Of the many unique bullet hell shooters available to players of this niche, arcade-style genre, none are more iconic than ZUN’s completely self-published, long-running Touhou series. Lovable characters, simple controls, and phenomenal boss fights are just a few things that make these games so popular among their thousands of players. However, almost more iconic than the characters themselves is the music. Over time, many tracks have made their rounds through the ears of countless listeners and have become beloved by many. Chiptuners such as Kommisar and HertzDevil have covered a large amount of Touhou music on LSDj and FamiTracker to great success. However, +tek takes these covers to a new realm by porting the music over to an FM synthesis chip and putting their own twist on it. So let’s see what all the fuss is about this phenomenal new release!
Let it be noted that these tracks all loop once; at about the halfway point of each song, you’ll notice that the song restarts smoothly. I suggest that the tracks be listened to in their entirety. During boss fights in the Touhou series, the music would continue looping until the very end of the stage. Keep that feeling and hold it close!
The first track we’ll look at is ‘Hartmann’s Youkai Girl’, the theme for the extra boss fight against Koishi Komeji in Touhou 11 – Subterranean Animism. One apt way to describe the boss music in the Touhou series is ‘technical’; their melodies are absurdly complex, yet are incredibly memorable earworms that you’ll probably find yourself humming along to after a listen or two. Another accurate description would be ‘absolutely insane’ or ‘frantic’, as frequent time signature changes and key changes are present. In this song, +tek’s instrumentation retains the heightened energy of the original while adding in a number of twists of their own. While the original uses a more relaxed instrumentation – especially considering the lead is a piano – everything about +tek’s variant on the first segment of ‘Hartmann’s Youkai Girl’ screams PANIC! From the crashing cymbals and punchy snares, to multiple leads playing counter-melodies and fighting for dominance, to the aggressive and almost bubbly-sounding bassline, an even more hectic emotion is created through masterful use of these modular synthesis chips. The song segues seamlessly into a more mellow tone, but quickly returns to its initial energy before repeating the cycle once more.
‘A Tiny, Tiny, Clever Commander’ is the theme for the first boss from Touhou 12 – Unidentified Fantastic Object, Nazrin. Again, a relaxed piano lead is transformed into an intense FM lead synth, and the bassline sounds more like a guitar in this track. Grace notes are a very nice touch to this song during the song’s main melody, in addition to the flute-imitating voice in the background at the 0:43 mark. Instruments cascade into a waterfall of sound at the 0:59 mark, with a number of different riffs being played at once. ‘A Tiny, Tiny, Clever Commander’ is abundant with sixteenth-note arpeggios, and is absolutely unfaltering in emotion, not pausing but for a moment when the track loops.
‘Wind God Girl’ is Aya’s theme from Touhou 9 – Phantasmagoria of Flower View. This is one of the most recognized songs from the Touhou series – not quite among the ranks of songs like ‘U.N. Owen Was Her?’ – and for good reason. Introducing itself with a rapidly changing rhythm of triplets and sixteenth notes, the song quickly blossoms into an addictive, melodic piece typical of Touhou music. +tek’s voicings for the instruments are all on point yet again; in particular, the slightly muted synth during the slowdown at about the 2:08 mark. This harmonizes well with the main melodic voice, and +tek doesn’t hesitate to combine the two for a moment of sheer bliss.
‘Necrofantasia’, the theme of Yakumo Yukari of Touhou 7 – Perfect Cherry Blossom, is debatably the second most recognizable piece of Touhou music. Being that this is a track composed for this game’s true final boss, +tek certainly does the original justice in their cover of this phenomenal song, perfectly portraying the hectic and fast-paced nature of ZUN’s composition. Tremolo – the rapid triggering and retriggering of a note or a series of notes – is used prominently throughout this track and can be heard as early as the 0:05 mark in the form of a trill. The effect can also be noted at approximately the 2:09 mark, and multiple times after this in rapid succession. Complicated arpeggios and harmonies can be heard throughout almost the entire song, and help contribute to the absolutely relentless pace of ‘Necrofantasia’.
+tek does an incredible job in their tribute to a cult classic game series, and does so out of sheer love for the games; the album is pay-what-you-want so as to be accessible to all. ‘Highly Responsive to FM’ solidifies +tek’s place alongside HertzDevil, Kommisar, and Demetori as one of the greatest Touhou cover artists of all time. Fans of the series and newcomers alike are sure to appreciate this artist’s flavorful FM remakes of some of the most headbangingly awesome video game tracks ever.