There's a lot to love about the Atelier series, and there's even more to love about the Atelier Iris sub-series. Now the eighth title in the series' history (Gust calls it "Project A8"), Atelier Iris Grand Fantasm finally makes Iris the star of the game. Nakagawa and Achiwa return to compose the music, and Tsuchiya is again (and saddeningly) absent.
Ken Nakagawa and Daisuke Achiwa took a slight turn when they composed Atelier Iris ~Eternal Mana2~. They took a drastic departure from their own style for Ar Tonelico. Now, they're back to their roots, and this two disc soundtrack has much of the home-grown and graceful familiarity that had people falling in love with the first Atelier Iris OST.
Just looking at the tracklist reveals a stern love of and reverence for the arts and poetry. Descriptive titles such as "The Days Spent Surrounded by Old Books" and "Radiance of Our Greatest Treasure", along with the artwork and packaging for the soundtrack, show much of Gust's peculiar attractiveness.
But don't think it's all serene. First off, there's a new battle theme in town, and it's hot. "Thunderclap" has hot rhythm, a brilliant solo section (piano and Latin guitar trade off), and some catchy horn parts. I quickly fell in love with this song.
The majority of disc one, in fact, is very rhythmic. One of my favorite pieces on the first disc is track 25, "Dance of the Spirits." Opening with some sounds that remind me simultaneously of Nausicań and Xenogears, the song quickly transitions to its melody-heavy section. Led by some sort of strange panflute sound, and backed up with lots of drums, this song couldn't get any better. It's hot.
Disc one ends with two arrangements of older Atelier Iris tunes (both of which are very good), and then a hidden track of jingles. This unlisted track is actually mentioned within the packaging in a very obscure place: along the inner-right tray. The glossy sliver of paper reads, and I quote: "There is one piece on this album where there was hidden tracks going on." Three cheers for Engrish nonsense!
Disc two opens with "Omen," which is a non-syllabic version of the introduction to the vocal "Lorelei." After this minute-long opening, listeners are treated with what is by far the best Tutorial music in the series. Usually, the tutorial music is either bland or obnoxious. This time it's fun, ethereal, and catchy. Good work Gust Sound Team!
On this disc, the soundscape is a little less cohesive. Here we find beautiful, acoustic, slow pieces; awesome battle themes; imperial marches; ominous dungeon themes; and, at the end, a few lovely vocal tracks. All of it showcases the composers' talents, but when you give it one straight listen, it is aurally confusing. If that last statement confused you even more, then I've done my job.
From track 17 to track 22, I'm fairly certain these are all battle or introduction-to-battle themes. They are all awesome. "Crash!" and "Rain of Blossoms" were my favorites, but "Eye of the Eagle" was also mighty impressive, even with its six o'clock news-esque music at the introduction. This song shows Nakagawa and Achiwa branching out, much in contrast to the rest of the soundtrack, which seemed to re-capture the feel of Atelier Iris ~Eternal Mana~.
All three of the ending vocal pieces are great, but "Lorelei" stood well above the other two in my mind. This one retains the much-loved "Atelier" groove: a three-four / six-eight mix-up with lots of woodwinds, memorable minor-based chord progressions, and absolutely beautiful vocal harmonies. "Flowers in the Rain" is a much happier piece, and "Treasured Words" sounds much like a love ballad. These songs are closer to your standard J-Pop feel, though they're all above par in my mind.
I can't praise this album much more than I already have. I expected to enjoy it a lot, and I did. If you enjoyed any of the other Gust albums, you stand to lose a lot by not listening to this soundtrack. I give this OST my highest recommendations; you can't go wrong with it.
Reviewed by: Patrick Gann