(TheMadIsraeli wrote the following essay, which connects two of his favorite pasttimes.)
Besides being a devoutly obsessive-compulsive audio consumer of the style of metal and all of its extremities I’m also an obsessive-compulsive consumer of interactive video games. I have been all my life, and in a lot of the same ways as metal, video games are just as responsible for saving me from struggles with mental health issues and helping me cope with life. I find this funny, because if one really breaks down and examines video games, especially modern ones, at their cores…
They are essentially just interactive metal.
In the same ways that metal often reaches for heights of ambition, technicality, and progressivism, so do video games, especially if you’re someone like me who is into the subset of what you might call video games specifically made for obsessive video game players. Games like the highly praised Dark Souls franchise, Nioh 2, Furi, Doom in all its iterations, fighting game franchises like Street Fighter, Tekken, Mortal Kombat — they are all just playable metal.
They’re all-consuming vortices, and a grotesquely gratuitous cornucopia of systems and mechanics that push you to learn, master, and dominate in what they present to you, whether that’s the challenge of the game itself or through PVP or player-versus-player interactions in those games. Video games and metal also have an interesting relationship as far as soundtracking goes.
Of course, the first thing that is unsual is that in spite of a lot of video games being metal in spirit and ethos, they often aren’t soundtracked by it. The aforementioned Furi has a soundtrack entirely composed of ’80s-styled synthwave by an assortment of artists, including the fantastic Carpenter Brut, a non-metal guilty pleasure, but his contribution to that soundtrack is distinctly metal even in its spirit and presentation.
Of course you have the most obvious frontrunner here in this discussion, DOOM in any and all of it’s iterations. There’s been numerous covers of the original 1993 releases first staged simply called “E1M1“, an oddly sophisticated short loop of technical thrash metal originally communicated through primitive MIDI, not to mention the revival duology of DOOM 2016 and DOOM: Eternal, both soundtracked by the masterful Mick Gordon, one of the few distinctly metal oriented composers in the video game business.
Mortal Kombat 11‘s soundtrack is filled with cool proto-djent/groove metal inspired numbers as another example.
What I experienced for all of 2020 though, was JRPG developer Nihon Falcom and their penchant for writing MAYBE the best instrumental power/prog metal you could possibly hear in a video game. Whether it was the absurdly over-the-top power metal compositions of the Legend Of Heroes: Trails Of… franchise or their other flagship the YS series.
Another delight in 2020 was the Final Fantasy 7 Remake Part 1 discography, which had fantastic re-dos of classic songs from the original game that were obviously intended for grander aspirations, like the game’s classic boss theme, but I also immensely enjoyed the oddly Igorrr-esque glitchcore of the theme used for fights with the iconic Turks as well.
Anyways, I felt like writing a little fun ditty about an intersection between two loves of mine while I’m working on the upcoming Higher Criticism series. I’m curious how many obsessive gaming types we have as readers — speak up and let’s discuss the intersection between metal and video games and some of the ideas I brought up here.
I really like your thesis of video games as interactive metal! There is something about repetition and deepening your experience that I think is key to both. I have always used videogame time as music time. Starting with Tony Hawk Pro Skater, I’d keep albums rolling while practicing. More recently, I played loop after loop of Hades while giving all those Best of 2020 lists a thorough going-through. It helps me go deeper in my appreciation of each. It also ties the two experiences, marrying favorite albums and games. Idk if that resonates with anyone, but it is what came to mind while reading your article. Thanks!
I actually started playing Hades recently after clearing out my backlog and it’s definitely a metal as fuck game.
Guess I’m an obsessive gaming type, but I rarely appreciate metal OST in games – at least not in the way I appreciate metal. For obvious reasons OST tends to steer into softer / more casual vibes, and basically in game OSTs I look for different things than I do in my metal music. I feel like keeping the two discretely separate makes me enjoy them more, and consecutively even if some soundtracks would fit the metal bill, I always keep them away from my metal playlists. Rarely do I even register that a video game soundtrack is metal, unless it’s very in-my-face.
As for cool metal in games, Doom is obviously great, though I’d sooner categorize the new Doom games OST into synthwave myself, but in the end synthwave is metal afterall. Metal Gear Rising boss themes with vocals are great, cheesy as hell but fit perfectly. Out of very recent things Cyberpunk 2077 has a badass radio station called Ritual FM, unfortunately the playlist is rather short and it gets repetitive quickly.
I do love me some metal Touhou arranges though.
I like the idea of investigating the intersection of metal and other art forms and certaily can relate to the experience you described.
That being said, I think most phaenomena you mentioned are not really specific to metal or video games. They rather are a testament to essential features of human intelligence: to engage in activities that are perceived as an end in themselves, to challenge itself and relate unknown experiences to things known. (The latter is the reason “useless” activities – like obsessing over Dark Souls – can help develop strategies to deal with mental health issues.) But none of this is not tied to a specific art form/genre: literature, movies, sport or even religious practices can be “metal” for another person.
In any case, glad you are doing what you love and share your thoughts, insights and playlists with us.
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Playing Dark Souls and Bloodborne is the video game equivalent of listening to extreme forms of death and black metal. (That said, I would never alter the music in any of those games).
I think its interesting to note the headspace a video game puts you in. Kind of in the zone. And then listening to music in that state of mind has its own benefits, so I can see video games being a clear gateway to deeper musical appreciation, across all genres.
I agree about your analogies to Souls games. One thing I think is kind of depressing but interesting is how, SOMEHOW, bands that have tried to do music about Dark Souls in the extreme metal universe somehow just always drop the ball. I’m waiting for a band to capture the essence of them.
Firelink (the band) is also a nearly perfect example of metal world merging with video game. For Souls players it’s like communication on a different dimension, and of course, the music is also very good. Soon there may be a new band called Dragonrot 🙂
Mosh pits are just MMOs.
Praise the Sun. Praise Mollusca.
It doesn’t always have to be metal…
Years ago I loved to play Prince of Persia video games (from Ubisoft). I liked the music, mixture of Persian or Arabic music and rock, metal. Songs from some “metal” band were used for one of the 3 games, but I can’t remember which. Godsmack?