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OCR04622 - Xenogears "Back to the Sea, Black to the Fire"

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Alright, so this might be a first - due to a misunderstanding, both Larry AND myself did full writeups for this submission without knowing it! So, here's my full commentary, now in review form! :D


H36T continues his hot streak of modern cinematic reimaginings of classic JRPG themes, this time with a dramatic take on “Bonds of Sea and Fire” from Xenogears that leans into the idea of contrast on multiple levels. Although the final product that you’re hearing now is pristine and polished, the process wasn’t as straightforward as the end result might suggest - it took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get here. I’ll let the artist explain:


“Given everything I've learned since I've made this song, it sort of pains me that I can't revisit it easily. The original file is lost to the ether and while I could try and recreate some of it and do some new things here and there...some things are best left in the past and its time to move forward. Thus we come to this song, which if you know anything about Xenogears, sort of represents the past itself. The approach I used is mostly straightforward and adding pieces here and there that represent me as a musician and my influences. In that way, there is my past wrapped up in this song as well. The second half adds some newer elements and I see this as more of the "fire" to the first half's "sea." The end...is a bit unfortunate and I wish I could go back and fix some things and change others. But as with the past, there is no fixing this guy and he is who he is. So as god once said, "come as you are." and as such, I bring "Back to the Sea, Back to the Fire" for judgement! Maybe this old dog of a song will teach me some new tricks through evaluation.”


Astute listeners may have picked up on the fact that, despite the submission letter suggesting that the project file was lost to the sands of time, what you’re hearing now is actually a resubmission. The first iteration was initially rejected by the judges panel, albeit in a split decision, with the majority of judges taking issue with the overall conservative nature of the arrangement, especially in the first half, as well as the “choir practice” at the end of the arrangement feeling detached from the rest of the piece. These are all critiques that H36T himself preemptively called out in his own submission letter, but after the first rejection, he dug deep within himself and his hard drive and was able to recover the long-lost file to take another stab at it. Nearly a year later, we got a revised version addressing the criticism from the first submission:


“Another year, another resub! I've been pretty good so far at taking a second look at things and trying to correct errors and be more creative. Let's see if I can accomplish the same here. Funny story, in my original submission, I misspelled my own track. However, I actually liked the typo better! Something about blackening over the fire sounds cool. Anyway, though I thought I lost this  track, it was sitting out in the open named something completely different. Unfortunately, that meant another track was lost LOL. Seeing as I  don't know what track that was....I'm not  too sad about it. As far as the update is concerned, I reworked the ending  to be more related  to the song at hand and added a bit more flavor in the middle. There are some technical mishaps here and there I'm sure  but I'm not sweating them. Here is hoping you like this updated version! Until next time.”


A little goes a long way here - the extra personalized touches really add a lot to the first half of the arrangement, such as the lush vocal padding, tasteful orchestral percussion fills, or the hint of tension between the flute and choir at 1:37 that alludes to the more overt dissonance that appears at 2:15 and 3:11. All of these minor additions keep the first half fresh; even though H36T plays it close to Mitsuda’s original source material, you can still feel the artist’s personal touch coming through. Around the halfway mark, we dive into a more personalized, dramatic approach featuring more original flute riffing and a very cinematic-sounding supporting string section. We finally wrap up with a grand cinematic swell of strings, choir, and flute that teeters on the edge of falling apart but ultimately finds a satisfying resolution in the end (the metaphor really writes itself here.) 


The contrast between original and source material, tonal and dissonant elements, relaxing and dramatic moods – between sea and fire, if you will – all adds up to a result that respects the intention of the original Bonds of Sea and Fire, while also taking it to a level that simply wouldn’t have been possible on the original PS1 hardware. 


On a personal level, I have to commend H36T for his persistence and willingness to approach feedback with humility and grace. Putting yourself in a position to receive intense criticism on a piece that you’ve poured your heart and soul into that ultimately results in a binary “yes or no” vote can be intensely vulnerable. However, he’s consistently proved willing to take that feedback in good faith and channel it toward becoming a better musician, while also not sweating the small stuff in the end. To me, this ReMix is a case study in what makes a successful resubmission - humility, persistence, self-awareness, and a little bit of luck all played a factor here and I hope other budding artists take note!

Edited by Emunator
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