This collection of arranged tracks from the long-running Rockman / Mega Man series has been a highly anticipated release, chiefly among those fans who felt the 20th Anniversary Rock and Techno collections from 2008 were a bit lacking. Fortunately for Rockman and rock music fans this latest arranged effort fares much better.
Rockman 5's "Darkman Stage (Side-R)" is the reason I think most people instantly wanted to buy this album. Well known as the promo track from the Rock-Men months before this album's release, it's instantly awesome and everything that an arranged Rockman track should be. The old-school synth of the first 13 seconds immediately grabs hold of the listener before expertly transitioning into the great guitar work of the Rock-Men. The track achieves legendary status among Rockman remixes with the brilliant flourishes of 1:16 and 2:15, an encore of the rock edge first heard early in the track. This is a superlative piece, the highlight of the album, and likely an instant hit for anyone who calls themselves a fan of video game music!
It's nice to see some official remixes of music from the largely neglected X series on the album. Rockman X's "Opening Stage" starts off slow but is still immediately recognizable, and is a fine indication of the artists' desire to do something unique. Building up over the next 40 seconds, the crescendo excellently comes in and kicks the music into overdrive! The rest of the track is well done and serves as a great reminder of the rock music present through the X series. This isn't my favorite remix of the tune (Irregular Hunter X gets that honor) but it's definitely a fun version of the stage in which we were first introduced to the Mega Man known as X.
Rockman 3's "Ending" is a rather melancholy piece, appropriate given the nature of that game's ending. Rock-Men's arrangement features an acoustic guitar to great effect; it's present throughout the song as the dominant sound, with light cymbals in the background for effect. The song takes a different turn at 2:00 with the onset of the now familiar electric guitar from earlier tracks, taking us back through previous parts of the song but with a totally different energy.
Track 10 features Rockman 5's "Darkman Stage" once again, but this version is performed solely by pianist Azusa Kato. As people mused before this album's release, the Rock-Men really REALLY like Darkman's Stage, this being the second of three remixes based solely on the boss. The arrangement itself is skillfully done and properly shows the beauty of such a piano solo, though it's not quite what you would expect from a band that features heavy use of guitars. If nothing else, it should encourage the group to continue trying new things for their subsequent albums.
Rockman 6's "Boss" is the most dance-like track of the album, with familiar grooves grabbing the listener right from the start. I'm a fan of Rockman 6 and this remix helps to elevate the game's standing even further, to the point that I can even see it convincing some people to check out the game for the first time.
Last comes Rockman Dash's / Mega Man Legends' "Flutter vs. Gazel Shaft". This is a rather unexpected selection, given the mixed opinion of Dash/Legends among series aficionados. Having never played any of the Legends series, I went into this piece prepared to hear something different. The first 15 seconds of original in-game Dash music makes a nice opening and homage to the game before the work of the Rock-Men takes center stage. What follows is a unique blend of acoustic guitar, piano and other instrumentation to create a harmonious melody. It's a skillfully done piece and a nice, deliberately-paced way to close this excellent album.
We are Rock-Men is one of the best arranged albums I've heard in a long time, and clearly superior to the 20th Anniversary Rock and Techno collections. It might not be as unique as the Rockman X Arrange Jazz album, but it's every bit as noteworthy. I can't recommend it enough to fans of Rockman or of power rock game music in general. Just like many Rockman fans first said at the end of 1987, I can't wait for the sequel!