Glory To Metal (A Symphonic Metal Tribute to NieR: Automata)

Thank you Materia Collective for sending us this digital album to review!

After hearing Ferdk’s symphonic metal rendition of several popular Undertale songs, I became a fan and bought the tracks. Ferdk and I both enjoyed the music and gameplay from the sleeper-hit, NieR: Automata.

Glory to Metal features four enhanced tracks from the game that are a little over three minutes each. The $4 bundle includes the following songs:

Bipolar Nightmare
Alien Manifestation
Forest Kingdom
Grandma (Destruction)

Two of the tracks are battle oriented while the other two focus on the game’s ambient music. Each of the songs harness Ferdk’s bombastic symphonic metal music style. In Bipolar Nightmare you’ll hear pounding drums, guitar, bells, and an orchestra backing it up. It’s been a while since I played this game but I’ll take an educated guess that this is one of the fighting tracks. Alien Manifestation has the guitars taking the lead with the orchestra and drums backing them up. The organ work is great as well. I am assuming this is one of the background music pieces.

Forest Kingdom features a xylophone and is probably the tamest track on the album. The tempo picks up halfway through the song and is a joy to hear in its entirety. I’m quite certain that this is one of the ambient songs in the game. The orchestra starts off Grandma (Destruction) and the guitar quickly steps in and dominates this battle music track.

All of tracks are wonderful and I can’t pick a favorite. As expected, the guitar work is exceptional and prominently featured in each of the tracks. My only complaint with this album is that it’s over too quickly! I look forward to more game inspired renditions from Ferdk.

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Austin Stone Worship – Everflow

Thank you Austin Stone Worship for sending us this digital album to review!

The Austin Stone ministry is located in Austin, Texas and they consist of talented worship leaders, musicians, songwriters, and artists. Their goal is to proclaim the gospel of Christ throughout the world and to challenge believers to live a life fully devoted to Jesus. Everflow is their seventh album, and after hearing how great the production quality is and how the gospel message is clearly in it, I’m going to have to backtrack and check out their previous recordings.

Everflow consists of thirteen tracks, which range from calming instrumental songs to electronic dance music. My favorite song is titled The Center of It All and its electronic dance music style reminds me of music from a Christian group called Capital Kings. There’s a wide variety of music styles represented in the album. Many of the songs have piano, synthesizer, and electric guitar in them. The vocal talent is exceptional and I enjoyed listening to the male and female lead singers.

The theme of this CD is based off of 1 Peter and points to the supremacy of Jesus in all things. With song titles like Jesus Lifted High, You Can’t Be Praised Enough, and Jesus Is Better, they are on the right track. The lyrics are certainly praising God and lifting his name on high. The instrumental tracks are pleasant to listen to as well, but they’re not as moving and the ones with words.

This CD is availably digitally and in physical form on Amazon and at many popular brick and mortar retailers like Walmart and Target. I highly recommend checking out Austin Stone Worship’s website for all of their music and resources available to believers, worship leaders, and musicians. I look forward to more God honoring music from them!

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Jonathan Cain - Unsung Noel

Thank you Hoganson Media for sending us a digital album to review!

Jonathan Cain was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April of 2017. Many may know him as Journey’s keyboardist and co-author of Don’t Stop Believin’. A quick look at his Twitter feed will show that he’s a Christian and listening to his latest Christmas album, Unsung Noel, truly emphasizes the reason for the season. The first song, The Heart of Christmas, emphasizes that Jesus is the reason for the season.

There are fourteen songs and they are all beautifully performed and produced. A couple that I recognized right off the bat are Angels We Have Heard on High, Oh Holy Night, and Do You Hear What I Hear. The other eleven tracks were all new to me. Even though I’m not Catholic anymore, I enjoyed Hail Mary. That song and entire CD proclaim Jesus Christ as the king, savior, and true meaning behind Christmas.

All of the songs are calming and have great singing and keyboard playing. The lyrics throughout the CD are inspiring, praise Jesus, and tell of his miraculous birth. The song Joseph’s Pride tells Joseph’s doubts and role as Jesus’ earthly father.

If you’re looking for praise filled Christmas music, look no further than Jonathan Cain’s Unsung Noel Christmas album. Digitally it sells for $8.99 and the audio CD is only a dollar more. I love playing Christmas music throughout the month of December though I have made an exception for this album. It’s great to listen to Christ-centered music instead of ones focusing on made up figures. This one is definitely staying in my Christmas music collection!


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Undertale: Strings of Determination

Thank you Materia Collective for sending us this digital album to review!

I reviewed Undertale shortly after its 2015 release date and this game continues to stay popular, with many kids still talking about and playing it. I can see why since it’s a fun game. While I did beat the game once, I haven’t had the time (or determination) to revisit the other endings. What impressed me most about Undertale was the wonderful soundtrack composed by the very same game developer, Toby Fox. Although the game was gifted to me, I purchased the soundtrack and Ferdk’s symphonic metal rendition as well. As great as those are, I truly feel that String Player Gamer’s digital album, Undertale: Strings of Determination, is the definitive soundtrack to buy if you have to choose one. Of course, I recommend picking up all three!

The violin and guitar work is top notch and the production quality is as good as it gets. The songs don't stray too much from the original soundtrack, but the instrument work really does stand out. In total, there are forty-six songs and they are all well done. All of the tracks are arranged by Diwa de Leon and the song ‘Temmie Village’ has a guest acapella singer, Tera Catallo aka TeraCMusic on YouTube. It’s hard to believe that this album was made by a couple of people!

The asking price is a very reasonable $14 and this album can be listened to and purchased on BandCamp, Spotify, and on iTunes. Before this complete album was released, String Player Gamer released four Undertale volumes so if you only want a few of the songs, that’s a cheaper option. Each of the volumes cost $6 so getting the complete set is still a better deal. I now consider myself a fan of String Player Gamer’s work and will continue to follow and look forward to his future masterpieces.

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The Porter’s Gate Volume 1: Work Songs

Thank you Porter’s Gate Worship Project for sending us this digital album to review!

I grew up Roman Catholic and then attended a Baptist church in my teenage years. Both of those churches had traditional hymns with only an organ or piano and vocals. I appreciate a good hymn, but I also love contemporary worship with a wide variety of instruments or even a symphonic band! Seeing a need for worship revival, The Porter’s Gate started a creative movement to compose some new worship songs with the help of first-rate singers, songwriters, and musicians.

The theme for this collaborative effort is vocation and they hope to use music as an opportunity to extend hospitality and build bridges with our neighbors. I think they achieved this goal of creating music that is beautiful, truth-filled, and inspiring in this thirteen-track album.

There’s a lot of variety in each of the songs with some of them having a male lead singer while others feature a female lead singer. Urban Doxology was part of the collaboration project too. The voices are all great and I didn’t hear any sour notes. Some of the songs feature just a piano while others have an entire symphony. There are some somber songs and others are energetic.

Like many worship songs, I have to hear the songs a couple of times to have them resonate with me. Listening to this album multiple times has been a pleasant and uplifting experience. The lyrics are God honoring and the music is catchy. I caught myself tapping my foot while listening.

The debut album is due to release on October 6th, 2017 and I highly recommend checking it out through your favorite music provider. I look forward to more inspiring music from Porter’s Gate Worship Project!

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Retrogression: Vol.1

The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was truly innovative on many levels upon its launch. So many great games were available on that console and given the success of the recent NES Classic, gamers still love them. Besides the fun gameplay, many of the most popular games had stellar soundtracks to go with them. Stemage has done something interesting in their recently released digital album, Retrogression: Vol.1.

In Retrogression: Vol.1, Stemage plays four popular theme songs backwards and then reverses them (individually) so you can recognize them again. To stay true to the NES’ limitations they used drums, two guitars, and one bass. The songs performed backwards are really well done and are fun listening to, even if I’ve only played 3/4 games being represented.

The four games paid homage to include Ghosts N’ Goblins, Punch-Out!!, Super Mario Brothers, and Tetris. Since the album is available on Bandcamp, you can listen to each track individually and pay what you want for it. The songs are available to download in MP3 or FLAC format. Since you can set your own price, I won’t complain about the length of the album as it can be heard in its entirety in less than fifteen minutes. While the reversed/forward songs are neat, I would have loved to hear the jazzed up songs played in their proper direction. Other than those minor nitpicks, I recommend picking up this album if these NES games hold a special place in your heart.

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The Great Video Game Music III – Choral Edition

Thank you Shore Fire Media for sending us a digital version of this CD to review!

As a proud owner of the first two Greatest Video Game Music CDs I’ve been very happy with their symphonic renditions of many video game songs that I hold dear to my heart.  I can even appreciate songs from games I have yet to play.  The first two CDs were performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and they did not disappoint.  The third entry features the Oprhei Drangar, an 80-piece Swedish choir and the female vocalist, Myrra Malmberg.  

The track list spans though several popular game series including Assassin’s Creed, Dragon Age, Final Fantasy, God of War, Minecraft, Portal, Skyrim, The Last of Us, and World of Warcraft.  There are thirteen tracks in total and some games have multiple tracks like Final Fantasy X and Skyrim.

My favorite song on the CD that I’m already familiar with is Skyrim – Dragonborn.  I was also familiar with Portal’s Still Alive, but I’m still a fan of the original rendition (though the choral version is still nice.)  Even though I haven’t played Dragon Age: Inquisition, the theme is really well done and is a pleasure to listen to.    The choir is very prominent (and rightfully so!) in most of the songs, but I couldn’t tell if they actually sang in the Minecraft song, Sweden.  The symphony did an excellent job and my kids enjoyed that song the most on the CD, but the choir was either not performing in it or were drowned out by the orchestra. 

Gamers who have played any of the games mentioned in this review should check out this CD and its predecessors.  The audio CD sells for $11.99 on Amazon or in digital form on iTunes for $9.99.

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Ozwald Bozwald - Transformed

Thank you SMT Entertainment for sending us a digital copy of this CD!

Ozwald Bozwald is a Harlem, New York City based recording artist, producer, and DJ.  He's been in the music industry for nearly fifteen years and most of his music was hip-hop and rap based.  In his new album, Transformed, he changes his music style to dance; and it's awesome!  It's not just his music style that has changed, but his whole life has been transformed from when he started making music.  

Ozwald is a full-fledged vegan, Christian, and a husband though he never planned on being any of those.  While the songs are pretty neutral without any scripture or praising of Jesus, Ozwald isn't shy about his faith on his social media sites.  In fact, his single 'Only One' is about being monogamous and the singer offers to break the law if needed for his love interest.  While that song isn't exactly teaching good values, it's not promoting sleeping around like many popular dance songs these days.

There are four tracks on this EP and they can be listened to freely on Sound Cloud.  If you like the music, you can buy it digitally on iTunes for $3.99.      His latest single 'Only One' is available on Amazon, but the rest of the album is not there yet.  Some of his older rap music is though. I'm definitely a fan of his newer music versus his hip-hop roots.

My favorite song on Transformed is Radar; it's one of the two songs that has lyrics and is performed by Kevin Singleton.  The title song only has the word Transformed spoken a couple of times and Heaven is completely instrumental.  The whole CD is solid and I recommend it for any dance music fan.  If you're looking for music praising God, you'll want to look elsewhere, but if you want to dance to some "clean" music, Transformed will fit the bill nicely.

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I'm Your Bride - Donna Allen

Thank you Jones & O'Malley for sending us this CD to review!

Donna Allen has been making R&B music since the eighties and released a couple of CDs, "Perfect Timing" in 1986 and "Heaven on Earth" in 1988.  She released some singles in the '90s and her song "He is the Joy" appeared on the Precious soundtrack.  In 2010 she released the single "He's Got the Power" which is the final track in her latest CD: I'm Your Bride.

Those who watch the show, The Voice, may have seen her singing "You Are So Beautiful" and blowing away Adam Levine and Christina Aguilera.  

After seeing her performance, there's no denying that she has a powerful and great voice.  It's even more inspiring that she uses it to glorify God in her latest album.

There are ten songs with a variety of styles from R&B to dance, rock and some gospel/soul tracks.  I'm not a fan of the bride theme of the CD cover or the title song, but the CD itself is pretty solid.  The messages are spiritual and uplifting and many of them have catchy tunes. Though I haven't managed to sing to any of them or get any of the songs in my head.  My favorite song from the CD is Get Yo Bless'in which is very upbeat and talks about God's grace.  I think that song would be a good one to listen to while cleaning the house.  

The least inspiring song is Music is My Religion and I think the title pretty much says it all.  Music can definitely make us dance and sing and it can bring us closer or further away from God depending on what we're listening to. Thankfully most of the tracks on this CD are inspiring and God honoring.   If you like Christian gospel music, I'm You're Bride is worth checking out.

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Final Symphony

Thank you Shore Fire Media for sending us a digital copy of this symphony!

Nobuo Uematsu is a world renowned composer who is best known for his compositions for Final Fantasy I-IX.  He has worked alongside others in arranging music for Final Fantasy X, XI, XII, and Chrono Trigger.  In his band Earthbound Papas (and The Black Mages before that), he puts a heavy metal spin on his songs.  For a more classical touch, the Distant Worlds CDs give an orchestral rendition of his Final Fantasy works.  A majority of the songs don't stray from the game soundtracks, but there are a few medleys and a playful swing rendition of the chocobo theme. 

Final Symphony combines endearing medleys from Final Fantasy VI, VII, and X and weaves them into an original symphony that spans an hour and thirty five minutes in length.  There are eleven tracks ranging from three to eighteen minutes long.  The digital album is available on iTunes for $9.99 , and only the seven tracks that are less than ten minutes in length can be purchased individually.  Because it exceeds the physical CD length limit, the digital format is convenient.  Tragically, a lossless FLAC option is not available at this point in time.  I sincerely hope they offer it in a lossless format in the future, as the quality of the recording is quite high, and would really benefit from this.

Even in the inferior mp4 format, this symphony sounds very good.  The London Symphony Orchestra provided the musical talent and the recording was done in the famous Abbey Road recording studio.  The music was inspired by compositions from Nobuo Uematsu and Masashi Hamauzu and re-arranged by Jonne Valtonen and Roger Wanamo.  The recording is done in a way that clearly works to the strengths of the classical format, and is fitting to an audiophile audience.  The dynamic range is very good, even dramatically so at times.  This is best listened to in a quiet setting, as the dynamics can sneak up on you if you are playing it too loudly to overcome background noises.

While the lossy, compressed transfer was very well done, I can't help but think how much better this could sound on high end audio equipment with a lossless transfer.  This kind of music is also quite well suited to it.  I recently purchased another great Final Fantasy inspired music set, called 'A New World: intimate music from FINAL FANTASY', in 24-bit/96KHz FLAC, and it sounds absolutely incredible.  I wish that this recording offered similar audio quality; this music deserves it.

Final Symphony starts off with a four minute long overture that then leads into Final Fantasy VI's beloved opera scene and features tidbits from "Terra's Theme" and the "Decisive Battle".  Next comes the three part tribute plus an encore inspired by Final Fantasy X.  Fans of that game will recognize melodies from the songs "Zanarkland" and "Suteki Da Ne". The last few tracks are dedicated to Final Fantasy VII and features fragments from "Cosmo Canyon", "Aerith's Theme", "Battle Music" and "One Winged Angel" in all of its glory.

Unlike other Final Fantasy inspired music, this is not one 'song' at a time, but rather movements that tell a story, and flows from one recognizable theme to the next.  It's a very well done piece, and one that deserves attentive listening.  This arrangement is excellent; they should be proud.

Fans of Final Fantasy VI, VII, and/or X should check out this compilation.  Even classical music lovers who are not familiar with the video game source material can appreciate the talent of the composers and the London Symphony Orchestra.  The price is reasonable and hopefully it will be available in physical or lossless formats soon.

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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