Music Review: Black Hole Megamix
Just before Deep Space Bass was released in 2001, and for a little while afterwards, there was talk of a whole line of Toonami CDs showcasing the greatest beat tracks used on the block. Dismal sales of DSB dashed those hopes, and it seemed like that was the end of the story. Toonami would continue, sans commercial releases of its music. Consequently, it was all the more surprising when a new album was ‘leaked’ to the Toonami Digital Arsenal in 2003. According to what little information TDA provided with the release, “DJ Clarknova took Toonami’s beats – some old, some new, some never before heard – and threw them into ProTools along with sound bytes from recent Toonami and sAdult Swim shows. Out came an hour-long smorgasbord of Toonami goodness. It was called the Toonami Black Hole Megamix. It was supposed to be the second Toonami CD. Things happened, and the CD never saw the light of day.”
Fan reaction was vocal and surprisingly varied, with many listeners blasting the quality of the mixes and questioning the professionalism of the CD. On the flip side, an equal number of devotees felt it to be even better than DSB. As such, Black Hole Megamix has been – and probably will always be – a controversial release. So that’s why I’m here, ready to weigh in with an in-depth review.
While you’re reading, why don’t you listen? The album is freely downloadable; 100% legal. Grab it in either high-quality AAC or standard 128kbps MP3 format. For the price, you certainly can’t complain.
Black Hole Megamix consists of 21 tracks, running for 58:03. As is typical for electronic music, most of the songs feed into each other fluidly, albeit with discernable changes in tempo and method. It’s just enough to make transitions in typical playback software very annoying – if you can, turn on gapless playback in order to get a smoother listening experience. (iTunes supports this feature.) The other thing that makes BHM very distinctive is its constant use of voice samples in the tracks. Gundam pilots, Lupin, Samurai Jack, even Toonami voice actors screwing up in recording sessions – the whole gang is here. Some find this annoying (Robert Guzman even made a CD because of it.), and I can see why. Who wants random babbling interfering with the beat?
On the other hand, Deep Space Bass could be unfamiliar at times, even to Toonami faithful. Thanks to its use of classic quotes, Black Hole Megamix is like a walk down nostalgia lane. Every track is full of voices from the past – old friends we haven’t heard from in ages. Looking at BHM purely as an electronic album, it’s easy to say that the voices break the mood and generally get in the way of the music. I’m not denying that. But from a Toonami Fan’s perspective, it’s sort of like a family reunion.
That said, it’s time for a track-by-track review. I’ll be using my own unofficial song titles since the original “ToonamiBHM-01” crap drives me crazy every time I see it. Please bear with me.
Notable Quote: “You foolish man, I am a Jito-Ryo master. Allow me to reunite you with your ancestors.”
We kick things off with a hilarious Lupin quote and a tight groove. The track is extremly rhythmic, very condusive to toe-tapping, and generally involving. There’s enough variety in the main funk to keep things fresh, and just when the song is fading out and you think it’s over…
Notable Quote: “That was pretty good, but it’s my turn now!”
A fantastic continuation of Ancestry’s underlying jive. This one explodes out of the gate before settling into a smooth cycle for the first minute. Reinforcements arrive in the form of a few more synth instruments – each paced out over the course of the track – giving it a very progressive feel.
Notable Quote: “Coincidence? It’s more than that. This is fate.”
The tempo enters noticeable upswing, set against a fluctuating spacey slider. Distortion strikes in sync with the notable quote above, creating a very phat beat indeed. What’s surprising is how ridiculously short the mix is – barely a minute. It makes me wonder if the track divisions were official or simply TDA’s for easier uploading. At any rate, I wish this one had been longer.
Notable Quote: “You’re listening to the Black Hole Toonami Megamix by DJ Clarknova. Off the hook.”
The album downshifts again into an easy pace, with smoking bass and a careless two-note structure. This track is a breezy ninety seconds, so there’s no real chance to get acquainted. That said, if it was any longer it would have gotten annoyingly repetitive.
Notable Quote: “One night always makes the difference.”
This mix essentially takes Stride and overlays a grundge-techno guitar and bleeping metronome. Pretty uninteresting, although the humorous Batman quote halfway through is a nice touch of spice.
“Voice Acting Funk”:
Notable Quote: “FLASH!”
Although it barely even counts as a song, this is unquestionably the most memorable track on the album. First up is Steve Blum screwing up a Batman/Superman promo, then Cowboy Sally trying her hardest to do a game review right. But the highlight is definitely Peter Cullen’s exasperated attempt at a Zoids: Chaotic Century promo. Great stuff for any Toonami veteran.
Notable Quote: “Accursed samurai, you have succeeded again in eluding my effort. But, I am not worried – for one day you will fail! BWLAHAHAH!”
Admit it – Aku was the best part of Samurai Jack. I dig the airy background piano that underpins the typical lead beat loop. It’s a subdued bit of respite before the agonizing chaos of the next track.
“We Need Gundams…Lots”:
Notable Quote: “Those lightning reflexes – it’s like he sees the future!”
This one definitely did not click. Although I enjoy the opening quote set against the sounds of nature, the whole thing promptly goes down the drain at 0:55. From there on out it’s a deluge of Gundam quotes – ‘In the Distant Future‘ style – fighting for attention with a noisy ensemble of cymbals, trumpets, and drums. Too much going on at once, and not enough melodic (or rhythmic) structure.
Notable Quote: “And so it begins…”
‘Walking Stick’ from Deep Space Bass returns, mostly unmodified. Sure, there’s some plunky guitar and twisted voice samples, but otherwise its the same guttural bass and unobtrusive upper end. It’s also slower, and much less dire. Not an improvement.
Notable Quote: “Fo shizzle.”
A pretty unremarkable track full of squelching strings and a Jamaican guy saying something I can’t understand. The shining moment in the drivel is when Peter Cullen, that most revered of voice actors, shows his style with a grave ‘Fo shizzle.’ Yup, you heard it here.
Notable Quote: “If you don’t wanna fight well then, whats the point of having a Zoid at all?”
Short and sweet, with a teasing main riff playing against a docile beat. The track induces a sort of disconnected, out-of-body effect, and is the perfect midpoint breather for the album.
“Lizard Sphere Omega”:
Notable Quote: “Hang in there; we’re here for a reason.”
Ah, it’s fantastic when the peace of the preceeding Bravado morphs into a gliding chime theme. Several DBZ quotes overlay a disorienting water-tube effect that had me popping my ears out of instinct. I don’t care for the random noise that appears later on, but at least it maintains the pulsating vibe.
Notable Quote: “Let…me…show…you…how…it’s done!”
Things get a little meaner with a return to form for the album – a hard backbeat with a static accent loop. Annoying voice samples take off a star or two, but overall this is an improvement.
“No Need For Company”:
Notable Quote: “Hot cartoons, phat beats – only on Toonami.”
Here we have the winner for Most Mind-Numbing Track. My god, this thing gets on my nerves. Hear that synth backup vocal that sounds like ‘koo-o-oo”? Drives me up the wall. Seriously, why did Clarknova repeat the same sample once a second for the majority of a 4:53 song? It drills into my brain until I can’t tell if it’s a human voice or a warning siren. This might be cool for a stoner who likes to get violated by his electronica, but I’ll pass.
Notable Quote: “So this is it…a final farewell.”
Has this track changed much, aside from the insertion of a half-speed voice in the background? (For the record, it’s the ‘now you’re cooking with gas’ quote from the preceeding track, played in reverse.) I don’t think it has. There are some repeated drum beats and random odds ‘n ends, but otherwise it’s the same song. Not that I’m complaining.
Notable Quote: “Let my sword be you instrument of justice!”
The opening progression in volume and intensity is a quality counterpoint to the classic Toonami hyperspace theme. This album started out loud, but the tracks are increasingly contemplative – sort of like being drawn into a black hole, actually, in terms of a reduction in drama and beat. Although it’s very monotone, I enjoy this track.
Notable Quote: “Fire away, gentlemen!”
Beat returns in a snazzy groove set against rippling chimes. ‘Let the good times roll on’, indeed. The Megamix was dragging earlier, but the quality has picked up noticeably in the second half, with this track providing one of the most enticing rhthyms so far. Too bad it’s so short.
Notable Quote: “This should prove entertaining; it’s showtime, take your places!”
By far the longest on the CD at 6:26, ‘Starbreeze’ is mostly an excercise in changing tones and interwoven themes. I like how the track keeps its momentum all the way through, only retired by a fadeout at the very end.
Notable Quote: “Very impressive!”
Adult Swim, on my Toonami CD? Apparently. But hey, I won’t gripe. The funky forward loop matches the background grind like chocolate and peanut butter; providing a down-to-earth anamoly in an otherwise spaced-out mix. Try to resist the urge to dance in your chair.
Notable Quote: “It’s amazing!”
A decayed classical violin compliments a subtle beat. Probably the prettiest track on the mix. We’re almost to the end of our travels now; the tempo is continuing to brake towards a conclusion of near-silence.
Notable Quote: “Punks thought they were dealing with amateurs!”
And here we have it – the gorgeously understated endcap to a decelerating album. The beat is inconsistent, fading in and out of our attention; mostly outdone by a smooth, retrospective guitar. While many of the tracks were almost too short, this one gets plenty of time to play out its ideas. Personally, I can just lean back and see blue skies full of clouds. The future is bright, friends. For all of us. ‘Snare Peace’ has convinced me.
I won’t lie – the Black Hole Megamix had its weak spots, especially in the later part of the first half. But with 21 tracks, there was room for error, and when the math is done you’re left with a spread of phenomenal mixes; certainly enough to get you home from work on a sunny Friday afternoon.
Considering the issue of the actual quality of the mixes, it’s really an opinion thing. As with Deep Space Bass, your enjoyment will be increased if you’re a Toonami fan. The familiar quotes will summon a smile and hearing some of your old favorites (‘Walking Stick’ and ‘Broken Promise’) should be a treat. But I can also say that this album has become an obsession for people who’ve never seen Toonami in their lives – I got a few of my friends hooked on it, even ones who were turned off by Deep Space Bass. For those who understand it, the Megamix certainly has an addictive quality. The playcounts don’t lie – I’ve listened to it more than is healthy, I’m sure. Considering it’s a free download, you’d be insane (or stuck with dial-up) not to try it.