(Warning: There are some very mild spoilers ahead. The things I spoil are minor and they occur at the very beginning of the game, since I haven't played very far into Parasite Eve. Nevertheless, I thought I should give you a head's up.)
(Another note: Several tracks have rather obvious misspellings, so I took the liberty of correcting them. I was very conservative in doing so, and only made the change when I was absolutely sure it was a misspelling. I left track names with weird grammar, such as track 2 of disc 1, intact.)
I've had some strange love-hate relationships with some of my soundtracks. SaGa Frontier 2, which I want to love, but whose repetition just rubs me the wrong way. Xenosaga, which I liked less than Xenogears at first, but which later came to surpass its prequel. And then there's the Parasite Eve OST. I had my doubts about this one from the beginning. It didn't help that I'm not a huge fan of techno, and that I remembered nothing about the music from what little I had played of the game. Add to this my general dislike of opera music and it seemed like the Parasite OST was a recipe for disaster.
For the first 43 tracks, it was. (Note that this soundtrack has 45 tracks in all.) I didn't exactly hate it, but the OST just wasn't turning out to be one of my favorites. Certainly it wasn't living up to the hype. I thought that maybe it was the synthesized singing that did it to me, and I anxiously awaited hearing the last two tracks on the second disc, which are actual vocal remixes of two songs on the first disc. I listened to the first one, and was not impressed. I reminded myself again of how much I hate opera music, and how this soundtrack just wasn't working out. Then I got to the last track. All of a sudden everything I remembered about the game began coming back to me, from whatever recesses of my brain they had been lurking in since I played Parasite Eve some four years before. This last track was a remix of the one that plays when Eve is singing on stage, and all the audience begins bursting into flames. I remembered everything that I had loved about the game, about how the story and ambience were just so damn cool. And in that instant, my opinion of the soundtrack simply dissolved. By the end of the track, I had shivers running down my spine, my love for the spooky Parasite Eve rekindled. Immediately I popped the first disc into my CD player, and began all over again. It was like listening to a different soundtrack. Never has my first impression of a musical work been so horribly inaccurate. I ended up loving the PE OST by the time I finished playing it for the second time.
While listening to the soundtrack, I find it helpful to keep in mind some of the themes and metaphors found in Parasite Eve. There is Eve's voice (Eve is the main villain), which has the ability to control peoples' bodies (in a manner of speaking). We hear a lot of "calling" in the game and in the soundtrack. It is deliberately haunting and sub-human, which is why I think that the synth voice is actually more effective than an actual human voice. There are the Mitochondria, the little parts of human cells that Eve is able to "call" to... and when they "answer" back, the effects are quite unpleasant. Also present is the idea of "awakening", something that Eve is persuading Aya (the main character) to do.
The PE OST is very thematic. That is, there are numerous themes that pop up all over the place, and Yoko Shimomura does some fantastic work blending them all together. This could also be seen as another theme of Parasite Eve: the idea of fusion, assimilation, and other such sinister biological stuff. Anyway, on with the review.
*** Disc 1 ***
1. "Primal Eyes". The soundtrack opens with some slow ambience, but proceeds pretty quickly to furious techno rhythms, with some nice distorted guitar and heavy drums. Piano can be heard in the background for a good portion of it, and at one point, the piano takes over entirely. A five-note melody is stretched out beautifully here, supported on all sides by some eerie broken chords.
2. "Waiting for Something Awakens". This track has a much slower and deliberate feel than the first one. I can count three distinct themes from other songs here, the Main Theme, Aya's Theme, and a short guest appearance by the music-box melody of track 13 on disc 2. The harmonies slowly drop one note at a time, reminding me of a series of dripping icicles. Each theme contributes its own drip now and then, and that's fine, but when you listen to them all pattering in sequence, it makes for a truly effective ambient piece.
3. "Overture". Here, the famous opera scene is about to begin. While this isn't strictly ambient music, it is a very foreboding orchestral track. The strings carry the bulk of the melody and harmony, but it is the occasional chimes that really make this piece creepy.
4. "Se Il mio amore sta vincino". Better known as Eva's Aria. This is the big one. At this point, Eve (as the character Eva) is singing on stage. Words alone cannot hope to convey the beauty of this piece. It begins very sweet, descending into a minor key here and there, and finally ending in (surprisingly) a major key. Not what you'd expect from a song that causes the audience to spontaneously combust, eh? Try to picture that scene in the game (or better yet, go play it), however, and you'll realize just how perfect the contrast is between this sweet melody and the horror that results from it.
5. "Memory I". A quick jog back into ambient territory, with more of those agitated piano chords.
6. "Gloom and Doom". This track is quite oppressive in its ambience, which is pure to the point of almost smothering you with its constant drone. Think of this as what silence would sound like if it were a sound. :P
7. "Theme of Mitochondria". I like the use of drums here, as they are not used to make this into a dancey song, but rather a tribal sort of ambient music. Actually, all the instruments are well chosen. There is also a repetitive melody thrown in there, so be sure not to miss it.
8. "Sotto voce". I don't have my Italian dictionary on me right now, but I think this means "soft voice". This song features more of Eve's haunting singing, accompanied by some dark piano chords. It almost sounds like there are a dozen different hands playing the same piano, dripping notes in the "icicle" style that I mentioned in track 2.
9. "Arise Within You". Just in case the ambient stuff got you down, here's some techno to warm you back up. It's interesting to note that even this piece has some atmospheric instruments that maintain a constant mood, not unlike ambient music. The harmonic progression from one modal key to another keeps this one strong in the composition department, repetive though it may be.
10. "Main Theme [Piano Solo Version]". Hinted at in track 2, here is the Main Theme in its most simple form. Its melody is neither gloomy nor happy, but almost a kind of sad relief. The gentle waving harmony works well with it.
11. "The Surface of the Water". This song is almost a candidate for the "noise" vein of the ambient genre. It has no melody to speak of, little harmony, and is carried only by random industrial noises. Reminds me of an abandoned factory or a construction site. Creepy and cool.
12. "Memories of Aya and Eve". Here we have some nice fusion going on. The piano style of the Memory tracks, which you'll see more of later, is combined with vocals from Eve, resulting in yet another foreboding ambient song. The Memory tracks themselves bear a structural resemblance to Aya's Theme, which you will also sample a bit later. Could this be a premonition of some connection between Aya and Eve? The track title would seem to suggest this.
13. "Out of Phase". Another nice blend of techno and ambient. I must say that the repetetive elements of each style work quite well together, at least in the hands of the great Shimomura. It's not as creepy as the other songs, so it's rather calming, especially during the brief piano segment at the end.
14. "Urban Noise". Distortion and all sorts of funky instruments are in abundance here. It has more of an electronica feel to it than noise, but that's a minor detail. More of that dance-ambient blend.
15. "Mystery Notes". A drum-heavy ambient track. In the background, you can hear strange instruments that almost sound like animal noises.
16. "Influence of Deep". This awesome song is a contender with Eva's Aria for being the best on the soundtrack. After a vocal introduction by Eve, the techno instruments set things in motion. Eve carries the melody, while the complex harmonies and polyrhythmic percussion gives your ear a vast array of musical delights. The track's composition would sound great with any choice of instruments, but the twisted opera/techno blend just makes it better. We even get a little organ passage in there, which is a staple of Shimomura music. With two full loops of this song, I have a hard time imagining any way to improve it.
17. "Phrase of Aya". If you have a good ear for musical themes, this piano track should sound familiar to you already. It's more agitated than the Main Theme, as you can tell by its structure. The melody is restless, and sticks to oscillating broken chords rather than sustained notes. The harmony does not wave, but rather mimics the motions of the melody.
18. "Phrase of Mitochondria". A more bassy counterpart to Theme of Mitochondria. I'd really love to mix the two together, since they sound similar enough to be paired together, yet they are obviously not the same song.
19. "Theme of Aya". Think Phrase of Aya, but with some backup from percussion and atmospheric synthesized instruments. Much creepier than the original.
20. "Under the Progress". The bulk of this bouncy techno song is a remix of Out of Phase, with some fragments of Aya's Theme thrown in for good measure. Although the overall song isn't too special, I think the two themes work pretty well together, and this is merely another example of how coherent Shimomura's music sounds.
21. "Plosive Attack". I thought this was a misspelling until I went and looked up "plosive" in the dictionary. Turns out that it's a term relating to speech mechanics. So there's some more of that voice motif for you, even though there aren't any actual vocals in the track. This is more of an electronic-sounding techno song.
22. "Missing Perspective". This track, with its xylophone and vast array of percussion instruments, has a somewhat tribal feel to it. The harmony isn't as dark as what you'd come to expect from this soundtrack, but it's still rather unsettling.
23. "Memory II". This is quite a step up from Memory I. Now we have a definite melody working here, and it bears a strong resemblance structurally to Aya's Theme. It's short, but I like the instrumentation.
24. "Force Trail". Well, isn't this a nice surprise? A rekindling of the theme introduced in the very first track, Primal Eyes. On the background piano, we again here this theme that's like Aya's Theme, but not quite. There's a lot going on in this song, multiple melodies and some very active drumwork.
25. "Phrase of Eve". This song is basically Eva's Aria, with the orchestra taken out, so only Eve's haunting voice remains. The wavering makes it sound a bit cheesy, but it does let you confirm that the melody is good even without any backup from other instruments.
26. "Memory III". Memory has now evolved into a much more complex musical theme. It gets closer and closer to Aya's Theme, but here the piano work is a great deal more complex. From the sound of it, I would almost say that there are ten different hands playing a single piano. Eve's voice is also used in this track.
*** Disc 2 ***
1. "Matrix". Quite uncharacteristic of Parasite Eve, Matrix is a slow techno song that reminds me of Shimomura's work for the Front Mission OST. It's not really dark or tense, but more of a "strolling" rhythm.
2. "The Omission of the World". At the lowest layer of this song, you can catch the Primal Eyes theme being played over again. However, the obvious melody is quite different. The layering of melodies is okay, but this piece is really too repetitive for me.
3. "Wheel of Fortune". I think "wheel" is a very appropriate description for this track. The melody takes on a somewhat circular pattern, hinting at a huge wheel turning relentlessly. As the song progresses, new harmonies begin "bursting" out of the passages of the old ones, and I love the route that the variations take.
4. "Kyrie". This track is non-stop mood-building goodness. At its core, it has long sustained passages played out by pipe organs, with other symphonic instruments filling in the space between. Eve's voice kicks in about a minute into the song, and the harmony is just so perfect. Structurally, this piece is very simple, but it succeeds at creating an enormous amount of tension.
5. "Across the View". With the third use of the Primal Eyes theme, we can be sure that Yoko Shimomura did not forget about the theme she layed out in the very first track. She doesn't do too much with it this time, though. :P
6. "Femmes Fatales". Wow. This song is quite different than the other ones that use Eve's voice. The composition is top notch, and it's very cool to hear the piece transform as it plays from one harmony to the next. At one point, it enters a sweet major key -- and Eve's voice actually plays along with it. This is the one song in the whole soundtrack where her voice isn't 100% evil.
7. "A Piece of Remain". A very minimal piece with a bit of electric piano work. Not very spooky.
8. "Musica Mundana". Like The Surface of the Water of disc 1, this piece is highly abstract in its ambience. Tumbling keyboard rhythms sound more like machines than instruments, and the chanting is sure to put you on edge. A very creative and moody piece.
9. "U.B.". This track is my favorite on the OST. It begins with some chanting similar to the stuff used in the previous track, with some dancey stuff fading in and out, competing with the chanting. At about 2:30 into the piece, both the techno and chants fade to the background as piano and strings take over for a bit. All of a sudden, percussion and organ burst into the picture, filling up the space with furious arpeggios and some intense drumming. For the last half minute of the track, the organ and drums are retired, replaced once more by the eerie chanting. Why is this track my favorite? I think it best represents elements from the ambient, techno, and "miscellaneous" categories which comprise the soundtrack as a whole. And they are combined with such skill... all that's missing really is the opera stuff.
10. "Escape from U.B.". An agitating "ratchety" piece. It's quite short and menacing, and the way it cuts off suddenly at the end makes me think something very bad happens.
11. "Main Theme". This version of the Main Theme is not much different than the piano solo version heard on disc 1. It is a bit richer because of the minor accompaniment by other instruments, but that's about it. A nice piece, but it's been heard before.
12. "Theme of Aya [Reprise]". The difference between this and the first Theme of Aya is almost imperceptible.
13. "Awaken, the Calling Voice is Heard". I apologize if my translation of this track name turns out to be inaccurate. It's a cute little song that sounds like it's being played on a wind-up music box. It even plays slower as it winds down. Surprisingly, it's a very well-composed song, and a great deal more complex than you might think.
14. "Somnia Memorias". Another departure from the usual tone of the soundtrack, this song is a vocal song in Spanish. Although I generally dislike the sort of Latin pop style that it uses, for some reason I like this song. It's very soothing, if nothing else. And it does have a few interesting compositional changes that separates it from your garden-variety pop song.
15. "Consensus". It's back to the old techno/ambient mix style with this track. I like the sound effects sprinkled in, and at this point in the soundtrack, I can also appreciate the "toned down" level of techno. I'm not sure if I could take on more of the same heavy stuff.
16. "Someone calls me...., Someone looks for me......". This is Eve's last gasp. She doesn't join in until about halfway through the song, though. The base of the piece is a beautiful piano sequence with some simple yet elegant harmonic passages. A perfect combination.
17. "Main Theme [Orchestral Version]". Impressive. The Main Theme is a pretty good starting point as it is, and this final version builds upon it with some very fine composition. It's sweet, and it's also a little sad. The piano and orchestra play off each other beautifully, and on the whole, the instrumentation is very nice. But you've got to hear the final two tracks to consider your listening experience complete.
Tracks 18 and 19 are live vocal versions of Influence of Deep and Eva's Aria, respectively. I won't go into detail about them, since they are basically the same as their in-game counterparts. Of course, the quality is much improved. Much MUCH improved -- nothing can quite prepare you for the delight of hearing Eve's voice performed by an actual singer. Certainly these songs are well worth the listen. In my case, it was one of these tracks that opened up my eyes to the greatness of this soundtrack, so I am very grateful for their addition. And when you hear that final resounding note of Eva's Aria, I hope that this soundtrack will change your musical perspective like it has mine.
Listening to this OST has had a more profound impact on me than I ever imagined a soundtrack could have. I went into this hating both techno and opera music, not remembering much about the game, and having little inspiration to change any of this. My first listen wiped away my pessimism, and my second (and subsequent) listens won this soundtrack a special place in my heart. But the change didn't stop there. I began merely tolerating the techno and opera stuff in PE, and then, much to my surprise, I began liking it. All of a sudden, two musical genres I had cut myself off from began to look appealing. I look forward to appreciating these styles I had considered "beneath me" for so long. I also re-discovered all the great things I loved about the game as well, and this soundtrack has inspired me to go out and play it again (and hopefully finish it this time).
If your musical tastes are like mine, you may be in for a rough start with Parasite Eve. You may not like it at all if you haven't played the game. If you have played the game, though, I can almost guarantee that you will enjoy this soundtrack. Also, if you are into techno, ambient and/or classical opera music, please give this OST a listen. It's great music to do homework to, or just to sit and brood about, if you like dark ambience.
Needless to say, I am a bit biased because of the way in which the Parasite Eve OST opened up my eyes (or ears, rather). But it may just do the same for you. Now here's the sad part. This soundtrack is quite hard to get ahold of, even though it is neither old nor obscure. It shouldn't be this rare, but it is. Keep your eyes peeled on ebay, and on sites that carry recent-but-rare soundtracks, such as Otaku.com.