After marveling at the stylish black and blue arcade-themed cover art, I had to ask myself: what the hell is “Zuntata,” and what does it have to do with these arcade and song titles? The answer was relatively simple; “Zuntata” is the collective term for the Taito Corporation’s — a highly respected Japanese video game company — house band, the musicians playing all of the music on this record. Their music is in the style of late ’70s jazz fusion with a heavy emphasis on synth and midi, a fact that becomes apparent on the initial listen. With the release of Arcade Classics Volume One, we have a compilation of songs performed by Zuntata and featured in three of Taito’s most revered arcade releases: “Night Striker,” “Metal Black” and “Elevator Action Returns.”
We could say it’s for gamers in their mid 30s to 40s — gamers old enough to have played the arcade games — but that would be doing this collection a real injustice. There’s a magic to some of these tracks that gives them legs to stand on their own, not just as filler in a final boss stage. In listening while I type this review, I can tell you that it works great as ambient background music too. There’s also the complex musical themes present in the songs; these players don’t slouch when it comes to writing hooks and melodies. While at first glance it may seem daunting, this record is can easily be appreciated by anyone regardless of your video game or music theory knowledge.
If possible, it’s best to enjoy this album as a full piece; sometimes a compilation can have track flow issues, this one does not. Barring that, there are definitely a few standout tracks. “System Down” is a favorite, using marching footsteps and snare to accent the apocalyptic vocal track and synth pads. “Elevator Action ‘95” is a really interesting piece of music; at times it sounds very chiptune and retro, but then they add a trip-hop drum beat to the music that makes it more of it’s time. Also in the same apocalyptic vein, there’s the ominous “MA-GU-RI-VU.” The minor key arpeggios and operatic vocals could pass for a Phillip Glass outtake if not for the abundance of synth pads and chip tones.
The packaging and art were designed by Ship to Shore Phono Co to great effect. The blue and white fonts above the video game box art characters scream retro arcade gaming, to the point that one might even look inside the gatefold for a coin slot. Once inside, the liner notes written in both English and Japanese tell you more about the music, games and Zuntata, as well as guide you to more information online. The vinyl I have for review is a golden yellow hue and plays flawlessly at about 140g.
“Arcade Classics Volume One” is available on Black, Blue [STS Exclusive] or Yellow Vinyl at Ship to Shore Phonoco.