A metal cover album of Studio Ghibli themes!!! Sign me up no questions asked! But is it just a novelty?
I love the Internet! If not for Twitter, AICN Anime, and Brian Ruh I never would’ve heard of this record; let alone where to buy it as the typical import stores had no listings for it at the time. Their links to a YouTube trailer was priceless and the instant I saw it I knew I MUST have this record! You try listening to the 30 second snippet of Tonari no Totoro and NOT want this record!
Princess Ghibli is a collection of 12 metal covers of theme songs from the various Studio Ghibli films. The album features various artists and vocalists performing the different songs. This gives us a different flavor for the different songs, which I really like as each band is able to bring something different to their respective songs. The album was released in Japan on April 13, 2011 and (quite surprisingly) got a U.S. release on iTunes and Amazon (download only no physical). As of this writing I have not yet received my import of the physical disc but thanks to iTunes I have been enjoying the music practically non-stop. But that’s the question right? How is the music?
The biggest issue with cover albums, especially those based off Movies or TV shows/Cartoons is that they usually never amount to more than a novelty. Fun records that can make you laugh and smile due to nostalgia or the complete absurdity of the cover. There are covers that exist that are genuinely good, some even great, but in my experience these are covers of songs not from media.
So let’s walk through the tracks and see what we got:
1. Tonari no Totoro (My Neighbor Totoro) by Disarmonia Mundi & Sophia Aslandiou
Ah yes, the song whose 30 second snippet in a video commercial gave me the nerdgasm heard ‘round the city! This song really keeps the feel of the original in that the highly recognizable riffs and vocals melodies reign supreme. Anyone who has seen Totoro, and knows this song, will instantly recognize it and be sucked into its fast heavy riffing and poignant screaming vocals. The female vocals over the chorus add a nice juxtaposition to the screaming that make it fun AND rocking, as opposed to just rocking. However the song kind of remains a novelty for me. It’s adherence to the original in tone and riffage brings the feeling of typical TV covers (Think back to the Saturday Morning Cartoon’s Greatest Hits album). It is a lot of fun, great to jam out to, and sing along (I’ve seen the movie WAY too many times in both Japanese and English and sometimes my brain starts singing the English version in conjunction) and will definitely be the first song I will play for anyone as an introduction to the album. The real surprise in the song though is in the breakdown which features some nice modern ‘retro’ guitar soloing. It gives a nice break before heading back into the chorus. Speaking of the chorus, the final chorus is probably the most fun because the female vocals are completely absent and the screaming moves from guttural to thrash shrieking! Very nice overall.
2. Kimi Wo Nosete (Laputa: Castle in the Sky) by Disarmonia Mundi & Yoko Hallelujah
The song opens up with a tiresome Trans-Siberian Orchestra style classical tinge set to pounding drums and soaring solos. Yawn; I guess it will be just a novelty record. Then the verse starts off with beautiful, solemn, female vocals over pounding double bass and 32nd note low end guitar riffs. It really is quite haunting and beautiful, much how the original felt in Castle in the Sky; just really moving. The chorus keeps up the mood by adding screaming vocals and a fast snare hit that adds the right amount of urgency. The only misstep here is the breakdown/mid song solo. It pulls me out of the mood entirely. While the instrumentation during this segment isn’t bad by any means, it just doesn’t seem to fit the mood established by the verses and chorus. The song finishes out really nicely with pure screaming and fast, slightly galloped, guitar that feels almost as if the song is breaking down in its melancholy. Beautiful finish that fits the song perfectly.
3. Teru No Uta (Tales from Earthsea) by Blood Stain Child & Ettore Rigotti
This was an interesting track to listen to. While keeping with the metal tone and vibe of the record; this song features techno beats, expansive synthesizer flourishes, and a disco dance beat during the first part of the chorus. Upon first listen it really took me by surprise because the band was really reaching outside of the box on this one but….after repeated listens this track becomes quite tiresome. It seems that they are trying to fit too much into it and pulling it off without any real risks in composition. Also, in my opinion, there are about two too many choruses and that gets real tiresome. The lack of imagination with the different styles is what bogs the track down. They reached outside the box but just ended up mimicking everyone else who has reached outside the box in a similar manner. A good surprise and overall interesting song but not up to repeated listens…but wait….it is straying away from novelty….!?
4. Gake No Ue No Ponyo (Ponyo) by Destrage & Yoko Hallelujah
Whereas the previous track reached outside the box but didn’t take any risks and ended up tiresome, this absolutely amazing Ponyo cover takes the risks and pays off big! The track starts off with some very fun guitar riffs that hearken back to the fun days of metal, Motley Crue style, but the real motive behind these riffs is exploited in the verse. It’s not 80s fun metal, no; it’s modern Southern Irony metal! Granted it is not as masterful as Every Time I Die, but who really is. The vocals match very well as they are nothing but screaming and shouting, again like Southern Irony metal bands. The pre-chorus brings a quick shift to rapid fire drumming and insane guitar riffs played behind the first sign of female vocals. Then a short burst of low end start and stop riffage over abrupt growled vocals. I dare you not to randomly growl to yourself “Paku paku chiyou” after hearing this! Then the chorus hits. Unlike the previous track where disco dance drumming was only used for a small portion of the chorus, this song features the disco drum beats throughout the whole chorus with the irony guitar raging in the background and the extremely catchy “Ponyo Ponyo Ponyo” chorus vocals that just get infectious. Then there is a break for a guitar solo that…ugh…is again modern “retro” 80s soloing, but it seems like it was just a joke to throw the listener off as it is gone just as quickly as it appeared. Add a great breakdown with fantastic random squeals and a Lynard Skynard feeling solo over frequent changing tempos and time changes, rinse repeat and you have an extremely fun song that rocks my head as well as moves my ass. The concept may sound novelty but there is so much going on that change so frequently with expert skill that it stands on its own as a truly great song that will be found on my future playlists.
5. Mononoke Hime (Princess Mononoke) by Living Corpse & Sophia Aslandiou
The music in this track might be a barrier for some but I found it quite refreshing. As opposed to the style of metal used in previous tracks this one is perfect modern metalcore that many mistake for ‘emo’. I put that word in quotes because people have bastardized the term from its true originations. Do the research and ignore the feminine teen boys wearing their kid sister’s pants. With a nice alternation between screaming and female vocals, the songs chugs right along in a smooth manner that builds to a chorus that punches right through the roof! It is big, grand, epic, whatever you want to call it; then out of nowhere someone listened to The Human Abstract and stole one of their solos! It fits perfectly before and after the modern hardcore breakdown that would get circle pits and pinwheels moving if this was an American band touring the states. There is no hint of novelty here as the band has taken the Princess Mononoke theme and really made it their own, with no pretensions or gimmicks.
6. Country Road (Whisper of the Heart) by Disarmonia Mundi & Sophia Aslandiou
This track has the distinct honor of being a cover of a cover. While it can’t be denied that John Denver’s original is somewhat of a classic; I really enjoyed the Japanese cover/version featured in Whisper of the Heart. It just seemed more heartfelt and moving to me. Yeah, forget all that; THIS is the version of Country Roads everyone must hear! Heck, my mom (an old school John Denver fan) even admitted to its greatness! The song is immediately urgent with completely original riffs and only the vocals carrying over the song itself. The rhythm is extremely fast and never gives up for a second, but never does it seem rushed and impatient. The female vocals carry the verse with a kind of beauty that many female fronted metal songs can’t simply muster; there is urgency, beauty, and grace. The chorus is really all that needs to be said about the song though. The chorus doesn’t detract from the feel of the song, it keeps up the pace and urgency. The clean male vocals really bring the feel to a full circle as it gives the mood of the film version as well as John Denver’s original. The track is rounded off with an appropriate guitar solo that slows the pace a bit without losing its edge and then the final chorus. The final chorus may be expected, hell it may be clichéd but dammit it works! It starts off with a moment of silence as the first bars are sung before moving full bore back into the chorus you will love by this point. Add some screaming in choice sections to the background and…yeah...LOVE this song!
7. Itsumo Nandodemo (Spirited Away) by Blood Stain Child & Claudio Ravinale
After the last few tracks it’s official, this is more than a novelty record. Some solid songs that stand alone and are genuinely good and enjoyable. That is until Blood Stain Child returns to crush that hope. The opening keyboard riff aping the original melody is so out of place that it not only catches me off guard but has me reaching for the ‘skip’ button. Then some fast metal goodness comes in with female vocals and screaming and almost makes up for it. But there is something about the way it all sounds that doesn’t sound like they are taking themselves seriously. Not in a self-referential, fun way either. Interspersed with more keyboard riffs the song just seems to come across as a big joke and is really no fun at all. There are no surprises in instrumentation and everything feels really standard for the sound they are going for. And don’t get me started on the outro! Just…next please.
8. Arrietty’s Song (Arrietty: The Borrower) by Disarmonia Mundi & Sophia Aslandiou
OK, as much as I was raving about Country Road, this track is the real surprise of the record. It totally forgoes the speed metal feel of all the previous songs and brings a nice mid-tempo feel with half and whole note power chords. It kind of reminds me of Drain STH in a way (probably the female vocals I’m sure). But every verse/chorus/breakdown/solo just has so much power behind every note that I could really feel this song. This also has the benefit of being the first time I’ve heard the Arrietty theme as I haven’t seen the film yet. Honestly, I don’t want to hear the original version. This is modern hard rock balladry at its finest, if not clichéd, but who cares as long as it’s good right? Soaring vocals add beauty while the occasional scream adds oomph throughout this thoroughly enjoyable, powerful song.
9. Yasashisa Ni Tsutsumaretanara (Kiki’s Delivery Service) by Destrage & Yoko Hallelujah
Did you enjoy your mid-tempo break? I hope so because it is full speed ahead again. Starting of with some clean acoustics that, for some strange reason, remind me of an ukulele; holy crap do those double bass kicks hit! The guitar is fast and furious and keeps the melody of the original but is by no means novelty. Just listen to that opening solo!! The tempo slows a bit, just a bit, for the verse and keeps the basics of the opening riffs but allows for the vocals to take center stage without seeming out of place. Then the chorus! Some seriously intricate guitar work that never undermine the flow and structure and just keeps moving along. The breakdown is something of note here as you can definitely tell this is the same band that did the Ponyo song; with seemingly random clean guitar thrown in here and there that adds some serious fun to this track. This track, and the next track, is the most straight ahead rocker that just shreds! Pure fun and I am fairly certain I will be trying to learn this song on guitar very soon!
10. Toki Niwa Mukashi No Hanashio (Porco Rosso) by Disarmonia Mundi & Yoko Hallelujah
The perfect complement to the previous track, you almost can’t tell it’s a different backing band. I almost don’t know what to say about it. It is definitely the Porco Rosso song, it definitely kicks a lot of ass, and it is most definitely the third track in a row that is not a novelty and stands entirely on its own and will make even the most discerning of mosh pits get rowdy. That is all.
11. Sanpo (My Neighbor Totoro) by Living Corpse & Yoko Hallelujah
Of all the songs on the record, the opening song to My Neighbor Totoro pulls me apart at the seams and makes we want to love and slightly hate it at the same time. This is the original song, no secrets, played on an electric guitar with some nasty distortion attached. That’s the problem, sometimes, for me. It matches tone, quirkiness, vibes, and fun of the original. I love the original and I love this song but we are creeping back up on novelty territory. Will I want to just listen to this song or will I just want to show it to someone and say “Hey dude, check it out. It’s a metal version of the Totoro opening!”? But once the back to back chorus is over something strange, unexpected, and wonderful happens…it becomes its own song! I dare you to find what part in the original is covered here. The band has made this song their own, added their own touch, and provided me with the best bridge/breakdown on the whole record. Holy crap, it’s like it’s a totally different song now! One that I LOVE and want to hear as much of as possible. It doesn’t sound terribly out of place either, the flow from chorus to bridge is smooth (the transition back could’ve been better but…whatever). Furious heavy riffing and growling vocals lead to building 5th chords over higher pitched screaming and then the drop tuned Bury Your Dead style hardcore breakdown just tears it up! See my dilemma? Love it, hate it, can’t stop listening to it….so conflicting!
12. Nausicaa Requiem (Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind) by Neroargento & Yoko Hallelujah
The final track on the record is that beautiful melody you hear in Nausicaa when she is surrounded by the Ohmu during the climax. Anyone familiar will know what I’m talking about and fondly cherishes the original for its minimalism and beauty. Blasphemy that they cover it!!! Whatever dude, this track is amazing! It is filled with electronic flourishes that create some serious mood and atmosphere. Some CG “buzz click” sounds give some funk to the still minimalist, but heavy, guitar that comes in. Once the signature “La la lalala la la” comes in we are hit with a nice mid-tempo rhythm like we heard during Arrietty’s theme. They never try to do too much here; it keeps the tone and minimalism of the original just with a different musical style. Seriously, I hope someone tracks this song to the footage of the film where the original plays and puts it on YouTube. Cause if you don’t, I sure as hell will try!
So what do we have here overall? A couple of more novelty than I’d like tracks, a meh track, a ‘Why did they do this!?” track, and a boatload of fantastic covers that are just plain good songs that have endless replay value. I don’t know about you but I would definitely call this record a success. Of course there are some scruples and stipulations that come along with it. If you don’t like screaming vocals, or metal in general, you probably shouldn’t have read this whole review as you will not like it AT ALL! Then there is the question of “Is this really metal?” Yes, it is a metal record and all the songs (with the exception of the Nausicaa track) are metal. If you are some kind of crazy Metal Elitist with very strict guidelines on what is or isn’t metal then stay clear because I don’t want to hear your justification and complaining, and I’m sure anyone else who enjoys this record won’t either.
As with all music, personal taste and preference comes into play. The songs I liked, or loved, may not be the same for you. But this record is definitely one that you should check out as it is, overall, a really solid record and a great listen with some real gems sprinkled throughout. Remember, for once this record is not import only. If you want the physical disk you will have to import, but in this modern digital age iTunes and Amazon are more than happy to help you out on the cheap!