The Story Behind Eight of Brütal Legend's Deepest Cuts
There's no question that Brütal Legend designer Tim Schafer loves metal. The game's deep soundtrack slaughters any possibility of doubt. This collection of 75 bands and 108 tracks has the expected familiar stuff: Motörhead's "We Are the Road Crew" and Ozzy's "Diary of a Madman," let's say. But the playlist shines with really deep cuts that will destroy your speakers. Not a lot of ink is dedicated to bands like Riot and Coroner these days, so here's your primer for eight of the killer choices that liven up this legend.
(A note: In the game, the primary means for listening to tunes is through your sweet ride, The Deuce. I've taken some artistic liberty and suggested points to listen to these tracks where they might not be available. Just get into the spirit of things and stay with me, OK?)
If I had to peg one perennially forgotten, underrated power metal album, it would be Riot's "Thundersteel." These in-game tracks are not from that record, but they highlight founding guitarist Mark Reale's skills all the same. And check this: "Narita," the record that holds this tune, is from 1979. This song predates almost the entire recorded output of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), which is the scene that famously influenced Metallica and therefore just about every other damn metal band assembled after 1983. It's fast, heavy, catchy and way ahead of its time.
Feedback: Thanks to its documentary, Anvil is the poster child for unfairly unsuccessful metal bands, and of course it's on this soundtrack. But Riot held that sad title before Anvil ever made a record. If Riot had better management and (let's face it) better album covers, it might have been the U.S. answer to the NWOBHM. What the hell is that thing on the cover of so many Riot albums, anyway?
Recommended listening while: Cruising the South American-like landscape in search of hidden treasures before you undertake the fiery task of corralling Metal Beasts to join your fight.
Speaking of the NWOBHM, here's another not-so-famous band that influenced that movement. The difference between Budgie and Riot is that Metallica covered Budgie twice. Its version of "Crash Course in Brain Surgery" appeared on "Garage Days Re-Revisited," and "Breadfan" was the B-side to "Harvester of Sorrow" in '88. Already having heard the A-side a million times, I flipped the cassingle (1988!) over, was destroyed by "Breadfan," and promptly went back into the store to find some Budgie. ("Garage Days" credited songwriters, not bands, so I didn't know that Budgie was covered on that, too.)
Feedback: The song hails from "Never Turn Your Back on a Friend," featuring cover art by Roger Dean. The artist illustrated Yes and Asia sleeves (OK, not so metal) in addition to many a Psygnosis videogame cover. His fantastic alien art style is a serious influence on Brütal Legend's landscape.
Recommended listening while: Aimlessly driving along the coastline while ruminating on the progression of the "friendship" between Eddie and Ophelia. The acoustic breakdown in "Breadfan" is perfectly suited to some quiet, poignant reflection.
Coroner, "Skeleton on Your Shoulder"
The too-often unsung heroes of progressive thrash, Coroner made a series of five records that were ever more technically impressive but never lost the all-important feel for great riffs. Serpentine guitar leads are complimented by Ron Royce's oddly reptilian voice and a surprisingly complex rhythm section. This track is from their second record, "Punishment for Decadence," a disc that may not have ever left my car and/or iPod since I first heard it in 1988. It's heavy, atmospheric, slightly weird and so truly metal.
Feedback: Brütal Legend is a love letter to the reliable roadie, so it would have been criminal to omit Coroner from the soundtrack. The band was originally the road crew for Celtic Frost, and CF main man Tom G. Warrior actually sang in the original version of the band.
Recommended listening while: Riding the stealthy roadies whose feedback-producing speaker stacks turn into one of the game's best weapons.
Carcass, "No Love Lost"
There's not a lot of true hardcore death metal in the playlist, but that's forgiven as soon as "No Love Lost" comes up. The landmark 1993 record "Heartwork," from which this track hails, is the first in this list I'd say you must simply buy, period, if it's not on your shelf already. With this disc, Carcass moved beyond its grindcore roots (blast beats and gore-filled lyrics) into a death-metal arena, and didn't falter for a second. Anyone who tells you that the change means Carcass failed or sold out isn't f***ing listening. Few albums make the deep vocals and intricate chops of death metal so accessible and -- shocker! -- catchy.
Feedback: Alien designer H.R. Giger created the sculpture that graces the cover of "Heartwork," and the super-shiny metal could easily be hanging in the silky chrome grotto of Brütal Legend's massive metal spider. It's the Easter egg that should have been.
Recommended listening while: Cruising the Deuce through enemy general Lionwhyte's gaudy palace. The crunchy riff is perfect for making kindling out of all those chaise lounges.
Skeletonwitch, "Soul Thrashing Black Sorcery"
It's almost inconceivable at this point that any metalhead wouldn't know Skeletonwitch. There's a small movement to revive the Bay Area thrash sound that dominated metal in the late '80s, and the 'witch are easily the most interesting of the new thrash crew. They play lightning fast riffs and leads with production so clean, you know their attack is legit. Chance Garnette's pipes can hit banshee shrieks just as easily as orc-like growls; he's got one of the most entertaining voices in metal. And they're smart enough to have great album and shirt art; you'll see Skeletonwitch shirts outnumber every other band's merch at many a show.
Feedback: Just as Brütal Legend unites dozens of influences to create an effective single package, Skeletonwitch combines NWOBHM, death, black and thrash influences with humor and precision to create a unique, instantly recognizable sound.
Recommended listening while: Taking on the goth-y enemies who draw power from the Sea of Black Tears; there's no better way to combat lame black magic than with shredding, savage black sorcery.
Racer X, "Y.R.O."
This takes me back. There was a minute in the mid/late-'80s when I was really into the explosion of neo-classical metal guitarists. Inspired by Yngwie Malmsteen, musicians like Tony MacAlpine, Vinnie Moore, Marty Friedman (who soon joined Megadeth) and Paul Gilbert played fast, precise compositions that may not have been the best songs, but had amazing chops. Gilbert, the driving force behind Racer X, was the most notable of this crew, in part because he was a teenager when the band started. Gilbert paid homage to the Malmsteen influence on Racer X's first record, "Street Lethal," by naming this track after him: The letters stand for "Yngwie Rip-Off."
Feedback: By blending madly technical playing with a hair-metal influence, Racer X became a weird LA phenomenon. It was far more popular in the mid-'80s LA scene than should ever have been possible, shredding the skin off other bands that were all about posing and partying. It's the one band that Lars Halford and Lionwhyte might be able to agree on.
Recommended listening while: Cruising the landscape looking for ball-gagged dragon statues to free. Doing so, you'll gain health and power while Gilbert shreds.
Emperor, "Thus Spake the Nightspirit"
You know this soundtrack is serious when Emperor shows up. The Norwegian black metal band was deservedly controversial in the '90s when founding member Samoth was part of a wave of arson. But on a purely sonic level, the band beautifully encompasses many of the contradictions of metal. It's raw, fast and abrasive, but can break into passages that are effectively calm and composed. It's like listening to a storm as it surges and lulls. (Warning: Comment flame-war incitement ahead.) The mid-'90s surge of black metal was probably the most important thing to happen to the genre as a whole since the NWOBHM. Bands like Emperor pushed black metal to a point where it could flower to influence the most interesting metal of this decade.
Feedback: The thing about black metal that gets lost in all the theatrics and controversy is that much of the genre is about stripping away social and technological trappings to find humanity's natural roots. Many black metal bands would be right at home in Brütal Legend's metal-inspired landscapes.
Recommended listening while: Fighting off chrome spiders in a dark wasteland during your search for godly strings to empower the healing abilities of that backbone of all true metal: the bass player.
Metal Church, "Metal Church"
A lot of kids probably got their introduction to this Washington band by way of MTV's Headbangers Ball, which reliably ran the video for "Watch the Children Pray." But its 1984 debut isn't to be overlooked; it's a wicked blend of classic heavy metal and the then-emerging tendencies of thrash. Vocalist David Wayne (who died in 2005 after a car accident) could scream, wail, growl and everything in between. Finally, any argument against this inclusion is mooted by simple fact: This Metal Church record was called Metal Church, and featured a song named "Metal Church"! You don't get much more f***ing metal than that.
Feedback: My association between Metal Church and gaming goes back more than 20 years; the high-school artist friend who always illustrated our D&D characters would draw members of one party as David Wayne and guitarist Kurt Vanderhoof. Try to out-geek that, kids.
Recommended listening while: Idling in front of the game's literal mountain of speakers. What better place to worship than at a wall of sound?
There's got to be some backmasking, right?
In the metal days of yore, there was always the threat (or hope) that secret messages were encoded backwards in metal records. This led to many a ruined turntable and put chubby young Stephen Dorff into a movie called "The Gate," which has head-smashing to make Eddie Riggs jealous. So here's the hidden message of Brütal Legend: The hair-metal band White Lion might actually be awesome.
This seems wrong. But all the signs are there. Sure, bad guy Lionwhyte, with his sparkly outfit and AquaNet modifier of +150, obviously casts the band as "bad." Meanwhile, the game loves Megadeth. But one of White Lion's old bassists, James LoMenzo, now performs healing duties for Megadeth. A former Lion drummer, Jimmy DeGrasso, also spent time in Megadeth. And another Lion drummer, Greg D'Angelo, pounded skins for Anthrax before that band's first lineup solidified. Why would Tim Schaefer go to so much trouble to name a villain after a band with so many ties to groups he loves, if he wasn't trying to disguise his secret devotion to something awful?
So what's missing?
Two words: Iron Maiden. Since Eddie Riggs is named after the band's mascot and original longtime cover artist (Eddie the 'ead and Derek Riggs, respectively), we could really use a Maiden tune in here. OK, yeah, there's that In Flames track. The Swedish band's harmony-guitar style is madly indebted to Maiden, but that's not good enough. Let's really up the irons; a lesser-known track like "Losfer Words (Big 'Orra)" would have fit in just fine.
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