Thursday, April 28, 2011

Vangough - Game On!

In the past, some of the old guard of melodic metal (such as Primal Fear – Killbound and Helloween – The Game Is On) have lyrically depicted video games as a dangerous distraction for the borderline kids of the Ritalin generation. So as a gamer who grew up in an environment that screamed video games were something to be watched carefully and cautiously, it’s refreshing to see this newer crop of bands who acknowledge video games as they would any other form of narrative media.

Joining the ranks of Machinae Supremacy and HORSE The Band with this new album, America’s Vangough have offered up an album of rearranged covers and medleys from classic games old and new. Unlike those two bands I just mentioned, who take sounds and aesthetics from video games and create original music, Vangough mastermind Clay Withrow says in the liner notes that he just wants us to take this for what it is: a tribute to classic games over the years.

Alright, Mr. Withrow, you got it. Game on.

It’s actually pretty difficult for me to look at this in a totally objective light, because I have a fond attachment to a lot of games represented here. Donkey Kong Country? Starfox? Bloody Metroid Prime 2? You’re speaking my language, buddy.

Much of the rhythm section here gets quite heavy for the kind of covers being done, especially on The Turtle King’s Lair (Super Blastbeat Brothers?) and Torvus Bog, but it works out well. The drums actually serve as the pivotal point of the aforementioned Mario medley, letting the guitars and keys fill in the gaps and create an atmosphere that definitely works in context.

For those of you who checked this out expecting to rock out to your favourite game tunes re-arranged into something to bang your head to, try Corneria (a part of me thinks it sounds more like the Transformers theme than Starfox before the solos kick in, but I never did get too many hours on the original SNES game as opposed to 64, and I’m guessing this is based on the original, so) and The Killer Instinct.

But the most important thing about any adaptation, music or not, is whether or not the spirit of the source material remains intact. So for what it’s worth, these tracks – in particular, Simon’s Revenge (the Castlevania medley) serve up those helpings of nostalgic goodness that make you feel back in your living room, controller in your hand.

Though, speaking from my inner geek, it’s surprising that while they chose to use a mellow track from the Donkey Kong Country series to close out the album, they didn’t choose Stickerbrush Symphony. Don’t get me wrong, Coral Capers is a great track, but wherever I look, Stickerbrush is usually in the de facto top ten of most people’s video game songs. But at the end of the day, that’s splitting hairs in the way that only a combined music and video game fan would bother to. It’s like – “oh, hey, why not cover F-Zero, or put in some music from Prime and Super for the Metroid medley?” It’s that kind of “what if?” nitpicking that can take the fun out of the album that they did give us. We can dream on for a Game On Again!, or something, but I’m happy with what we got.

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