Music Review: The ETHEReal String Project (Materia Collective, Josh Barron)


by Jason Parker (Ragachak)

The ETHEReal String Project

I’m very familiar with The Materia Collective by now and have reviewed at least one of The Travelers VGM albums (several though, unless I’ve missed my mark) but this one, in particular, was a passion project for Josh Barron, who composes music under the Materia Collective label. He was on MATERIA: FFVII Remixed, SUCCESSOR: FFVIII Remixed, and several of The Travelers VGM albums. So it was a pleasure to settle down with this one. I have another Materia Collective album review coming next week, but I’m glad I can review some again. This particular album is a collection of various songs from more modern games; Final Fantasy XIII, Metal Gear Solid 2, Final Fantasy Tactics, Mass Effect 3, Heroes of Mana and more. Joining him on this are pianists Kevin Won, Ramon van Engelenhoven, and KayThePianist. This is a lovely arrangement album, and is 100% worth the money you’d spend on it.

There are some titles/songs on here that aren’t familiar to me, but that’s because I didn’t really play much Halo 2, Mass Effect 3, or Mirror’s Edge. But that in no way changes how fun these songs were to listen to. As someone who spent most of their Middle/High School time playing a stringed instrument (Viola), I enjoy hearing video game music composed in this style. Josh is a skilled composer, and none of these songs would feel amiss at a regular string orchestra concert but I do admittedly have favorites here, songs that hit me harder than others. This album though, it was definitely harder to pick songs to talk about than others. But I’ll do my best! Josh is very skilled at creating these compositions, I have to say. I think anyone that loves video game music and also stringed instruments will enjoy what he’s put together. It’s something pretty special, that’s for sure.

“The ETHEReal String Project is a labor of love for me. When I started arranging Kingdom Hearts music in 2002, I had arranged other works such as Eternity and Eruyt Village. For years I had them on my hard drive collecting dust because I had taken a long hiatus. I revisited them one day after meeting with Andrew Steffen, who at the time was looking for an arranger to make music for his experiment. So I got to work and pulled up those two old arrangements, revised them, and then arranged ten more (including one original composition). This whole experience helped me learn a great deal from both Andrews. Prior to this I knew little of string arrangement, so I took the opportunity to really learn from both of them. To me, this album is the point of return. It is about me reconnecting with my passion and learning new things. I hope those that listen to this, will enjoy the blood and sweat we put into this. Thank you!” – Josh Barron

~Eternity~ Memories of Lightwaves (Final Fantasy X-2, Track 8): Now, say what you will about Final Fantasy X-2, and you will probably be right. Despite it being considerably less serious than its predecessor, I still have a special place in my heart for FFX-2. One of the things that keep me coming back to it is the music. Memories of Light is the first song you hear when the game turns on, that chilling piano song before going to the file select/new game. This particular version is a piano composition with string orchestra, and it feels like the Viola got a lot of love in this track (so that’s another positive for me!), and it keeps the same haunting feel of the original, the familiar piano sound complimented with the staccato and trill of the Violin and Viola really offer more than the original. Much like the opening of Final Fantasy X-2, this is a track I can see someone standing in the darkness, contemplating how they got where they are, and where they’re going. I appreciate how it slowly peels away the strings in a few places, leaving just the chilling piano. Then the rests end, the strings join back in, quietly at first. Easily my favorite song on the album.

Honor, Sacrifice, Glory: Variations on Themes from Halo 2 (Halo 2, Track 9): This is the first time I’ve heard Halo music done in a string orchestra format. I have to say, I was not disappointed. One of the running themes in the Halo universe seems to be “Sacrifice” since they are a military organization and must be called to defend and sacrifice themselves for the good of all. That’s not a feeling that brings up positivity, but more somber, sorrowful thoughts. That’s what Honor, Sacrifice, Glory brings to the table. It’s a slow, rolling piece that really encapsulates to me what a character in the Halo universe could be hearing moments before the end, or as the proverbial dust settles over a hard-fought battle. Allies slain, friends obliterated, but not in vain, never in vain. It goes fromo a trembling, dark sound, to something more peaceful and profound, as if the sun were slowly rising upon a battlefield, and the carnage is being brought to light. It makes me want to play the Halo series if nothing else (and I really have never gotten into it).

Tactical Espionage Suite (for String Orchestra) (Metal Gear Solid 2, Track 11): I tried to highlight just a few tracks here that would stand out for one reason or another. This and the Halo 2 track in particular, because these are not songs I would typically find on one of these albums, at least not on one I review. That’s definitely a positive, and Tactical Espionage Suite is another one from a game I have little experience in, but still gives me the feeling like I get it, the song makes sense. It’s very foreboding and sinister, and honestly, this is the kind of song I could see in an action film, in one of the more quiet, emotion-packed moments. But that’s not all this song has! This is a suite, so it shifts tones effortlessly, moving from that to a fast, heart-pounding portion of the song where the hero is no doubt running through gunfire or has triggered an alarm and is desperately seeking peace. This part of the song fades away to more familiar Metal Gear Solid tones, that even me, who has only watched people play Metal Gear Solid games would recognize, but still somehow would smoothly fit into an action setpiece for a film. I love the little march-touch towards the end of the piece with the Metal Gear theme, it’s just a classy touch.

The Album (and composer) can be found in the following places:

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