I used to listen to a fair amount of metal music back in my middle and high school days. I remember getting made fun of for liking KoRn and Marilyn Manson in grade school. I also remember getting my first copy of Rammstein's Mutter album in middle school and listening to it on repeat. My first stereo system came with a 5 disc CD player that was loaded with a "permanently borrowed" Hybrid Theory album, and much much more. Being the weird, smart kid, I didn't really know how to be cool with popular folks, so instead I leaned into my weird with my music selections. But, during and especially after high school, I fell away metal in lieu of trance and other EDM genres, which translated to when I started producing music. So, after finally being able to attend the Rammstein concert that had been delayed for two years thanks to our good friend COVID, my brain had re-entered a space it had filed away for a long time. Which made the release of Metal: Hellsinger super fortuitous.
If you don't know much about Metal: Hellsinger, I can best describe it as a kitbash of Doom (2016) and Crypt of the Necrodancer. The storyline for the game is ripped straight from the album notes of 80's and 90's metal mainstays like Dio and Black Sabbath - an epic story of of heaven and hell joining forces to prevent Unknown, our protagonist, from reclaiming her voice. The aesthetic is both bright and dark at the same time, and also seems to take notes from games like Brutal Legend in incorporating the facets of a metal show's stage production into the world, though certainly not as blatant. The gameplay loop is addictive, which is great because the game is incredibly fun, but also super short (my first playthrough took a little under 3 hours). The actions, the weapon blasts, the explosions all punctuate as additional percussion in a masterful sense. The music, however, is the real star of the show, and is what set me on a journey through metal again.
Metal: Hellsinger's OST, produced by the amazing Two Feathers, is a love letter to metal not only in execution, but in the bevy of collaborators. The OST's most widely notable collaborator is probably Serj Tankian, the iconic lead vocalist of the band System of a Down, however I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the other guest artists, so I'll provide a list of them here:
- Acheron – Two Feathers featuring Randy Blythe (Lamb Of God)
- Blood and Law – Two Feathers featuring Mikael Stanne (Dark Tranquility)
- Burial At Night – Two Feathers featuring Tatiana Shmayluk (Jinjer)
- Dissolution – Two Feathers featuring Björn 'Speed' Strid (Soilwork)
- Internal Invocation I: Hopes and Fears – Two Feathers featuring Mikael Stanne (Dark Tranquility)
- Internal Invocation II: Defiance – Two Feathers featuring Mikael Stanne (Dark Tranquility)
- Internal Invocation III: Dreaming in Distortion – Two Feathers featuring Mikael Stanne (Dark Tranquility)
- No Tomorrow – Two Feathers featuring Serj Tankian (System of a Down)
- Poetry Of Cinder – Two Feathers featuring James Forton (Black Crown Initiate)
- Silent No More – Two Feathers featuring Dennis Lyxzén (Refused)
- Stygia – Two Feathers featuring Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy)
- The Hellsinger – Two Feathers
- This Devastation – Two Feathers featuring Matt Heafy (Trivium)
- This is the End – Two Feathers featuring Mikael Stanne (Dark Tranquility)
- Through You – Two Feathers featuring Mikael Stanne (Dark Tranquillity)
I'm a sucker for metal with female vocals, especially if they can pull of both an angelic performance like Amy Lee, and combine it with the vocal frying screams of Otep. Two Feathers said that one collaborator wasn't enough for that though - they needed two. The demo included the level Stygia, which features the vocals of Alissa White-Gluz, the lead vocalist of Arch Enemy. You need to check out the live performance by Two Feathers and more from Gamescom, where Alissa performs the track live.
I was hooked from there, but of all the act's I've explored because of this game, the one that has entranced me most is Jinjer. Burial At Night from the game OST (which features Jinjer's vocalist Tatiana Shmayluk) is a beautifully executed track, but it's been listening to Jinjer's track "Pisces" that hooked me on the band.
At first blush, the track is a gorgeous waltz-y ballad that transitions to a heavier mode, playing on the duality described in the lyrics and the title of the track. Tatiana's vocals transition beautifully from vulnerable truth telling to raw emotional fury. But the thing that has hooked me the hardest has been analyzing the arrangement, and it's fantastic use of changing time signatures to keep the listener off-balance, but in a good way.
The track starts off in 7/8, which is already leading to discomfort, as your typical 4/4 four-on-the-floor beat that pervades most music is eschewed for something that feels like it skips a beat constnatly. This starts things off on that back-foot, starting off on that tender, vulnerable beginning. The bridge then kicks over to 6/8, giving you that waltz-y feeling before kicking back to 7/8 for a few bars. This pre-chorus section with the snare clicks really gives me an Incubus vibe from the early 2000's. Then, as we hit the first growly, passion fueled chorus that will take folks listening to the track off guard, the first thing that happens is a bar of 2/4 as the guitar kicks in (Timecode: 1:10). This is when the mode mixing gets even more bonkers, and I'm not even sure exactly what's right here. My first inclination was that we switched to 4/4 for two bars, two bars of 3/4, then back to 4/4 again. After listening for countless times though, I think we actually hop to 8/8 for two bars and to 2/4 for a bar.
I kinda want to dig into this a bit. The vocals are sycopated across all over, so we really have to key into the guitars and the drums. In meaure one of the 8/8 section, we have emphasis placed on the 1, 4, and 7 of the measure. To visualize this a bit, 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8. While you could notate this as 4/4, this splits our rhythm across measures, and given that so much of the track is already in some form of X/8 time, a meter commonly used in rock music, this gels a bit more support. Sliding a 2/4 (or I suppose 2/8 if we wanted to, this might be done for easier reading) at the back half of the phrase continues the songs pattern to throw us off just as soon as we get comfortable again.
As soon as the chorus is over, we're back to 7/8 again for verse 2, following the structure from the first verse. The bridge after verse two swings us back into the waltz-y 6/8, and back to the wild chorus 8/8 into 2/4 pattern once again. At this point, we're starting to get the formula for the song, so we'd expect to back into 7/8 again, except no, we're back to 6/8 for a third, incredibly haunting verse. But Jinjer isn't done with us yet.
The outro kicks the tempo up quite a bit. We keep in the 6/8 meter, but we move to a bouncy focus to on the 1's and 4's. This gives us a huge driving energy that ironically would fit right in with a polka and it's oom-pah-pah energy. Not gonna lie, I'd love to hear Los Colorados do a cover of this track, bringing their polka-style shenanigans to a heavy hitting track. If they can do it for Du Hast, I'm sure they can do it for this.
All that to say, I would have never discovered Jinjer, and this amazingly beautiful, complex, and powerful song in the first place if it weren't for the OST for Hellsinger. The game is great. It feels great. It plays great. It's OST hits hard. And, apparently, it was also a great gateway for me to rediscover a genre of music I hadn't listened to in a long time. Oh, and apparently scratch my inner music nerd real hard.