The Sampling Masters team returned in the summer of 1997 to create another electronic original album. The cover, track listings, and music implies they focused on the theme of outer space this time round. This adds a bit of focus to the album, after the free-for-all that was Sampling Masters 2, although the artists involved don't have many limitations on their creativity. This time, Shinji Hosoe, Nobuyoshi Sano, Ayako Saso, and Takayuki Aihara offer three compositions each and appear in that order within the track listings. How does the team fare in outer space?
As usual, Shinji Hosoe opens the album, but this time shows his lighter side with "Suturn" (did the cover mean to say Saturn?). This theme also has a synthpop vibe to it with its slightly cheesy rhythms and sugar-coated synthpads, though there are a few deeper turns along the way. It seems fitting for portraying an exciting journey into space. "Planet Station", on the other hand, explores an alien location with distorted hardcore beats and exotic vocal chants. There is a definite crisis feel, especially with the war sirens, and some elements of the theme have vibes of electro-acoustic cinematic game music. "C.O.W." continues the space fantasy with another polyrhythmic beat fest. This one is quite a bit more colourful overall and Hosoe effectively creates a boundless feeling. How a cow managed to make its way to outer space is anyone's guess though.
Fresh from his work on Tekken 3, Nobuyoshi Sano once again creates some of the most atmospheric moments on the album with his simple yet effective musical approach. "Leaning Tower" is a fitting example, built around the gradual layering of forces each offering a new two bar motif to the mix. The result is mildly confusing and disorientating, though somewhat entrancing too. "Throw In" is more focused on producing interesting timbres with contrasts being created between the smooth serene melodies, heavy metallic percussion, and feathery decoration. Again, this one is pretty good driving music and is reminiscent of some of Sano's Ridge Racer works. "Fatback", on the other hand, is an incredibly stimulating blend of techno and rock elements that inspires imagery of a crisis on a space station. Overall, an impressive trio of contributions.
Ayako Saso is back on form after a mixed bag on the previous entry. Following a crazy introduction, "Controller" ups the pace and becomes a catchy fest of warm beats and mild funk influences. "Logique" sways listeners away on a spacey journey filled with vibrant beats, soothing samples, and even a little narration. It was interesting hearing a rock riff from a Devil May Cry within, as it just shows that even some of the most apparently novel sounds of game music are often just taken from a sample library. Probably the biggest highlight is the extended section written in a chillout jazz style. "A Ba Show" reinforces the jazz feel of the preceding tracks while driving things along with industrial beats. Again, it is dynamic, emotional, and atmospheric, despite a few potentially controversial vocal samples.
Moving on to Takayuki Aihara's work, "Trick or Trap" suffers from cheesy opening voices, but is otherwise a superb six minute creation. Whereas his works on Sampling Masters 2 tended to be a hotchpotch, the soundscapes he creates here are much more balanced and demonstrate his flair for both DJing and improvisation. "Jew-Ju" is a bizarre yet endearing composition blending cheery chiptune melodies and cutesy voice samples. Those who enjoyed Akira Yamaoka's "bitmania" from iFUTURELIST should smile while listening to this one, although it risks irritating more conservative listeners. Again, "Shaken Pepper" takes things in an odd direction, sometimes sounding like an English lesson by a struggling vocorder, other times a tongue-turning MC session. The voice samples are simply random this time round, but at least the rock and electronic elements are done.
Overall, Sampling Masters 3 is the most accessible entry in the series so far. Though it still has a very experimental vibe, it is easier to get into given the focus on portraying a space journey and small focus on hardcore electronica. It's also a diverse album since each contributor has a distinctive musicality and contributes a range of styles. Whether you're after hard-edged action themes such as "Planet Station", relaxing chillout music such as "Logique", or childish quirkfests such as "Jew-Ju", Sampling Masters are likely to bring the goods. This is a worthwhile purchase for fans of Hosoe and company.