Liner Notes XVII: Game music cover bands forged in metal

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(Editor’s note: From Ace Attorney to Xenogears, everyone’s got at least one videogame tune stuck in their heads. Enter Liner Notes: a Pixelitis feature in which our writers discuss their favorite videogame music.)

Let’s talk about the awesome combination of game music cover bands and heavy metal.

One of the fantastic things about videogame music is that the styles and possibilities within the genre are endless. Us VGM audiophiles bathe in a co-culture in which a classical, choir-oriented tune like this can still be lumped in the same category as its Mega Ran-covered, hip-hop conversion.

Next to assembling expansive orchestras to perform renditions of our favorite videogame music in classical arrangements, forming a heavy metal cover band is also one of the most beloved ways of interpreting everything from Actraiser to Zelda II.

Metal fans – and even game music fans – who claim to be “tired” of the abundance of VGM metal covers out there: get pumped, turn up your speakers and prepare to GET YOUR FACE ROCKED. \m/

“Those Who Fight Further” by The Black Mages

Original composer: Nobuo Uematsu

What better way to kick things off than with a progressive metal cover from a band that was spearheaded by the very man behind most of Final Fantasy’s beloved music?

With The Black Mages, Nobuo Uematsu achieved his dream of being a rockstar, serving as one of two keyboardists in the sadly defunct six-piece band. Their cover of Final Fantasy VII’s boss theme is given a proper remake with crisp drumming, grooving bass, rock-hard riffing and harmonizing synths.

And what’s a prog metal cover of a game song without a marvelous guitar solo thrown in?

If FFVII fanboys and fangirls ever get their wish of a remake, then we’d better hear this during that fight with the Air Buster.

Also, that cow bell is a nice touch. We could always use more of that.

“Knee-deep in Doom” by Epiclore

Original composer: Robert Prince

I stumbled upon this incredible cover of several well-known Doom tunes way back in high school. After making some clever use of some classic Doom soundbytes, the Finnish symphonic metal band Epiclore gives the listener a sheer dose of adrenaline with Doom II’s “Stage 1″ before segueing into “Intermezzo.”

Some impressive double bass-infused drum fills mark the perfect way to then open up into “At Doom’s Gate,” a track that clearly borrows from Metallica’s “Master of Puppets.”

After an interlude with “Kitchen Ace (and Taking Names),” the band does a reprise of “At Doom’s Gate” before finally finishing the whole thing off with the hilarious and uncharacteristic “End Game (Sweet Little Dead Bunny).

“Castlevania” by Vomitron

Original composers: Kinuyo Yamashita, Satoe Terashima

It was ridiculously difficult to pick just one song from Massachusetts-based Vomitron’s album of heavy, tight and note-for-note renditions of several NES classics, but the Castlevania medley was the perfect way to close out “No NES for the Wicked.

Aside from being accurate to the original NES soundtrack in both notation and tempo, it covers the entirety of the game’s adored soundtrack. Synth takes the lead for most of it, though the guitar plays in melodic unison during some truly epic marks, such as “Wicked Child.” The medley even adheres to Castlevania’s gothic style with some diabolical organ during “Poison Mind.”

The whip sound effects applied during “Nothing to Lose” are a nice touch, not to mention the addition of black metal blast beats during “Black Night” make it all kinds of epic.

“Hi, I’m Mark Spandrill” by Armcannon

Original composers: Yasuaki Fujita, Makoto Tomozawa

Armcannon loves concocting inane titles for its covers. The band got the brilliant idea of combining two electrifying tracks: one from Mega Man 3, the other from Mega Man X. Spark Man” and “Spark Mandrill” in one song? Pure genius.

Highlights include the drummer faithfully replicating the outro drum solo in  “Spark Mandrill” and an aside where the guitarists, keyboardist and drummer play in a Dream Theater-inspired segment of odd-time signatures  and complex transitions, complete with Jordan Rudess-style xylophone synth.

“Brinstar” by Metroid Metal

Original composer: Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka

Grant “Stemage” Henry’s Metroid Metal project is one of the earlier instances of merging game music with heavy metal, and it made for an incredibly awesome combo.

“Brinstar” serves as one of the first tracks you hear in Samus’ original foray, and hearing its adventurous melody with dueling guitars and heavy riffing is extraordinary. The bass guitar gets extra kudos from me; I love how it “grooves” into the harmony, mimicking the rhythm guitar.

“Dying Corpse” by fhatsk8er

Original composer: Yuko Takehara

For a work in progress, this phenomenal cover of Breath of Fire II’s thrash metal battle tune is top-notch. Beyond the humorous intro, in which the slow and chipper “My Home Sweet Home” plays, is a record scratch sound effect that leads into the pulse-pounding and blast beat-driven “Dying Corpse.”

It’s about time we see some proper respect (and pure shredding) brought to the underrated RPG soundtrack.

“Dark World” by The NESkimos

Original composer: Koji Kondo

Prior to The NESkimos’ long-winded hiatus, the band arranged an interesting fusion of industrial synth beats and heavy metal guitar-work with one of the greatest SNES tracks of all time.

Their cover of “Dark World” carries just as much of a triumphant feeling as the SNES original, while giving it a heavier edge that worked surprisingly well. I particularly love the harmonizing flute and the incorporation of the “Fortune Teller” music.

“Heavy Mako” by Knight of the Round

Original composer: Nobuo Uematsu

Poly-rhythmic technical metal reminiscent of Mesuggah? Check.

A heavier take on an already ominous-sounding Uematsu tune? Check.

Brain completely melted? Check.

“Red Wings Over Baron” by Powerglove

Original composer: Nobuo Uematsu

Had enough of Final Fantasy? I hope not. Our geeky metal overlords crafted a gloriously epic medley of some of the most dramatic tracks from Final Fantasy IV, including “Red Wings,” “Fight 1,” “The Dreadful Fight,” “Into the Darkness,” “Fight 2,” “Fanfare” and “The Final Battle.”

Game music fans haven’t lived until they’ve seen this band perform it live.

“Red Retaliation” by Torzelan

Original composer: Toshihiko Horiyama

I never thought I’d be using “black metal” and Demon’s Crest in the same sentence, but there you go. VGM metal musician extraordinaire Torzelan took the haunting melody of “The Infinite Demon” from the underrated SNES treasure and made it even more demonic with harsh vocals, blast beats and brutal riffage. 

I’ll tell you this: blasting this in my car while heading to my day job during a frustrating holiday period was utterly fitting.

——

Share me some of your favorite heavy metal VGM covers, I long for more headbanging goodness.

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Author: Patrick Kulikowski View all posts by
Patrick Kulikowski is a Rutgers University graduate and Pixelitis writer. In addition to being a gamer for over 19 years, he is an avid drummer and enjoys working on his VGdrum videogame music project. He also doesn't cling to just one platform. Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, the PC market, he loves it all.