t always just about the use of heavy drums or distorted guitars. I suspect most metalheads would agree that Wagner is straight up metal. When I reviewed Pale Communion recently, I was struck by how “metal” some of the structures of the record were—despite lacking these trappings. In that same review, I jokingly referenced Anathema‘s Weather Systems, where I declared “You can take the dirty hippy out of metal, but you can’t take the metal out of the dirty hippy!” That record, in all its post-Pink Floyd glory is a testament to the fact that often times the trappings of that which is metal is more about being epic, layered, and intense.
For me, the music from the Final Fantasy series has always fit this bill. In fact, as many have pointed out, the composer (and adorable, moustachioed Japanese man) Nobuo Uematsu has started a “metal” band called The Black Mages who perform rock-inspired versions of the music from the series. Search YouTube for “Final Fantasy Metal Covers” and you’ll find lists and lists of them; the epic work of Mr. Uematsu is easily translated into a metal form.
But while I enjoy that quite a bit, I’ve been extremely taken with A New World: Intimate Music from Final Fantasy which has been released under the monicker A New World on the bandcamp associated with the project. While the Distant Worlds tour—where orchestras perform music from the FF series—has been going on since 2008, Intimate Music from Final Fantasy changes up the game quite a bit. Instead of focusing on the full orchestral experience of Distant Worlds I and II (and 20020220), A New World (or more specifically The New World Players, but that sounds weird to me) performed a number of great Final Fantasy songs arranged for a chamber orchestra. This is, for all intents and purposes, a handful of musicians—not more than two of every instrument, I think—who do more stripped down or minimalist arrangements of these tracks.
Instead of losing power and its epic scope, Intimate Music from Final Fantasy is one of the most amazing recordings of this material I’ve ever had the joy of listening to. The performance of obvious choices for big orchestras, like “One Winged Angel,” “Force Your Way” or “The Decisive Battle” have a sharpness and accuracy to them, delivering razor, decisive violin parts and crisp harmonies. While never reaching the overpowering dynamics of dozens instruments playing together, the full-texture of every instrument’s own dynamics or the lazer accuracy of harmonies like in “The Rebel Army” theme from FFIII (possibly my favorite FF melody of all time) lends a beautiful, subtle take on this material.
Of course, the intimacy of the show also gave director/arranger Arnie Roth the freedom to include some material I’ve not heard in this form before: FFVI’s “The Dark World” and FFI’s “Town” work perfectly, taking advantage of a smaller number of players for beautiful, balanced arrangements. The namesake for this group “A New World” works magically as do “The Red Wings” and “Troia” from FFIV. Though, arguably, the crowning glory of all of this is the epic piano solo of FFVII’s iconic battle music, “Those Who Fight,” which is met by a crowd that gives the player an riotous applause for a reason.
For me, honestly, there are only a couple of mild letdowns here. First, I’m just not a fan of the pieces chosen from FFXI and FFXII. Neither of them translate well, and they’re just not iconic pieces that should have been chosen. And while I’m happy they didn’t try to do “Liberi Fatali” or “Bombing Mission,” I think “One Winged Angel” could easily have been dropped in favor of something from FFIX’s “The Place I’ll Return to Someday” or “Gau,” “Troops March On” or what I wouldn’t do to hear Kefka’s theme from FFVI!
Fortunately for everyone involved, however, there is room for more records of this type. Intimate Music from Final Fantasy is a cool concept and it is executed extremely well. Not only that, but it’s available via BandCamp as lossless files—you’ll notice, by the way, that I was the first to actually purchase the record there. One thing I know is that metalheads love their Final Fantasy orchestrations, so if you haven’t gotten around to giving this a listen, now’s your chance. It’s an extremely cool recording and performance, and I hope they’ll bring it to Sweden soon! Maybe to record Intimate Music from Final Fantasy II.