3 out of 5
Label: Data Discs
Produced by: Shaun Crook (vinyl master)
Fidelity-wise, another stunning release from Data Discs: Wonderful artwork, synced-to-the-game (if a little bland) vinyl color variants, and a crisp, powerful mastering from Shaun Crook.
Checking the initial responses to the announcement of Thunder Force IV’s soundtrack release, there was definitely a spattering of enthusiasm, and at first blush of Technosoft Sound Team’s score, it’s easy to know why: over 48 tracks, and three pretty full LPs, the 1992 score brought with it the seeming discovery of drill-and-bass style assaults, fitting for the fast-paced shoot-em-up gameplay. And yes, these tracks are intense. And as you venture further into the game, and thus the music, that sensibility just keeps ramping, with some incredibly unique time changes and shifts intra-track that runs excitingly counter to the kind of loopable music you normally expect from this era. Deeper into the score, on the ‘Omake,’ or unused, tracks, that DD saw fit to include, you get some further wild experimentations that delve into proggy freakouts, effected with synths. It’s wild stuff.
It’s also only about half the runtime, and that’s what’s reflected in my rating. Matched to the game levels, this makes sense: tracks are presented in gameplay order, and most stags are split into A and B levels, and a bossfight. The A tracks are comparatively laidback and, while well-composed, don’t quite stick out to my ear as especially distinctive amongst other 16-bit era actiony tracks. The B tracks and the bossfights, though, when that beat starts banging – those are gold. So on the C side, when the A’s and B’s are ditched for one level and one boss track, it’s pretty much straight through badassery. The D side, collecting the endgame tracks, counters this by being back to mostly sound-alike tunes, and the Omake tracks – likely selected from across various levels – are a mixed bag. As mentioned, some of these are mind-blowing for how weird and stylistically varied they are, but you’re running about half and half with A-level style tracks.
As usual, nostalgia caveats apply: if you played the heck out of this game, I can understand these songs being burned into your thoughts along with whatever screen patterns you memorized to duck through all the enemy bullets. TF II was my jam; I missed the boat on III and IV. So with fresh ears, I’m undeniably wowed by the hard, pummeling low-end on some of this, with the rest of it worthwhile but maybe not as grabbing.