The Scythian Steppes, an album of remixes based upon Jim Guthrie's already stellar Sword and Sworcery LP soundtrack, is a vast and diverse sonic journey that is utterly unforgettable from start to finish. I can say without hesitation that this is my favorite album of the year, thus far-- and unless something incredible comes along, I don't see that changing.
As mentioned before, Jim Guthrie's work on Sword and Sworcery was already some seriously high-quality music. To commemorate the game's localization into Japanese, however, some of the most prominent names in the Japanese music scene took Guthrie's original tracks and gave them each their own unique spin-- and what a spin it was. Names like Michiru Yamane, Akira Yamaoka, Baiyon, and Mitsuto Suzuki are among the luminaries involved in these re-imaginings, and there truly isn't a single dud in the bunch. These are incredibly talented musicians producing some of their best work.
The album opens with "Little Furnace - Post Production Mix" by Mitsuto Suzuki, a stylish trance remix that is also my favorite track on the album. Mitsuto has taken the rather sparse movement of the original track and filled it with his trademark trancelike sounds. The track starts out peacefully enough with distant sounds gradually building to a richer and more dense soundscape that is utterly entrancing. I can't really say enough about how captivating this track is-- it truly lives up to the stereotype of music being able to "take you away" to another place.
Decassegui Hip's "The Maelstrom - Radiant Darkness Mix" is a tranquil song that opens with some simple piano accompanied by the outdoor ambience of crickets chirping and cicadas singing-- certainly a sound readily identified with Japan. More electronic sounds slowly bleed into the track and give it a dreamlike quality that was not present in the more acoustic tone of the original.
"Bones McCoy - Akira Yamaoka Mix" is the final track on the album, and it sets a much harder and more concrete tone than the songs that preceded it. A foreboding synth joins with a light piano accompaniment, a calm before the full-on heavy metal that the track spirals into. While I'm not the biggest metal fan, the execution here is stylish and really caught my attention-- particularly given how tonally different this track is from the rest of the album. Yamaoka's trademark guitar jamming gives this track a unique identity that truly sets it apart from its source material.
I could easily break down every song on this album, but I don't think I could do them justice. The simple fact is that whether you've heard and loved Jim Guthrie's work on the original Sword and Sworcery album or not, this is fantastic music that deserves to be heard by everyone. The fact that it comes from a collaboration between western and eastern musicians is a brilliant reminder of what the two distinct groups of composers can achieve when working together at their best. It certainly makes me hope to see many more collaborations of this type in the future, and with the recent tendency of the industry to skew towards collaborations like this, perhaps that's exactly what we'll get.
Reviewed by: Stephen Meyerink