Review: Reformation 2 – the new C64 remix album by Matt Gray!

After 18 months of blood, sweat, tears, not to mention late nights, Matt Gray has finally released the digital version of Reformation 2, the highly-anticipated second album containing remixes of classic Commodore 64 music.

I’ve always been somewhat wary of handing money to crowd-sourced funding campaigns, but I made the exception when the Kickstarter for the original Reformation was launched back in 2015. The album exceeded all expectations, so it really was a no-brainer when it came to backing the campaign to fund the sequel.

While there are many sites on the Web dedicated to remixing classic video game soundtracks, it’s only been relatively recently that the original artists – those still in the industry at least – have started to produce new works based on their own VG compositions. The original Reformation contained remixes of Matt’s own body of work, including a fully remastered and reinvention of the Last Ninja 2 soundtrack, plus remixes from some of the best SID musicians in the industry – in simple terms, it was fantastic.

The question is, why is it that I consider Reformation (and this sequel) to be the ‘gold standard’ when it comes to video game remixes?

The ‘secret sauce’ that made the original album such a success was that, despite the infinitely superior hardware and software used to create the tracks, Matt never lost sight of what made the original music so special to begin with, keeping the raw essence of the SID chip’s distinctive sound at the core of each piece.

Whether it be a subtle undercurrent, or front and centre, you can always hear the distinctive synth lines of the 6581 intermingled with the modern synths and drum beats used to layer up each of the tracks.

The original Reformation managed to strike the perfect balance between old and new, fleshing out the arrangements – filling in the gaps, so to speak – with proper percussion, modern samples and synths that complimented the tone of each track, something that persists with Ref 2.

As far as Reformation 2 is concerned, music fans can expect to be treated to almost 3 hours of remixes from some of the most memorable games in the Commodore 64 line-up.

The digital release is available in both lossless FLAC and high-quality MP3 formats, with the physical CD release to be shipped at a later date to those who backed the appropriate funding tier.

Whereas the original album included many remixes of Matt’s own work, the sequel turns the spotlight squarely on the works of other C64 musicians of the time.

It’s certainly one matter to remix your own music (you already know the origins and style), but the stakes are considerably higher when you begin the process of breaking down and reinterpreting someone else’s efforts, especially when those artists include the likes of Rob Hubbard, Martin Galway and Ben Daglish.

For anyone who has listened to the original album, it really should come as no surprise to learn that Reformation 2 is every bit as good as the original, even managing to surpass it. Matt has perfected the approach taken when remixing these tracks and delivered a stunning follow-up, certainly one that’s bound to be on people’s playlists for some time to come.

However, it would be severe disservice to both Matt and the album by saying that it’s simply more of the same.

Listening to the various tracks included in this release, I felt that the SID’s trademark sound was more prominent throughout, resulting in some truly excellent sounds.

There’s also a more diverse range of musical styles present this time around, with the haunting melancholia of Ben Daglish’s “Trap” providing a stark contrast to the the irrepressible urgency of Rob Hubbard’s “Monty on the Run”.

The album opens with Martin Galway’s “Green Beret Loader”, starting off the proceedings with a haunting melody and ambient style far more understated and relaxing than you might expect.

This is just a ploy, however, teasing the listener by keeping a lid on the more adrenaline-pumping sounds until it’s good and ready.

From here on out, you’ll be treated to fantastic mixes of “Comic Bakery”, followed by killer renditions of “The Wilderness” and “The Wastelands” from The Last Ninja, ushering in thumping beats and Eastern vibes that will have you grinning from ear to ear like an idiot.

All of the tracks on this double-album are sensational, but for me, it’s the remixes of Rob Hubbard’s work that really are the pinnacle of the Ref 2 experience.

“International Karate” – a track weighing in at an astonishing 10:36 long – captures the Eastern influences of the piece, even going so far as to include the memorable switch-up halfway through, where the comparatively sedate pace of the opening makes way for something punchier and more dramatic.

By comparison, “One Man & His Droid” is a synth-fueled powerhouse of a track, boasting a thumping beat and sparkling arpeggios that capture the sound of the original track superbly; I must admit that I turned the volume up rather louder than I should have, leaving myself half-deaf as a result!

I suspect the reason why these tracks stand out is twofold. Rob’s works rank among the most technically and musically sophisticated arrangements on the system, so the source material could simply be more malleable and open to creative interpretation than those of other artists.

Secondly, I have a sneaking feeling that consciously or otherwise, there’s a sense of reverence for an artist whom many believe to be the first among equals when it comes to the SID – this is the SIDician’s SIDician. In short, if you’re going to remix a Rob Hubbard track, you damned as Hell best get it right!

Whatever the reason, the collection of Hubbard tracks represent, at least as far as I’m concerned, some of the standout moments of the album.

Reformation 2 is also perfect material for your daily commute to and from work. I’ll admit that I’m not much of a morning person, so I decided to try and get things going by playing “Monty on the Run” with the volume set somewhere between ‘antisocial’ and ‘deafening’ – I don’t think I actually ran any red lights, but the journey proved more exciting than it had any right to be!

Given just how amazing Reformation 2 has proven to be, C64 fans will doubtless be hungry for more, and there’s certainly the scope for another album. Matt may have ticked off some of the obvious choices, but I’d love to see the works of Tim Follin (Bionic Commando), Reyn Ouwehand (Last Ninja 3), and  Steve Rowlands (Retrograde) receive the ‘Reformation’ treatment.

For now, music fans should certainly take the time to enjoy Matt Gray’s efforts by cranking up the volume to an insufferably loud and basking in some true audio heaven.

If you missed out on backing the original Kickstarter campaign then it’s still possible to purchase Reformation 2 through

Track Listing CD 1:

  • Green Beret Loading Theme
  • The Wilderness Main Theme (The Last Ninja)
  • Comic Bakery Main Theme
  • International Karate Main Theme
  • The Great Giana Sisters Main Theme
  • The Wastelands Main Theme (The Last Nina)
  • Commando Main Theme
  • Ocean Loader 1
  • One Man & His Droid
  • International Karate Plus Main Theme
  • Terra Cresta Main Theme
  • Omega Ceti aka Autumn Breeze

Track Listing CD2:

  • Trap Main Theme
  • Lightforce Main Theme
  • Thanatos Main Theme
  • Nemesis The Warlock Main Theme
  • Monty On The Run Main Theme
  • Holiday Morning
  • Flash Gordon Main Theme
  • Stormlord Main Theme
  • Delta In Game Theme
  • Kentilla Main Theme

Bonus Tracks:

  • Platoon Loading Theme
  • Robocop Main Theme
Author: Alec
PC gamer, C64 fan, Amiga advocate, creator of longplay retrogaming videos on YouTube, occasional wordsmith - follow me on Twitter

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