Akira Original Soundtrack is entirely unconventional, as much a work of musical art as it is entertainment. Performed by the Japanese choral ensemble Geinoh Yamashirogumi, the music consists mostly of ethnic percussion and chanting that ranges from beautiful to frenetic to bizarre, accompanied by diverse synth and sound effects as well as occasional bits of more conventional instrumentation like electric guitar. Some will hail the album as a masterpiece, others will perhaps wrinkle their noses and turn on the radio. I happily - sometimes astoundedly - fall into the first category.
The percussion has a non-contemporary, ethnic sound that at many times builds upon itself into a massive front of sound. As for the chanting, it's unlike anything else I've heard outside of the Geinoh Yamashirogumi's other works (namely their preceding album Ecophony Rinne). In "Kaneda" it takes a slightly tribal sound, with airy, mystical, almost whisper-like early chanting being joined by firmer, louder vocals that approach the level of shouting. Combined with the percussion, striking melody, and its prominent place in the film, this track is one of the highlights of the album. In "Tetsuo" the chanting takes an almost childlike quality, both in the nature of the performer's voices and the simplicity of the "lyrics" (which aren't lyrical at all but instead a unique arrangement of human vocalization.) The seemingly childlike quality is contradicted by the sense of danger and sheer power with which it is performed, making for another unforgettable piece.
Though tracks like "Kaneda" and "Tetsuo" leave me in awe of Akira OST's emotional power, other tracks are simply too odd and unmelodic for everyday listening. Borderline tracks include "Battle Against Clown", with its intentionally revolting, exaggerated breathing sounds, and "Dolls' Polyphony", with its use of bizarre, interweaving vocals that defy written description. On the extreme side is "Illusion", which begins passably enough but for its latter eight minutes consists of a sort of "restrained human howling", for lack of a better term. (To be fair, I believe the piece has roots in areas of traditional Asian music that I'm not experienced enough with to fully judge.)
Fortunately even the extreme, tryingly unconventional moments of the album become a trivial matter after the onset of the chill-inducing ending theme "Requiem". Combining a heartrendingly repentant original choral theme with subtle yet dramatic reprises of earlier ones, it takes the artistic quality of the score to its most emotional level. It's a fantastic piece on its own, but as closure to the album experience it's truly impeccable.
At its best, Akira Original Soundtrack is enrapturing and intense with emotion; at its worst, it can be a challenge for even open-minded listeners. Taken as a whole, it's an often amazing work of cinematic and musical art unlike any other soundtrack out there. Its unconventional nature makes it a less frequent listen than other favorites, but every time spent with it reminds me it's a soundtrack I wouldn't be without.