This is the fifth in a five-part series to be released daily, in which I unpack my favorite instrumental songs in the history of, well, ever. Narrowing this list down was obviously difficult. There were four “waves” needed to thin out the contestants from my library of thousands, and once we got below one-hundred it was like pulling teeth.
Yet, I stayed true to my original goal of fifty, for my own sake, and not compromise that number. I wanted to know for myself what I believed were my favorites among the gallery of songs I so dearly love. This following list is the conclusion of those struggles. They are not in order. Simply getting a pool of them was hard enough. I do wish to leave with my sanity.
Many are favored because of their execution and style, while others, because of a particular attachment or association they have with my personal life. With each entry will be a short blurb, explaining why it belongs. And for a disclaimer: if I couldn’t understand what language they were singing in, I considered the vocals as their own independent instruments, and thus things like Gregorian chants do not disqualify songs from being “instrumentals.”
#41 – “Atonement” by Masashi Hamauzu
My all-time favorite song, in-and-outside of instrumental music, accounting for all genres and all phases over the course of my nearly twenty-seven years of life. In the beginning, I didn’t think much more of it than “mmm, what a bittersweet sound,” but with time and repetition, it wiggled its way into the soft, squishy parts of my heart, and nested there. I am not going to boast of its technical or emotional merits. Just please do me the favor of listening to it a couple of times, and if you find it not capturing you right away, return later. It is not for all moments of life, but imperative to a specific few which matter. I hope you are fortunate enough to find this song in one of those times.
#42 – “Soul Battles” by Ryan Taubert
Similar to “Time” from Inception, “Soul Battles” darkly shines with a heavy, swaying sadness. It is the sound of somebody who is being overcome. I’m going to waylay my usual blurb for these entries. Just let the music carry you away to the trenches.
#43 – “Kakariko Village” by Koji Kondo (performed by the Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary Symphony)
This famous track from The Legend of Zelda practically oozes good feelings. I feel safe when I hear this song. I feel home. This song precludes the adventure, showcasing the mystified daydreams of a hero-to-be, before he picks up the blade. “Kakariko Village” is quaint, just like the village itself in every incarnation of Zelda. I’m not the world’s biggest Zelda fan, but Link to the Past was one of the first games I ever played, and I would sometimes just leave my character sitting in the middle of the village to hear the soothing overture. They brought perspective and optimism whenever I was feeling lost or uncertain in my direction. It still makes me feel that way. And for a song to be able to do that is nothing short of phenomenal.
#44 – “Kindred Spirits” by REEN
I think the image in the above video does a pretty good job of capturing my feelings towards this song. “Kindred Spirits” is gingerly, romantically tragic. An honest love, cracked down the middle by external powers. Romeo and Juliet, except believable, and actually sad. If I walked in on the scene depicted in that video, in that lighting…yeah, I can see how this song would fit.
#45 – “Friends” by Yoko Kanno
I have no idea what this show is about. I’ve never seen Wolf’s Rain, but I discovered its soundtrack around the time I was reading a series called Bakuman. A major theme in Bakuman is that of friendship and camaraderie, to which this song appropriately fits. Yet, despite the earnestness of the track, it’s very clearly a song of bittersweet quality. I suspect it originally plays in Wolf’s Rain to the scene of a friend dying, or having already passed and being reflected upon. At any rate, that piano lacerates my strength. I am made somber beneath its gentle might, just in time to be done in by the violins which follow after. We approach the conclusion with a dirge of aching woodwinds, playing notes so low, they’re practically whispers. Whispers between friends. A promise to never forget one another.
#46 – “Ascending into Naught” by Demetori
(Despite the picture above, this is not from an anime…just a video game with anime aesthetics.)
It was difficult to narrow down one favorite from the Japanese metal band Demetori, but, gun to my head, I’d have to go with “Ascending Into Naught.” This song has been on my workout playlists since my friend introduced me to it in college. The colliding harmony of layered guitars—some riding power chords, the others flying through high notes— synchronize perfectly with the piano to create what sounds to me like a grade-A, final boss video game track. You can even tell when the final boss would go on its last leg. Near the 5:48 mark, a slaughtering drum-line breaks through a tasteful lull in the energy of the song, ushering it to new heights, in which the guitars and piano/synth run a gauntlet of increased stress and speed and rioting awesomeness.
This song is crazy, it’s epic, and it’s so much fun. Just like everything Demetori does.
#47 – “Beyond” by Lorne Balfe and Hans Zimmer
When people describe something which is “epic,” they are referring to scope and magnitude. If something is epic, it is of great consequence, usually world-altering in nature, involving hundreds, if not thousands, millions, or billions of moving pieces.
If I were to describe “Beyond” in any two words, it would be as the spiritual incarnation of “epic sorrow.” This is the dirge which follows a long, hard-fought battle, and things did not turn out well. As the siren-like strings slowly crescendo, they build into a drop which plunges your heart into your feet. This song is the sound of hope dying, as all the world weeps. It, and the game it comes from (Beyond: Two Souls) were the original seed from which my own story, “Doubting Puppet,” was founded.
#48 – “Between Worlds” by Roger Subirana Mata
I’m sorry the world is not what it should be—that the crack in your chest has held on despite all these years of trying to make it go away. I’m sorry people are not always patient, not always kind. I’m sorry that sometimes neither am I. I’m sorry you’ve lost friends, in however way that might have happened. Tragedy is not always necessary in losing someone important. I’m sorry your heart doesn’t always feel big enough or strong enough. I’m sorry your mind doesn’t always feel as though it can persist through the gales of stress which blow your way.
I’m sorry people don’t understand, can’t understand, or won’t understand. Please forgive them. Please forgive yourself, because you know sometimes it’s hard for you to understand, too. That’s not your fault, it’s just the way of things. We do the best with what we have, and as long as you are doing all you can, no fault can be justly held against you.
#49 – “Farewell, Life” by Arn Andersson & Nights Amore
One of the saddest songs I know. Dangerously sad. It should not be consumed without caution, and definitely not over an extended period of time. Beneath the heartbreaking rhythm, a seduction is taking place, a parasitic spirit of hurt which will slowly drain you of vitality if you’re not careful, and lead you into thoughts of obliteration, however hypothetical. That said, it is beautiful. The ocean in a grey morning, not a stir to be seen, despite the cool gust tossing your hair. Froth on the rocks. A quiet harbor town.
“Farewell, Life,” is a deathbed anthem. It’s what plays in the miasma of the spiritual plane when one of our own passes over, eyes clicking shut for the last time. Songs like this are important. They help us remember death isn’t necessarily bad or scary. But it is significant, and should never be forgotten.
#50 – “Super Saiyan 3” by Bruce Faulconer
80’s Hair-metal ain’t got nothin’ on this. ^^^
There is a special place in my nerdy heart for many of the Super Saiyan themes. This one is arguably my favorite (there was much internal debating). Where the theme from Goku’s original ascension carried with it the sound of a legend being born—mystical and slow—and Gohan’s theme from reaching Super Saiyan 2 showed him surpass his father—chilling and violent—the Super Saiyan 3 Theme is something else entirely. In Goku’s own meme-ified words, it is “to go even further beyond.”
This is the song of the ultimate hero, one who has found the final ceiling of their own potential, and somehow managed to push through it. When the heroes of Dragon Ball Z first reached Super Saiyan, they were quick to realize there was something beyond it, a perfected form. Super Saiyan 2 was achieved: the natural end to their evolution. But Goku, he invented a level beyond that, something he and only he had ever done.
Super Saiyan 3 was an impossibility, creating one’s own reality from just being that awesome. While the transformation in-series had the least emotional build-up and impact, it was no doubt memorable for its sheer confidence. This song helped craft that feeling, make it whole, and cemented Goku, for better or worse, as one of the coolest shonen protagonists of all time. So it would be fitting to make his ascension to SS3 the bookend to this immense list.
Thank you for reading. I hope you found at least one song you enjoyed.