And we’re back!
Some of you may remember that I’ve been something of an outspoken opponent of Metal, with some notable exceptions. I really can’t say that’s as much the case nowadays. Oh sure, I’m still not a fan of the stuff I wasn’t a fan of before, but I’ve been introduced to so many other kinds of Metal, in the 2-and-a-bit years since the Album Du Jour project, that I could at least say I’m a lot more open to it.
In the case of Year 200X, however, I say “HELLS YES MORE METAL MORE MORE MORE!” whilst banging my head and moshing people in the line at Starbucks.
Why is that? Video games, of course, duh. But let’s talk about the band and their current album anyway!
Year 200X is a video game cover/tribute band based out of Lansing, Michigan (where I understand they probably need to rock a little harder just to keep warm) and was formed by guitarist Tim Lydon and other guitarist Tony Oliver. They’re joined by a group (dare I say, a rag-tag group?) of metal vigilantes who go by monikers such as Ian Whithers, Rance Talroe, Kyle Hoke, and Jake Bryan. This is the information I got from their bio, so you know it must be true!
Anyway, since nearly every band that has made the bold choice to cover video game music tend to bring a little something different to the proceedings, I think it’d be good to point out that Year 200X, in general, have some unique traits that bear extolling.
For one, the band is brutal. There’s hardly a better way of putting it. The band features not one, but three metal guitarists (exactly 1 more than nearly every other VGM band with the notable exception of Metroid Metal), and a rhythm section that seems to have been put on this earth for the sole purpose of frightening the elderly.
Now, covering video game music usually involves dual guitar leads in order to emulate the sound of the source material, and since that’s a tactic most often employed by Metal bands (again, with notable exceptions), video game bands are often considered Metal by default. This is, of course, fine if these bands identify with it, but what’s cool about Year 200X is that they completely own the Metal label, and in fact having a 3rd guitarist to hold down those chugging power chords while the melodies blaze away is something of a god-send for their sound, and there’s no better way to get that sound than by listening to their album, We Are Error (especially because they have not yet released a second album!)
Upon looking at the track-listing, which conveniently lists (in a very no-nonsense way) exactly which songs are covered in each track, a second, very personally satisfying aspect of the band comes into play: these guys have amazing taste in NES game music, which is entirely the source for every song on the album (except for one notable exception that we’ll get to). Without exception, at least notable ones, every one of the songs on We Are Error is a track I would have personally picked if asked to select 13 of the most badass pieces of music in the Nintendo Entertainment System era.
It all starts with a game I’ve talked about elsewhere recently, Mega Man 3. Without going into the 2000-word version, I will simply repeat myself in saying that the intro theme song to that particular game caused something of a catharsis for mine and many other young minds upon first hearing it (and thousands of times after). Thus, what better way to open an album than to take that calm, bluesy, and then suddenly explosive song and explode it even harder? That’s exactly what goes on with this version of the theme, and it even starts with some very tasteful acoustic guitar by a guest guitarist called Alex Atchley.
It is here that we’ve given something of a left turn in the album, as a lone guitar wails in the legendary arpeggio that opens one of the most singularly famous songs in video games, the Moon Stage theme from Ducktales. Now, the original song contains this soaring melody that is as close to being “sung” with its 8-bit square waves as any song on the system you can name. Heck some handsome dudes HAVE sung it.
Anyway, for the reason that I never believed Metal (even “Melodic Metal” which is its own genre) could really embellish a really winning melody, I didn’t expect this version to be all that good, but holy crap it is! It is so good! In fact, when I listen to the original song, it’s merely the slight shift of the beat that keeps the original from being a metal tune in and of itself, since its backing part is basically a driving 16th note bass, which translates super-easily into guitar. It’s at this point that I realize that these guys know a few things that I don’t, and that interests me even further!
What comes next is something that I would call an even bolder move; covering Life Force, (a.k.a. Salamander), a kind-of-sequel to Gradius, a shooter well-known for its first level (since it’s REALLY hard to get to the second). The main difference between the two games is that Life Force is better than Gradius, easily. It handles better, is somewhat easier, and the music is fantastic.
In fact, I know I’m right at least about that last point because Year 200X does not one, but 4 great songs from the game, spanning various levels and the boss theme. Each song is translated beautifully, to the point that, even throughout the pounding rhythms and searing leads, you can still totally “get” the original melody out of the track, even if you’re not too familiar with it, which is a good thing because the “boldness” of the choice of this game I alluded to earlier is that a tragically small amount of people ever really played Life Force. It’s a crying shame, really. You should play Life Force, it’s fun!
Another more-amazing-than-it-should-be soundtrack that the band bravely explores is that of Journey To Silius, a Sunsoft game composed by none other (well, one other) than Naoki Kodaka, the legend behind Sunsoft’s signature rock sound that they utilized for games like Batman, Blaster Master, and many others. Year 200X’s take on one of my favorite childhood games is somewhat unique, as they take two fairly similar songs and kind of mash them up rather than simply play them completely in order. To this they add another of my favorites, the Stage 2 theme, which contains more parts than you might expect. One cool thing about this cover is that it features Housethegrate, who you might remember me mentioning as being one of the two guitarists behind this album.
Still, not to be mired in obscurity, the band also covers some other especially well-known tunes such as Stage 1 of Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins (a perennial classic), Contra, Ninja Gaiden II, and even another Mega Man game.
While a lot of the songs on the album are being interpreted through Metal, there are a few songs on We Are Error that definitely seemed like Metal songs from the beginning. One of my favorite examples of this (and indeed one of my favorite songs on the album), is the hard-hitting boss theme from River City Ransom, a stupidly fun beat-em-up from the makers of Double Dragon (or at least the composer, Kazuo Sawa). The original version of the theme has this pounding break-down with some awesome syncopation, which is fancy-man talk for it freaking rocks. The band, of course, recreates this perfectly, and this is one of those tracks where the extra rhythm guitar adds so much to the song that you wonder how you ever punched anything without having heard this song first. Seriously if you do nothing else with the next 2 1/2 minutes of you life, you should be doing it while listening to this song like now.
In general, I really like how there is kind of a mix of medleys and single songs on the album, as it really helps shake things up and keeps the listening experience fresh. In fact, for being such a heavy album, I would almost describe it as “breezy”, as it almost always seems like it’s ending before I was ready to be done listening. I guess that’s because very few of the songs ever feel like they hang around too long, yet each one is given the traditional “two loops” treatment. Time flies when you’re rocking out!
Still, the longer tracks have it where it counts, and the best of the medleys (weighing in over 6 minutes) would have to be the Zelda II medley, which sneakily incorporates the “Fairy” tune first heard in The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past, which would be the sole tune from the Super Nintendo age, not that I’m complaining, mind you.
The track opens up with some rolling drums as the famous arpeggio from the opening to Zelda II fades in, and then the rhythm guitar comes in and rolls right along with it. This, naturally, makes way for one of my favorite songs in the game, the American “Battle Theme”. I say American because the Japanese, for some reason or another, got a totally different (inferior) tune for their battle scenes. Like with Journey To Silius, the medley is constructed less to be simply “one song after another”, as the title theme’s main melody then blows in, only to be interrupted by a sneaking in of the original Legend of Zelda’s dungeon theme (sneaky!) Then, the Link to the Past fairy theme is played on acoustic guitars and is then given a blasting ballad treatment, which is just too cool. Then, the whole thing explodes into a spirited chugging of the ”Palace Theme” from Zelda II, and from there, it’s all brought back again and then… big finish! The end!
Man, what an album.
Anyway, the long-winded point I’m trying to make is that you should definitely purchase this album (get it on CD if you can!) if you’re a fan of metal, the Nintendo, or both! I’d also recommend checking the band out at one of the fine super-large conventions where they can often be spotted.
Before I go, however, a couple of more points about the band itself, just because I feel like it. Having met them a few times, I can say with all authority that, gosh-darn it, these metal monsters are some of the nicest boys you’ll ever meet in person. I’ve had a few conversations with Tim in the past (mostly about video games) and truly, they’re some swell guys to get to know.
The last thing I want to say about them is that man, this is one of the luckiest bands out there. On top of being written about in Nintendo Power magazine really soon after getting together (thus awarding them instant exposure to the core demographic for this kind of thing), I got to see them open for none other than Nobuo Uematsu, the guy who wrote the music for Final Fantasy (up through the 10th one), and their closing number was a tribute to the man himself in the form of the boss battle theme from Final Fantasy VII (one of my favorites). Nobuo was, of course, present for this tribute, and his response was to shake Tim’s hand and say “Awesome job!”, which in 2 words says FAR more about the band than the 1964 I just typed up. Still, though Year 200X doesn’t need my help to convince you that they’re awesome, I am taking that stance anyway because, darn it all, they put out a ripping record, and I’m super glad they gave me another shot at appreciating Metal.