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Josh Barron – “The ETHEReal String Project” Review

Arrangements. Bottled to perfection.
Album Cover
ETHEReal String Project

Josh Barron last month released an amazing album that video game music lovers – hell lovers of classical music – should all be picking up and enjoying. The ETHEReal String Project takes 12 tracks from various games from across the globe and arranges them for string orchestras or ensembles and some of them are arranged with a piano in mind too. The result is an absolutely astounding work of art and Josh has given each arrangement a personal touch to ensure they are successfully transformed.

Opening with “Fang’s Theme” from Final Fantasy XIII we get a sweeping and grand arrangement full of body and life. It’s less boisterous than the original and has a more flowing take on instead which is sweet considering her story. “Secunda” and “Ancient Stones” follow from Elder Scrolls V Skyrim. Both are arranged for a string quintet and piano and the former is simply heaven in audio form. It’s delicate touches are like the quietest footsteps on glass as the strings and piano play off of each other. The latter calls home to its roots with a traditional Nordic tonal quality to it that you’d get from a Norse type track. Both are absolutely beautiful and I could see Ancient Stones being used in so many luxury commercials for air planes!

“Trisection” from Final Fantasy Tactics is a strong and bold orchestral track. I always gain extra excitement hearing what was a very synth heavy original being given the full make over and this is a very complex piece. To say Josh and the project pulled it off is an understatement. There’s a great use of volume here to the climaxes too.”Eruyt Village” follows from Final Fantasy XII and the key to the beauty here is allowing the piano to expressively provide a rolling base for the strings to lay themselves on. I have always found this soundtrack to have had really good songs in there somewhere and other arrangements seem to show this – as I always prefer them and this is no exception! Mass Effect 3’s “I Was lost Without You” follows with a lovely quiet moment that let’s you pause for breath and reflection.

“And Thus Fate Becomes Cruel” from Secret of Mana is given the dramatic treatment and a treat it is. It feels symphonic and bustling as it’s expanded world is filled with sound. The same can be said for “Eternity ~ Memories of Light and Waves” from Final Fantasy X-2 which is thicker, bolder and has lots of different  instruments taking little mini solo’s – in particular some wind instruments. The piano used has a honky tonk feel to it and sometimes it sounds a bit discordant but that soon fades away as the strings swell into your mind. As one of my favourite songs of all time, I can say this does it justice.

“Honor, Sacrifice, Glory Variations on Themes from Halo 2” is wonderfully symphonic. As the only arrangement that I am not very familiar with, it certainly has that post war depressive feel exuding from it. A fantastic surprise is the rousing rendition of “Still Alive” from Mirrors Edge. It translates perfectly into a dramatic and regal string orchestra piece and is a firm favourite on the project. More of a mood piece and completely different to anything else on the album is “Tactical Espionage Suite” from Metal Gear Solid 2. Listening to the strings bend and cackle at their sneaky best is a real departure from the very melodic album. Over time it does filter in many of the memorable themes as the symphony get caught in the act! An original piece from Josh barron follows. Entitled “The Forest of Awakening” its lush of lush piano and string motifs as they rumble and collide from their sleep into fully fledged symphonies. It’s a gorgeous number and the piano embellishments give it a sense of wonder. It would feel at home in any Mitsuda soundtrack. Closing the album is “Sulyya Springs” for viola and piano from Final Fantasy XIII. It reminds me of the sumptuous piano collections version of the track and the recording feels like it’s a live in the room take which makes the hairs on your neck stand on end with its beauty.

What an outstanding project! Whilst the games chosen are relatively well known and safe, the tracks chosen from them aren’t the usual ones given the make over treatment and I really appreciate that. Whilst they stay close to the source material, Josh definitely has his own style and way he wants each track portrayed. As a project, it’s a resounding success and is recommended to all that are interested. I hope this fuels the appetite for a future additional to the series in the future. Now let me bask in this album again – no one disturb me please!

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