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Features: Metroid's Metal Makeover

Posted by Jon Wahlgren

How five guys blasted the series' haunting soundtrack into a whole different genre - without sucking

The trouble with covering beloved music is that it’s so easy to lose something in the translation. Successfully capturing the original work’s intent and mood is atypical; what most often happens when things go south is the heart and soul of the piece are mangled with good intentions. It’s not enough to play the same notes and sing the same words: you need to know enough to meddle in the right places and how to take the right approach.

Five guys, riddled up and down the east coast of the United States, have beaten the odds and done just that with their video game cover band: Metroid Metal.

Taking the series' trademark cold and haunting ambience, Metroid Metal turns it up to a level dangerous for your speakers. It’s the kind of music that surges you with newfound nostalgia and leaves you with a desire to headbutt Ridley’s stupidly antagonizing face.

“Metroid is sci-fi, brooding, and all about tension and release,” founding member, mixer and guitarist Grant “Stemage” Henry said. “Metal is very much the same way.”

The beauty of it all is how well it manages to fit in and replace the original soundtracks. Despite being a stylistic polar opposite to the games’ alien, low-key electronica, the underlying melodies and sense of exploration are still there, albeit more fist-pumpingly aggressive.

“If you're going to write music that sounds creepy you can either write metal or atmospheric music,” guitarist Dan “Danimal” Behrens said. “Metal is more fun from a performance perspective.”

Untitled
Metroid Metal live at MAGFest.

Metroid Metal is made up of five members: Henry, Behrens and Micheal “Kirby” Molnar on guitar, Dan “chunkstyle” Taylor on bass and Kevin “Cheddar” Lawrence on drums. Henry is based near Charlotte, North Carolina, with Lawrence and Taylor 200 miles to the west on the outskirts of Asheville. Molner resides in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Behrens in Buffalo, New York.

But listening to their first full-length album Varia Suite, you’d never know that they all live hundreds of miles apart. With Henry acting as the band’s Grand Central mixing hub, members would record their parts separately and send them in for assembly.

The recording process for Varia Suite, which pulls songs from Metroid, Metroid II: Return of Samus, Super Metroid and Metroid Prime for a metal makeover, began in late April of this year almost by accident. Talk of putting out an album at first seemed to take them in the direction of laying down a couple tracks and throwing them online, but the project snowballed and more songs made the list. By August, Henry and Taylor had finalized the mail-order instrumental bits into fine-tuned mixes and were ready to go.

Some of the games’ music lend themselves easier to the metal translation. Super Metroid, the band’s unanimous favorite entry, is possibly the most straightforward to convert.

“In general, the least arrangement work is done in terms of turning [that soundtrack] into metal tracks,” Molnar said. “With the NES and Prime games, there's so much that's completely different or even nonexistent in the original music, but with the tracks in Super, they're pretty close to straight covers with guitars.”

Untitled
Playing their debut gig at MAGFest.

As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

“The melodies tend to be pretty iconic — particularly in the older games,” Taylor said. “What Grant has done is keep the melodies intact but arrange a structure underneath that both pays homage to the original, but also takes it in a new, more metal-y direction.”

Debuting as a live band on New Years 2009 at game festival MAGFest, Metroid Metal hasn’t had the luxury of doing a lot of gigs. So far, that’s the only one, but the band is scheduled to play PAX in September.

Not only do they contend with living far away from each other, but Metroid Metal also faces the stigma of being a video game music group. Molnar’s other band, tempsoundsolutions, has faced similar challenges.

“I know people who have come to a show, rocked their asses off watching us, and they come up to us afterward and have no idea that we were just doing game covers,” he said. “And usually when I tell them, their answer is something like ‘oh wow, no way, I'm not sure I would've come out to see that if I knew ahead of time.’ Video game music is about nostalgia and nerdination for a lot of people, but I really and truly believe that it stands on its own musically — it's just sad that it has to overcome such a huge stigma before it gets to the point where people will allow themselves to come out and see it.”

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User Comments (22)

WolfRamHeart

#1

WolfRamHeart said:

I just listened to some of their songs on their MySpace page and I have to admit that they sound pretty damn awesome!:)

FATEM

#2

FATEM said:

That's pretty awesome.Heavy metal Zelda Soundtrack would be even better though.

odd69

#4

odd69 said:

I love playing guitar and video games, this is a perfect fit.

Jockolantern

#5

Jockolantern said:

I've been following Stemage's Metroid Metal work for the past four years or so and have loved seeing just how much it has evolved. There's not an arrangement he and his band have done that I haven't loved and that doesn't feel like it really sticks close to the original intent and heart of the original tune. For anyone who hasn't heard Stemage's outstanding work, I highly recommend you remedy that now.

LEGEND_MARIOID

#6

LEGEND_MARIOID said:

Nintendo's soundtracks have always been brilliant. I played Metroid Prime Pinball recently and the audio on that is proper banging!

Klapaucius

#7

Klapaucius said:

I've been listening to Metroid Metal for a couple of years. The remixes are awesome. It helps that the original tracks are some of the best ever videogame music. The metal remake would fit really well in the games, too. Hopefully some of their Metroid Metal will make it into a future Metroid game ;)

V8_Ninja

#8

V8_Ninja said:

Is this cool or just weird? I mean, putting a metal twist on some Metroid songs would be cool, but the songs are all about atmosphere. I just can't decide.

Adam

#10

Adam said:

I hate metal, but it's great for what it is. I disagree with the comment that metal is more satisfying than atmospheric music from a performance perspective, too, but to each his own!

Objection

#12

Objection said:

Video game covers are fun so I dig this story. Go out there and search various games, people, and see what musicians have experminted with.

deadly_by_design

#13

deadly_by_design said:

This will sound odd, but I could see the original Doom being played well to some of these tunes. Different content, but both games have you as a lone combatant on a hostile planet. (probably because the rock style is reminiscent of Doom 3's retooled theme)

I normally dislike Metal, but game covers are alright. Mechwarrior 2: Mercenaries had a metal soundtrack and it actually worked. Otherwise, the change in dynamics that go into this kind of metal would be too distracting for a normal Metroid game. (it's basically just loud all the time)

/really diggin' the Super Metroid tracks

HEMIII

#14

HEMIII said:

effin' sweet!!! I'm getting the CD bundle w/shirt and sticker. Metal rules.

Philip_J_ReedStaff

#15

Philip_J_Reed said:

I've got their debut gig in my iTunes. It's a good quality recording and most of the music is phenomenal, but there's an awful lot of dead space (while they set up between songs I guess) which interferes with it being a solid listening experience.

Worth skipping through, though. One of the better live video game covers I've heard.

Superman

#17

Superman said:

Metal? Is this some kind of joke? Nothing, and I mean nothing, that Nintendo makes can ever be Metal. Nintendo isn't for kids, it's for dumb, fat kids with no imagination.

And Omega, you really shouldn't flap your yap about things you don't understand.

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