August 6th 2021 marks one year on from the release of Harmony of a Hunter Returns. I felt it would be worth reflecting on the project, and sharing my feelings on why this release was so significant for me personally. As the Director and Producer, I was incredibly proud to have headed a sixth album, and a third Harmony of a Hunter album. It was received incredibly well across the community, in memory of my dear friend Jesse Snow, and to mark the 35th anniversary of the Metroid franchise.
When I first came up with the idea of a fan-arrangement album back in 2010, I had just created the Shinesparkers community. In an effort to create some exclusive content for the website, and mark the 25th anniversary of Metroid, the concept of Harmony of a Hunter began. Once we created the album, we went on to produce a second called 101% Run. This album contained many additional tracks that weren’t covered on the previous volume. Even then, after a plethora of Metroid arrangements, there were still themes that didn’t make it into either project, due to there being little or no interest, or because the track didn’t work out for a multitude of reasons.
Harmony of a Hunter Returns was created to celebrate a decade of Shinesparkers albums, and more solemnly, to mark the passing of my friend who originally got me into the Metroid series, Jesse Snow. This friend pledged to make me a fan, even if it meant giving me his favourite game, Metroid Prime. I will always appreciate how generous that was of him, and dealing with the knowledge that I would never speak to him again was challenging. I knew I had to do something to celebrate the life of an amazing individual, and with the combination of a global pandemic causing uncertainty with friends and acquaintances who had been involved in previous albums, and the looming 35th anniversary, it made a lot of sense to create another Harmony of a Hunter album.
There had been a hiatus between 2016 and 2020 before this project began, mostly due to the stresses the fifth project presented at the time, and a couple of false starts with at least two other projects that didn’t work out. However, Harmony of a Hunter Returns felt so clear in my mind, and I knew that this was a great opportunity to try and get some of those themes onto the albums that I had always wanted to hear, and attempt to bring our albums full circle.
By bringing back as many musicians from the original albums as possible, referencing the past albums with cool throwbacks and really celebrating this person’s life and memory, it allowed us to bring finality to everything we had achieved prior to this.
It was time for Harmony of a Hunter to return.
To begin, we wanted the first track of Returns (My Past is Not a Memory), to start in a similar way to the first track of Harmony of a Hunter (In the Beginning), featuring a piano cover of the title theme for the original Metroid. Musician Akmigone lived up to this challenge beautifully. The track was arranged by Zack Parrish, who built on this idea dramatically to include the title themes of Super Metroid and Metroid Prime, which is where the talented Anthony Morgan provided some excellent guitar, enhancing the introduction track to a whole new level.
As I mentioned earlier, we wanted to include throwbacks to previous albums in Returns, and one way of doing that was with “Through Depths and Beyond”. This was a cover of Brinstar from the original Metroid game, but approached with the energy and familiarity of the Brinstar stage’s music in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 64, and Super Smash Bros. Melee for Nintendo GameCube. I felt that it did a beautiful job of paying tribute to Harmony of Heroes, which I consider to be one of our most memorable projects, and all the Super Smash Bros. content we arranged for that project in 2014. The way that Vincent Rubinetti arranged this theme was exceptional, with a lot of love and energy going into it. He went back and forth with me to ensure this was perfect. It really paid off, because I recall seeing so many amazing comments in our album launch live stream on YouTube, and I’m happy it touched people so deeply.
Drakeld was a musician duo brand new to the Harmony projects, but were able to provide several themes we had never covered before. Of those tracks, Thardus (Groundshaker) and Parasite Queen (A Severed Queen) were two tracks that I felt did a fantastic job at representing two boss themes in Metroid Prime we had never had the chance to explore before. Drakeld made some of the largest contributions in terms of number of tracks to Returns with seven tracks, six of which were individual tracks, and another as part of a larger team effort, which I will highlight later. It’s even more impressive when you consider that most of these tracks were at the very end of the project, meaning many if not all of these great tracks might never have even been on the final album if it were not for Drakeld! They took on each track with huge determination!
Harmony of a Hunter 101% Run had a unique vocal track called “Only Human” which was performed by Sebastian Mårtensson, and has been very well received over the years. Sebastian and his band “Misplaced” came together to create “Below the Ice and Snow”, which I consider to be a spiritual successor to Only Human. This is another example of a throwback to a previous album that we wanted to include, and I am so thankful that it exists. Sebastian and Misplaced did a fantastic job, and I’m thankful they lent their time to the project.
Another returning feature from 101% Run was the presence of HiScore, who created “Samus Voyage”, a massive compilation of Metroid themes across all currently released games at the time. HiScore returned with a few former members of the original group, including new artists such as Drakeld, to perform a gigantic arrangement of Metroid themes called “Chronicles of Samus”, which was even longer than their previous contribution! At the time of writing, Chronicles of Samus is the longest fan-arranged Metroid track (24m 38s), even beating the incredible Crystal Flash by virt (21m 33s)! I’m super proud of everyone for coming together to create it, and incredibly thankful to Sebastian Mårtensson again for helping to set up and manage that mini project over the duration of the development of Returns.
Throughout all of our projects, there were tracks and opportunities that didn’t quite make it, and one of these was in 101% Run, where we had planned to have an arrangement of the Emperor Ing boss battle, but sadly it didn’t work out at the time. For this project, it was a perfect opportunity to have it finally covered. From the very moment we decided to include this track in the project, I knew I wanted VomitroN to be the one to cover it, an incredible musician who arranged the Dark Samus (Doppelgänger) track from Metroid Prime 2: Echoes for 101% Run, and Death Race (Big Blue) from F-Zero for Harmony of Heroes. When it came to musicians choosing their tracks, VomitroN immediately picked this track, without any prompt from us, which felt like destiny. It was clearly inevitable, and turned out perfect in every way possible.
A choice highlight of the album was a vocal cover of the Bryyo theme from Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. Even though it had been covered by us previously, I always felt the theme deserved something bigger and grander. So this was a really important arrangement to revisit. Thankfully, I was fortunate enough to have Danilo Ciaffi in charge of a cover of it called The Age of Gold. With a bunch of other talented vocalists, and cellist Chromatic Apparatus, they put together a fitting vocal cover of the theme. I was proud to have been one of those vocals you hear, and while my contribution was fairly minor, it came together well, and a fantastic track was added to the compilation. Danilo wasn’t afraid to give me feedback on my vocals, and I appreciate his flexibility to help me be a part of it.
For those who have followed our albums from the beginning, musician Myrtorp may sound like a new name to our albums, but he was originally going to be a part of the very first Harmony of a Hunter with a cover of SkyTown, which at the time, we decided not to include. Over the years I regretted not including him in the album, so when we decided to create Returns, he was one of the first musicians I reached out to. I am super thankful that Myrtorp agreed to come back, and he created an excellent cover of the Chozo Laboratory (Lost Science of The Chozo). Myrtorp did his absolute best to create a fantastic track for the album, and was even one of the very first musicians on the project to finish up his tracks! I am truly thankful that he finally has a place on our albums, exactly where he deserved to be originally.
A familiar name in the Metroid community is Torby Brand, who was our Assistant Director on Harmony of a Hunter: 101% Run, and has become a successful pianist over the years, post release of that album. I recall Torby being a young and interested fan in the original album, so it was heartwarming and an honour to have him perform the credits of Super Metroid, titled “A Hunter’s Epilogue” for this release. It’s an iconic theme from an iconic member of the Harmony team. I had the pleasure of seeing Torby grow from being a fan of the original album, to becoming Assistant Director for the second album, then arranging for the popular Metroid fan game AM2R, and then coming full circle and creating a track for our sixth album. I am sure you will agree, that is quite the journey!
Despite having the odd cameo here and there across many of our previous albums, I had always wanted to play a bigger part in contributing something to the album personally. Until this point, I had only suggested melody ideas, and recorded parts for tracks such as whistling, humming, or doing minor background vocals. While I was happy to contribute a vocal to The Age of Gold, I was very happy to personally contribute a much more significant role to a track on this album. A cover of Chapel of the Elders/Artifact Temple we called “Prophecy of the Forgotten” was arranged by Groovin’ Apple, a new musician to our projects, who accepted my request to include my vocals throughout his track, for the purpose of paying tribute to Jesse.
In addition to that, we had the idea of twelve voices to be included in the track to represent twelve different Chozo Artifacts seen in Metroid Prime. Three of these voices were former Metroid Prime developers Kynan Pearson, Mike Wikan and Bryan Walker, which made this track even more special. What an honour it was to perform on a track dedicated to my late friend, for an arrangement of his favourite game, which included developers from that same game. I can’t express how thankful I am to Groovin’ Apple for his patience and for him including me in this track. I will be forever saddened to know that Jesse won’t be able to hear it for himself.
When it comes to Ridley, we respect how important his theme and legacy is to the series, and over the years, we have approached the theme in many different ways. So when it came to Returns, my idea was to have several different Ridley themes in one track, changing and adapting as it progresses, almost like a story, encountering Ridley through the ages.
Vincent Rubinetti and Zack Parrish once again did a really great job at tackling all the different themes and bringing them all together. It was a pleasure to hear Ridley from his original game, through to Super Metroid and Metroid Prime. We originally had much bigger and grander plans for the theme to include multiple artists, but in the end had to compromise and go with a different (but still very effective) approach. We hope that you enjoyed it!
On the original Harmony of a Hunter album, we were blessed with an amazing acapella medley of Metroid music, performed by the Video Game Music Choir called “Phazon Corruption”. Ten years later, not only did Julia Seeholzer return to our albums to arrange a Metroid piece for choir, she was able to do it for a piece of music I have tried several times to bring to an album: the credits of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. With a choir directed and produced by Juan Carlos Acosta, and with audio engineering by Zack Parrish, a beautiful choral arrangement called “Corruption Consumed” was born, and created a perfect finale, and a beautiful way to close out a decade of albums. Of all the tracks we have featured over the years, I cannot tell you how happy I am that the credits for Prime 3 was finally included. I’m so thankful to everyone involved in making this track possible, especially to the talented singers who performed it. I’m not ashamed to say I was in tears when I heard it for the first time. They really made my dreams come true!
While our albums are well known for the variety of themes and genres, the artwork created for these projects are equally important and special. This one was no different! Nate Horsfall returned not only to create art, but to direct a whole art team for Harmony of a Hunter Returns, including a range of different talents and styles. Nate was able to come up with something that retained the Screw Attack logo that was present in both previous Harmony of a Hunter albums, but with artwork surrounding it, using all the space and making it even more special. To have him bookend a whole ten years of music and art for these projects was incredible.
The art that appeared on the final album cover, and surrounded the iconic Screw Attack logo, included a large variety of approaches which mirrored the range of styles of music found on Harmony albums. The art pays tribute to many popular Metroid titles, with Nate’s Phazon Suit Samus taking center stage, exactly where Samus has always been on our albums. A big thanks to every single one of them for working so hard to put it all together, and have it ready for the release.
Nate’s commitment to Returns didn’t stop at art, he worked very hard along with others from the team to create a great retrospective trailer to help us announce the project. It contained the title and descriptions of every album we had done throughout the years, and featured art from those projects. It ended with the announcement of the new album, and was scored by Zack Parrish. The trailer was made as a YouTube premiere, and was the first time our audience saw the announcement of the album. Compared to previous projects, we didn’t share information about the project in advance, so I suspect this was a surprise to those who saw it live.
Despite naming it “Returns”, Harmony of a Hunter Returns could easily be the end of a long journey of musical tributes, given how much it has accomplished. As you can see, we covered so much content that we always wanted to do, and to pay tribute to my dear friend, the person who originally got me into the series in the first place, makes this one super personal. It’s also because projects like these can take a toll, and can be quite stressful endeavors for everyone involved. However, I keep the door open, given the hundreds of messages of support I have seen throughout the years, showing just how much the albums have meant to so many of you.
But if we created another, where would we even go next? There have been several album projects that have been scrapped for various reasons throughout the years, including three where we sought and received permission from the IP holders to progress with them. But to head any kind of project, the idea has to be solid, and I have to be personally invested in what we are creating, something I have to be truly passionate about. Sadly on these occasions, the projects fell short of that. But after supporting the release of 242 pieces of music in ten years, I am certain people would understand if we decided to close the book and end it there.
Maybe one last project wouldn’t hurt too much…
Written by Darren
Harmony of a Hunter Returns is available right now, visit the Harmony of Shinesparkers website: harmony.shinesparkers.net