Golden Axe – “Wilderness” (Tohru Nakabayashi)February 23, 2010
One thing Sega is known for is their arcade games the late 80s and early 90s. Though they did rather poorly on the console side into the 90s, Sega’s golden age came in this period of arcade development and porting of the arcade experience to the home on the Sega Genesis. One of these longstanding series was Golden Axe, a barbarian beat ’em up that first appeared in the arcades in 1990. Its first level theme, “Wilderness” is a very memorable piece that perfectly captures that sense of Conan, though not full-on with the blood and trumpets of Taito’s Rastan. The piece was composed by Tohru Nakabayashi (Galaxy Force, Virtua Racing) and is available on the awesome Golden Axe The Music (2008), which collects the soundtracks to the entire series and is bookended with some great Frazetta-esque artwork.
“Wilderness” is structured around a central theme that is repeated three times in the loop. This section, breathing adventurous barbarian action, lasts about 26 seconds, and its repetitions give the track and almost rondo-like effect while simultaneously making it more memorable. The B (0:26), C (1:18), and D (2:15) sections of the song each build on those main notes, building to a high point of action before leveling off. What results is a pretty long and relatively dynamic loop about 2:28 in length. This means that in a standard playback, the main section is played seven times. It works because the main section is great fun and is interspersed with enough other tunes to help prevent listener fatigue.
The drum samples in the Golden Axe soundtrack are one of the best parts, sounding like they came right out of the Stone Age. The war drum produces a great beat, and the dull, muted sound of the instruments adds to the feel.
Now with these chiptunes, it’s hard to tell exactly what kind of instrument is being used (are those trumpets, rock guitars, or what?) – sometimes the instruments try to resemble actual instruments (drums, trumpet, piano). Sometimes though, it can be best to simply think of the instruments as chiptunes – square waves and triangle waves – rather than as trying to approximate some kind of instrument. I feel that composers who kept this in mind were able to produce better chiptunes because they maximized the impact of the sound chip.
As far as remixes go, Jose Acosta did an interesting techno/dance mix on OCRemix that has a great drum beat and is worth checking out. Megadriver also did a pretty cool metal remix of the entire soundtrack in Metal Axe.