Critical Hit is an all new, all jamming, all gaming, all awesome game music cover band made up of some surprising names. World of Warcraft composer Jason Hayes, Piano Squall (Michael Gluck), Nita Strauss (doing some awesome guitar work for MGS Revengence) and plenty of other talented musicians with tons of experience combine forces to make what is arguably the strongest ever line up for a cover band since The Black Mages and The Star Onions.
Opening the album is “Tetris” which gives you a masterclass of the instrumentation to come. Violinist Taylor Davis and Cellist Tina Guo particularly excel with the guitars to make a wonderfully nuanced and intertwined Russian symphony of sounds as the rag-tag percussion gives it a pub bar brawl edge too. It has an amazing energy that flows throughout and gets you geared up into a super excited mood. The playful “Angry Birds” follows full of chirpy percussion, flute and cute changes up in the drums every couple of lines – they just don’t sit still. One of the best things about this album as a whole is how Critical Hit doesn’t sit still. There is always something changing the nowhere is it more prevalent than in this particular track which is a simply stunning arrangement from start to end. Maybe it’s fresher for me too because I’ve yet to succumb to the game itself (I know, sorry world) but if I had more thumbs, they’d be up for that track.
“Legends of Azeroth” switches the gears firmly to battle mode and drama. This track spends the first third building the tension and turning the crank before the excellent interplay between strings, piano and guitar bleeds through and is added to with woodwind. The closest way to describe the sound is from the battle tracks from Koudelka that are pacey and dramatic but have a natural sound to them because it’s a set of classic instruments alongside a rock band and because they are all given equal billing in the mix, it doesn’t end up being an electric guitar dirge and it delights on each listen. “Zelda’s Lullaby” appropriately leads with some exquisite flute and soft percussion. It’s like the band have channelled Yasunori Mitsuda and Yoko Shimomura into a Zelda track and the results are emotive, sumptuous and beautiful. “Halo” crams all the passion and drama of the soundtrack into four minutes like a mini suite. Starting slow and then exploding into rolling drums, epic string and guitar solo’s and huge cymbal crashes there’s tension and fluid rage in abundance and the seamless transitions between passing the baton from instrument to instrument is something that can be applauded as an arrangement.
“Pokemon” has a suitably 80’s tinge to it with big chords, funny synth oohs at the beginning before taking the uplifting theme into late 80’s TV theme territory. Again instrument transition is spot on so that you don’t feel like swapping a guitar for a flute is a downgrade in power and that’s a great achievement. Great melody too. “Bowser” follows an unusual path for a baddie theme by making it more of a playful and cheeky arrangement to begin with before slowly the more sinister side creeps in as the bass, piano and keyboards start to muck about with the settings. The piano work in particular here is amazing as there’s an entire concerto going on in the background of the track which you could easily miss out on so keep your ear peeled! By the time you get to the end of the transition it’s got a sad tinge to the melody and at no point does it do the comical evil side. Impressive.
“To Zanarkand” opens as a beautiful ballad version with piano, strings and acoustic guitar gently playing the melody. They give it just enough space before the drums and bass begin as it slowly drives forward into a more power ballad second half reminding me of the band Iona as its has a Celtic rock ballad style. “Hikari” follows taking the classical version of the pop track and running with it into a beautiful love poem that dives between the two versions in many ways and eventually becoming a stadium rock version for the choruses. It’s one of the more original arrangements and showcases everything on why these musicians are the class of their fields.
“Call of Duty” follows and as a game series I don’t follow I can only comment that music is fantastically paced and has tension and drama by the bucket load. It’s full of everything a dramatic battle theme should have and all my boxes were well and truly ticked. “Skyrim” follows with a rendition of “Streets of Whiterun” and it’s a nice gentle run of piano, acoustic guitar, strings and flute. It has a gentle sincerity to it and stands out as being the sole track that doesn’t want to cram a solo in there as it simply doesn’t need to. The acoustic guitars and strings make this track possibly one of my favourite arrangements on the album. The arrangement album closes with a rocky rendition of the main theme from “Metal Gear Solid 2” which I’m sure is quickly becoming a staple for every cover band. It’s given great justice here and again demonstrates the bands skill.
Critical Hit Vol.1 displays some absolutely amazing musical chops. If I were being harsh I’d say perhaps the track list is on the whole very safe and whilst that helps make sure there’s a vol 2 where some more daring arrangements may arise, it does initially make you ask “Why should I listen to this cover again?” When you do you’ll know why due to the immense skill level of the band. What it does do though is excite me to the nth degree for the potential of vol 2.