Armcannon – Armcannon 2: Return Of The Attack Of The Legend Of Pizzor + Interview!

Today, one of the truly awesome bands in the Video Game Music “scene” released a super cool video of their newest song, a mash-up of music from the game Gears of War and the Tears For Fears song “Mad World”, (specifically the REM version) which the company that published Gears of War famously used in their TV advertisement:

Watching this video (which I suggest you do!) tells you almost everything you need to know about Armcannon; they’re clever, adept at their instruments, metaltastic, funny, and they do music from video games.

They are easily one of my favorite groups to have run across at various points in my own doings.

Let’s talk about their almost-second-newest album, Armcannon 2: Return of the Attack of the Legend of Pizzor!

Get equipped with: Mega Pizza Boots!

It’s almost unfair to call the band a “VGM band” (in fact, I am not even sure the band calls itself that), because while this album is MOSTLY about video games, it’s bookended by two covers of ultra-famous themes from anyone’s 80’s childhood.

The first is the theme to the original “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” (titled “Morty Miphon” in one of MANY spoonerisms used by the band when making titles). I guess it COULD be argued that it COULD be a cover of the theme from the Super Nintendo game based on the TV show, but let’s be realistic here.

On top of being sped up and metal’d up to be the kind of kickin’ rock anthem that makes the perfect beginning to an album/show/birthday party, it features something you don’t often hear with “Video Game” themed albums: mighty vocal work! Guitarist Mike Willard does an awesome job impersonating the show’s antagonist, Rita Repulsa, while simultaneously holding down those sweet guitar riffs and those timeless lyrics.

After everyone’s favorite TV theme, the video game tunes start, interestingly enough, with one of the creepier tunes to ever come out of Nintendo’s flagship composer, Koji Kondo: the “fortress” theme from Super Mario World, titled “X-1234” here.

This track is an excellent reproduction of one of my favorite moments in 16 bit gaming*, and really showcases keyboardist Chris Dlugosz, as it should.

Keeping the Mario going is a lovely medley of one of my favorite video game soundtracks, Super Mario Bros. 2 (“Two Excellent Italian Brothers“), which shows the band’s affinity not just for metal, but other styles as well. This song also draws attention to something else Armcannon does a little differently from other bands in their area of music: original solos and breakdowns. The solos are quite good and avoid deftly the trap of being too laborious (unless you just don’t like solos at all, in which case, shame on you).

Half-way through the album, the band pays tribute to the unquestionably American (and questionably awesome) songwriting of Rick Derringer with the Hulk Hogan theme “Real American”, which then gives way to Shawn Michaels’ theme song “Sexy Boy”. I don’t know much about wrestling (though I know enough about Hulk Hogan’s songwriter), but one only needs to love INSPIRATION to enjoy this song.

Now for my favorite part of the album! After the wrestling montage (I always picture a montage with that song) comes the band’s tribute to one of my favorite video games, Rygar on the NES (titled here simply “Rygar Medley“) which includes one of my favorite VGM songs ever, the Sagila’s Cave theme, and DOESN’T include one of the worst VGM songs ever, “Palace of Dorago” (seriously try keeping that melody from turning into the “Meow Mix” song in your head).

The band also uses this part of the album to cover music from Contra, Mega Man 2 (A really funky version of the Crash Man theme, and the first Dr. Wily stage theme, which is like the “Brick House” of video game bands), Castlevania 3, and perhaps best of all, Kid Icarus, the very best video game in which you can turn into an eggplant because of magic (and was originally composed by my hero, “Hip” Tanaka).

The band finishes out with a very spirited version of one of the best movie themes ever, Huey Lewis I MEAN Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters”, which let me tell you, really brings down the house, whether in an actual house or just nice headphones like what I’m wearing.

After the band stuff and cover stuff is over and done with, the 12th track on this excellent album is an original chiptune composition by guitarist and VGM-jack-of-all-trades Dan Behrens, who moonlights as “Danimal Cannon” in the VGM inverse universe of “Chiptune**”.

As for Armcannon, their second album is about the most fun you can have with a video game band, and the best part is that they branch out of that and into all kinds of areas of artistic and rocking, and even have plans on evolving their abilities into something entirely original, which has this blogger all kinds of excited. You would be a fool not to buy this album immediately and tell all your friends, so I will leave you to that…

…but not before showing you an interview I conducted with Armcannon’s co-founder and keyboardist, Chris Dlugosz!

Chris Taylor: Firstly, thanks to Chris Dlugosz from Armcannon for answering these questions that burn in the hearts of music lovers everywhere. My first question is: How did Armcannon come about, and how will it all end?

Chris Dlugosz: There was a particular lounge room in college with couches and a TV in which dozens of people regularly hung out between classes. Many were so regular that they all just became well acquainted friends over time. this included myself and Danimal [who had hair back then haha]. During a typical day of lunch-hour-esque chatter, he and I discovered that we both held a particular love in our hearts for the Kraid theme from Metroid ever since childhood. Naturally, that sparked all kinds of hyperactive discussion of the playing of videogame music. This was around the time where only the minibosses existed. Another friend in this lounge was our guitarist Mike, who had pretty much zero interest in videogame music, but infinite interest in anything to do with playing guitar, as he is indeed virtuosic and still laboring hard at all of the disciplines to this day. Soon enough, the three of us found ourselves in my dad’s house, and we hammered out a sketch rendition of Kraid, the official first Armcannon song. We felt the energy of potential, so we nabbed the closest bassist and drummer at hand, and practiced in a freezing cold dirty apartment attic for months. Armcannon will not end, but the trend of videogame music might be past its prime. I can see us keeping our name but morphing into an original prog music band.

CT: In my own opinion, you guys are made up of some of the most individually talented musicians in the VGM community, and the recordings definitely showcase that. Was it a conscious decision from the start to include things like original solos and breakdowns within the structure of the original material?

CD: It was 2005 when we formed, and during that time, the word “remix” was huge in the budding world of video game music. We kept calling our songs remixes, and intentionally stayed away from “covers.” Naturally, the word remix demands insertion of new content, and not just crappy techno beats over midi files. Our goal was to wrangle down our flood of original content into something that appropriately amplifies and celebrates the covered melody. We are not even fully successful at that, as I consider some of our original content too superfluous. Thankfully, part of our mission is to make the music enjoyable to non-VGM listeners as well.

CT: Something that kind of sets Armcannon apart from other VGM groups, as far as I can tell, is a very obvious sense of fun when it comes to the material, such as the vocal parts added to the music of “Tecmo Super Bowl” and Crashman’s Theme. Is there any kind of planning behind this, or is it a spontaneous thing?

CD: Much of the time at practice, we all act like idiots, intentionally make glaring errors in the middle of a song for the distinct purpose of making the rest of the band crack up at the absurdity. There are times when entire songs are played intentionally wrong by every member of the band and we are just cracking up endlessly. It’s only hilarious because of its mis-behavior, similar to a 5th grader writing the number 5318008 on a calculator and turning it upside down. Naturally, scraps of this behavior have survived into the final cut of some songs. Some stupid gimmick ends up being hilarious every single time, but gradually gets less hilarious, and eventually becomes literally as normal as the rest of the song, but at that point, removing it would be like re-writing the song.

CT: Another thing that sets Armcannon apart is the emphasis on puzzles and intellectual references. The secret track on Leg Vacuum has to do with note sequence algorithms and most of the tracks on both albums are titled with spoonerisms and anagrams. My question is: who is the professor of the group responsible for this chicanery and why?

CD: That would be me. My instinct was to fill the entire album, both in audio and art, with easter eggs, or secrets to be discovered. That goes hand in hand with the spirit of old NES games. Invisible mushroom blocks in mario or bomb-able cave entrances in Zelda. Meanwhile, I have been literally addicted to spoonerisms over this last decade, and the addiction has spilled forth to the rest of the band, to the point that it’s almost our signature mannerism, as we constantly interrupt conversations to insert a half amusing, half belabored, spoonerism of something that was just said. We take our music very seriously, but we never once cared what the titles to our tracks are, so the only things guiding me on what to call them was our tomfoolery and addiction to word play.

CT: I want to give some big props to whoever decided to cover Rygar and Kid Icarus on Armcannon 2. What, if any, is the criteria for VGM material selection?

CD: Rygar came from our guitarist Mike (Willard) who never actually played the game, but watched someone else play through it enough that the music permated him as a child, and he brought it to the table at band practice. Criteria for song selection is [1] based on if myself, Danimal, and Mike happen to all know the music already, and [2] a process of one person knowing the piece, and selling it to the rest of the band, usually in the form of plugging in a laptop or smartphone into the amps and just playing the source material. There have been many times where we just sit there for an hour and a half listening to song after song of source material from one entire game, cherry picking what we would love to play, and mashing it together into a medley. That is precisely how we did Tecmo Super Bowl, Rygar, and Ninja Gaiden, among others. It’s extremely helpful that I have every NES and SNES audio rom file on my droid.

CT: Being that this is an album blog, what is your favorite album?

CD: Particular favorites changes constantly. but I can tell you that the only thing we all listen to together is pretentious over-composed brain-bending prog-metal and jazz-fusion. Musician’s music.

CT: Being that you guys are mostly a video game group, what is your favorite game?

CD: Mine was always Super Metroid for a myriad of the usual reasons. Mindblowing at the time. Perfect establishment of amazing moods. Music that will never be matched. One of the pinnacles of sidescrolling action.

CT: Separate from favorite game, what is everyone’s favorite VGM soundtrack and/or composer?

CD: Danimal and I are complete suckers for every single note written by Tim Follin. Our bassist Ian, who is much younger than us, treasures SNES the way we treasure NES. He loves every bit of the music to A Link to the Past, and I cannot say I disagree with him there. Also, I consider Koji Kondo’s arrangement of the castle music in Super Mario World to be one of his most delicious and audacious works, probably because it is decidedly dastardly in mood compared to the rest of his work.

CT: How do you feel about the recent news that Nobuo Uematsu is going to be rocking out at MAGfest, a festival normally reserved for VGM bands that DIDN’T write all their own material?

CD: I consider his attendance utterly appropriate, and impressive that the Magfest staff, all of whom I know personally, managed to swing this. However, I fear that his presence might suck up too much focus of the convention. It’s like God coming to a Jesus camp. I would not be surprised if the guy gets overwhelmed with rabid fans and does not want to return. Also, get ready for every band there to bust out every Final Fantasy track they got, because obviously Mr. Uematsu will be watching every band perform, right?

CT: Any plans for Armcannon 3?

CD: MANY! The core of the band is myself, Danimal, and Mike. We spent the last few years wrestling with securing a bassist and then a new drummer. They are finally in place and practiced up, and we are back to the writing phase. We all feel that if we do not kick out a new album, one that blows our other work out of the water, then we are just wasting our time. Armcannon 3 is mandatory and is already happening.

Thanks again to Armcannon for their awesome albums and to Chris Dlugosz for giving this interview. Go buy their stuff!

Hey all, Chris Taylor here. Liked this article? Why not “Like” Album Du Jour on Facebook! Also, should you be interested, I have a Video Game Music project of my own, also on Facebook.  

*The realization that, holy crap, the Super Nintendo can do 3D-looking transparent effects when you punch the doors on the inexplicably-placed fence.

**If you don’t know what “chiptune” is, it’s basically a song written and played entirely on 8-bit soundcards, so it’s kind of like Gameboy meets modern song, and Dan actually just released an entire album of this awesome stuff on the Ubiktune label (check it out here!)

Daniel Tidwell – Versus Video Games 2

My afore-mentioned travels with a band that exclusively plays music from video games has granted me two things: A. a new-found appreciation for video game music in all its forms and B. a rather healthy knowledge of most of the other musical acts out there doing something similar. Really early on, one of the first acts I became aware of was the internet sensation Daniel Tidwell and his really solid Metal covers of video game tunes, seen here in all its green screen glory:

Now, my first reaction was “So… much… cheese…”, and rightfully so, but as I got to watching more and more, I could tell this guy has a real sense of fun that you don’t often get from Metal performers, plus the covers were quite good and getting better all the time.

I eventually met Daniel at an event called MAGfest and it turns out that he is the nicest man (and yes, completely aware of how cheesy his videos come off, in fact he relishes in such things, as we all should).  We traded CD’s and that’s where I got to hear his fantastic debut album, Versus Video Games, which I will talk about another day. Today, I want to fast forward a year and talk about his brand new album, Versus Video Games 2, and at the end, you can check out a conversation I had with “The Daniel Tidwell”! For now, let’s get cracking:

Seriously, does it get any better than this?

Now, the first thing to know about this release, and indeed all Tidwell releases up to this point (2 full length albums and 1 EP, we’ll get to that in a bit), is that “The DT” works alone. The drums are all programmed and the instruments all passed through the mighty hands of this metal maestro. While one may indeed miss the dynamic of a “full band” in this release, it is more than made up for by the two things I think make for a fantastic VGM (Video Game Music, for you “nubes” out there) cover album: Superior arrangements, and song selection.

As far as the arrangements go, VVG2 is both solid and varied, which is so rare for a metal album and even rarer for a “genre” VGM album.  The opening track, “The Vengeful Frog“, which is a reworking of the infamous “Frog’s Theme” from the Super Nintendo game Chrono Trigger, starts with a quiet acoustic rendition of the normally brassy ballad, then lets in a sort of mock-up of the game’s original synthesized sound, which is quickly blasted apart by the Metal version, which rings out for just enough “loops” to give you a good sense of the song without lingering long enough to trigger your ADD and click “next” in a huff.

While the Tidwell COULD have kept that solid enough arrangement theme going throughout the album’s 20 tracks, you won’t hear another acoustic intro until track 8, which is his loving tribute to that masterpiece of a horrible game, “Wizards & Warriors“.

Some other interesting arrangement choices actually see the album taking a much needed (depending on your preferences) break from the Metal. In fact, the Legend of Zelda-based “Ordon Village” theme features not only an entirely acoustic backing, but a guest Ocarina player, which is a first (as far as I know) for the Tidwell.

The biggest and perhaps best change of pace in this album is the rather climactic “The Planet’s Dyin'”, a medley of songs from the wildly popular Final Fantasy VII that is simultaneously rockin’ and epic to the core, which is a good thing because the song pushes 8 minutes like nobody’s business. Still, if ever there was a good choice for an ending song, that would be it.

Speaking of song choice, the thing that struck me with this album is that it varies rather nicely between eras, platforms, and genres of video games (and, naturally, of music), which is actually a lot rarer than you might think among the groups/artists that cover VGM. While the games I mentioned so far are all songs derived from adventure/RPG games made in the 80’s and 90’s, Tidwell brings in obscurities like Beetlejuice on the NES, Werewolf (a fantastic game where you not only play as a Werewolf, but a Werewolf with prosthetic blades for hands), and even the almost unheard-of classic Legacy of the Wizard (which features a soundtrack composed by one of my favorites, Yuzo Koshiro, but this isn’t about me).

Despite being a Metal album, all kinds of music is represented, and then promptly filtered through Metal. I already mentioned the almost madrigal-sounding Frog’s Theme, but there are also some jazzy numbers from platform favorites Super Mario World and Sonic The Hedgehog. Perhaps most surprisingly, one of the peppiest songs to come out of the NES, the theme to Tecmo Bowl, is represented, though the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV track “Sewer Surfin’” certainly provides a worthy challenge in the pep department. It almost seems that the more un-metal the original song was, the better Daniel Tidwell can make them sound through his use of power chords and crazy lead scales. I say ALMOST, because I haven’t even touched on one of the best parts of the album: the actual Metal songs.

Starting with the very second track, a very spirited tribute to the grandaddy of perverted, crass, and completely awesome one-line-spewing gun-happy anti-heroes, Duke Nukem, Tidwell really shows his roots with his re-interpretations, and he even included voice clips from the game to give it a nice level of authenticity, which makes for a very satisfactory tribute. He also tears the roof off the Iku Mizutani co-penned classic “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” game on the Super Nintendo (I have always loved that song), and the incredible afore-linked-to cover of Final Fantasy Mystic Quest’s Boss Battle Theme.

All in all, Versus Video Games 2 is a must-have for VGM enthusiasts, Metal enthusiasts, or just music fans with a curiosity for these kinds of things. The album is thorough, cohesive, and most of all, a lot of fun. It’s to be hoped that Tidwell will continue cranking out those cheesy green-screen videos, and in fact he just started a regular video chat channel (he’s just so cute), so make sure you check out both his channels on the ol’ Youtube.

Oh, also make sure to buy his album(s), you fool! 

And now, live via Facebook messaging, an exclusive (?) interview with The Man Himself and your own Chris “ADJ” Taylor!

Chris Taylor: Daniel Tidwell, internet metal god legend, thank you for joining this humble blogger for an interview. My first question: As anyone just getting into your music will no doubt notice, you operate as essentially a one-man band, how has the experience of being a one-man force been so far? Any plans to pursue a Daniel Tidwell Band?

Daniel Tidwell: The pleasure is mine man, it’s cool to be a part of your blog! I’ve also seen what you’re capable of doing to a bass guitar and you’re far from a slouch in that department, my humble friend. The one man band thing sort of just happened after getting sick of having to rely on and deal with others to get anything done. If you are lucky enough to get a group of people together that get along and work well together then it’s undoubtedly a great thing. While I do enjoy having complete control on projects it’s sometimes hard to get perspective when you’re responsible for every aspect of what’s going on. The DT live band concept is definitely not far-fetched and I’ve been considering making it happen for awhile now. Also I am working with a live band now on an entirely separate original metal project.

CT: From what I can tell, both of your “Versus Video Games” albums feature a very broad range of different games from different eras represented. Is there a set criteria for the music you choose to cover?

DT: Not at all. The only criteria is basically it has to inspire me, of course. But I don’t exclude songs from games that I may have never played or even heard of before. There’s a greater nostalgia attached to games I grew up with but many of the songs are thanks to requests in which I heard and fell in love with the tunes on their own.

CT: Your Youtube channel, which boasts over 40,000 subscribers and a total of over 10,000,000 views, seems to be a hub not only for your unique “green screen” music videos, but also videos specifically made to interact with your fans, which you do on a regular basis. How has the experience with Youtube been?

DT: I don’t think it would be hyperbole in the least to say that YouTube changed my life. About 5 and a half years ago now I posted a video of me playing my version of the battle theme from Final Fantasy VII. I didn’t think too much of it at the time, just randomly felt like doing it on a whim. I didn’t even realize it was something that people did or people would care about. Well – long story short that video is what made me realize that I’m far from the only one dorky enough to think that this could be a really cool thing to explore. And exploring the concept has been a huge part of my life ever since. I definitely love the impact websites like YouTube are having on the music industry.

CT: I just mentioned the “green screen” videos, I wanted to ask how that idea came about?

DT: Basically just wanted to make the videos more entertaining and be able to do funky things with backgrounds or relate it to the songs. At the same time, I think there is a certain charm to being able to see my bedroom in the background, hahah. I prefer not reminding the audience that’s where I am though – I’d rather be on the goddamn moon or some shit like that! I’m definitely not much good when it comes to the video editing side but I guess it’s mostly about being able to transport myself and the audience to somewhere other than my bedroom!

CT: Your newest album is “Versus Video Games 2”, the sequel to your debut album, and it features 19 tracks of single songs from various video games and one big ol’ medley of Final Fantasy VII music. Was there a reason (besides it just being awesome) behind going for a full-on medley with FF7, and can we hope that such a thing will happen again?

DT: The main reason behind that track is that, at the risk of seeming like a cliché fan boy, it’s probably my favorite game of all time. And definitely one of my favorite soundtracks from a game as well. Beyond that – a big portion of the people who enjoy my stuff are big fans of the game as well and first found me via the battle theme video. So while I wasn’t pandering that’s also a bonus to know that much of your audience will have a similar connection to it.

CT: Being that you’re a Metal guitarist with a penchant for covering video game tunes, I have to ask, which came first: the Metal or the Video Games?

DT: For me? The video games. I never realized how goddamn metal some of the tunes were until later on after I got into the metal! When I was younger I liked the game tunes but didn’t give them much thought.. After I had played guitar for awhile and started to hear those old game tunes again I heard them in a totally new glorious light.

CT: Going back a bit, you also released a very cool EP of classical tunes turned up to 11 with “Echoes of the Elders”. How did that come about, and are there any plans to expand further on the classical covers?

DT: Kind of just one of those things that I had an idea to do and ran with. I love classical music so it just felt natural to pay tribute to some of the greats in my own way. There are a lot of folks out there who whine about recreations of classics. Y’know the rolling in their grave stuff yada yada. Seems silly because the original composition is still there – nobody is trying to replace it. It’s also worth noting for some people that there are no “original” recordings from Beethoven or Mozart or Pachelbel. There are people playing and recording their compositions the way they were (most likely) intended. And of course I can’t speak for them but even if someone was to “butcher” something I composed in an attempt to recreate it in a new way I would still be happy they thought enough of my work to do so. End rant. Yes I will continue to do classical stuff! Hahah.

CT: What are your favorite video games?

DT: Oh man… I hate the favorite questions but since I love you so I shall rattle some off: Final Fantasy VII, IX, Chrono Trigger. Of course classics like the old NES Mario games, Sonic games from the Genesis, Donkey Kong stuff on the SNES. I loved the old TMNT games too! I know I’m leaving out so many favorites. I hate to even start listing! Oh well – let’s end it with etc. Heh.

CT: Kind of a separate question, but what is your favorite video game song, soundtrack, and/or composer?

Overall I would probably have to go with Nobuo Uematsu for favorite VG composer. I mean there are so many amazing composers that I love but if I had to pick one who had the biggest influence on me it would be him. Again – hate favorite questions! For soundtrack I’d probably go with FFVII or IX. Again so many amazing ones I love so much and it changes with my mood so favorites are hard for me to pick.

CT: What are the future plans of Daniel Tidwell? Anything in the works at the moment? You don’t HAVE to answer in the 3rd person… 

DT: Daniel Tidwell likes his chicken spicy. Right now the DT is working on original compositions for a separate project and also some to be released under the DT banner. Some cool live show opportunities have been popping up too which I definitely want to start doing more of it’s just a matter of practicality and figuring out the best way to put on a live DT show.

Again, my thanks go to Daniel Tidwell for the interview and for his fantastic music. If you’d like to follow him on Facebook, he has one of those! While you’re at it, you might consider “Liking” the official Album Du Jour page or maybe even my video game band’s page, where we love to interact with VGM fans on the topics of video games and video game music. Thanks for reading! Rock on!