Even being a fan of Konami's rock-arranged Battle series for some time now, it was only recently that I became familiar with this third entry, dedicated to Hideo Kojima's "cyberpunk adventure" Snatcher. What a great find it is though - not only does it continue the tradition of masterfully arranged hard rock of earlier installments, it adds its own unique touch to the series.
While the two previous Konami Battle releases took a synth rock sound for the lineup of Konami space shooters and a raging, wicked form for the Castlevania series, Snatcher Battle supplements the series-staple hard rock with a bit of funk, jazz, and blues. It's not an entirely new approach as you can hear hints of it in Shooting Battle tracks like "A-jax" and "Out of the Blue from Hyperspace", but Snatcher Battle takes it to another level. Now any of you concerned that the styles might be a bad match for Konami rock and the Snatcher series need not worry - in tracks like "Theme of Izabel" and "Resistance" it's a hard, slightly dirty, raunchy type of blues that fits perfectly with arranger Naoto Shibata's wailing electric guitars. And as always with the Battle series the performances are spot-on, as in the latter track where a catchy repeating motif is made even better by the lead guitarist's improvisations.
In track four's "Blow Up Tricycle" the album kicks in with the more expected Konami Battle sound of hard guitars and simple but strong synth. This is also the first track to match my admittedly vague image of the Snatcher series, one of nasty cyborgs causing mayhem in a run-down urban dystopia. "Theme of Junker" keeps that mood running, this time in a speedy electric-guitar-meets-organ number similar to what Uematsu often attempts with his Final Fantasy boss battle themes. I consider the attempt far more successful here thanks to the harder edge and perfect balance of instrumentation, not to mention a wicked Egyptian-sounding guitar solo whose relevance in the Snatcher universe is completely lost on me but that rocks nonetheless.
Though the Battle albums were all produced in the mid-90s most show a clear '80s hard rock influence, and the same is true for Snatcher Battle. In fact the album often sounds the soundtrack to a late '80s / early '90s urban cop flick. "Coda" is a retro fest of enthusiastic lead guitar, steady backing chords and bright, melodic synth that would fit right into Top Gun or a similar piece of Bruckheimer machismo from the period. "Twilight in Neo-Kobe City" continues the Battle series tradition of instrumental rock ballads - here also with a late '80s cop action movie vibe - and though it doesn't match the two excellent ballads in Dracula Battle it still fills out the album nicely. The only track the album would be better off without is "The Peaceful Avenue", a cheeky pop-rock vocal ballad that doesn't belong among the harder edged, more skillfully produced instrumental tracks that dominate the album.
As in the two Shooting Battles, Snatcher Battle ends on an extreme high note. "Theme of Snatcher" melds the blues and hard rock elements heard previously with a steady funk jam, for the most outright enjoyable track of the album. If this actually were the soundtrack to a classic '80s action flick, "Theme of Snatcher" is the sort of fun, let-loose track to cue the end credits with a freeze frame of our heroes in action and have the audience hunkering for more.
Snatcher Battle reinforces two things that I've come to learn from the Battle series. One is that whether vampire hunting or sci-fi shooting or cyberpunk mystery solving, those old-school Konami composers knew how to churn out some good melodies. The second is that Battle series arranger-producer Naoto Shibata was simply a master of hard rock and the genres it both sprung from and led to. I still wouldn't say the album has the same number of mind-blowing arrangements as the first Dracula Battle, but anyone who has that essential first item covered should go ahead and chalk up Snatcher Battle along with the two Shooting Battles as next on their list. As someone who is almost completely new to the Snatcher series I can attest that it doesn't matter whether you know the original soundtracks or not - if a charismatic mix of hard rock with blues sounds like a good thing, and a touch of retro 80s isn't too much of a turnoff, then you can't go wrong with Snatcher Battle.