Metroid has always been a unique game series. Since the first game’s release in 1987, gamers have been hooked on the barren, lonely atmosphere, exciting boss fights, exploration of strange places and of course, the excellent music by Hip Tanaka.
Metroid was unlike anything else in terms of gameplay and music. It didn’t use upbeat samba or rock ‘n roll influenced tracks. Rather, it was more mysterious, sending you into a huge world of unknown beings and sounds, with a heroic main theme in Brinstar, to the chilling boss theme against Ridley, it’s a solid classic. Metroid 2 and Super Metroid by Ryoji Yoshitomi and Kenji Yamamoto, released on Game Boy and SNES respectively only helped Metroid reach its iconic status.
So with the music being so recognizable and held in such high regard, naturally a lot of arrangements and fan projects and have focused on Metroid, and tomorrow, Metroid Metal will unleash their new CD upon the world.
So, did they do the series justice? Do a screw attack and find out after the jump!
Over the years, many fan arrangements have tried to tackle the music of Metroid to various degrees of success. Some arrangements rely a lot on ambiance while suffering a loss in melody, while others rock it out, but stray away from the mysterious nature of the source material. Grant Henry, better known as “Stemage” and leader of the band Metroid Metal, has always been widely recognized for creating some of the best arrangements of Metroid music, and now with his live band, they’ve released the highly anticipated studio album, Varia Suite.
Varia Suite contains many of the most memorable songs from Metroid, Metroid 2, Super Metroid and even Metroid Prime. Some of the arrangements will sound familiar to fans of Henry’s work as they were previously offered on his website, all done by himself with help from a brilliant bassist, Dan Taylor. This CD features Henry’s arrangements performed by the live band he put together last year, consisting of Arm Cannon’s Dan Behrens, Mike Molnar, Dan Taylor and Kevin Lawrence.
The CD starts out with “Prelude” from Super Metroid, and if you never heard Metroid Metal before or even Metroid music, let me just tell you, this is the perfect way to introduce you to both. The track oozes authentic Metroid atmosphere, with a few strokes of the bass to grab your attention before throwing you right into metal heaven. I absolutely love the lead guitar tone as there’s something unsettling about it, which keeps the Metroid creepiness there at all times.
“Lower Norfair” from Super Metroid follows up the prelude, which has a pretty cool intro, being somewhat reminiscent of spaghetti western music, before kicking into high gear and taking us into the familiar sounds of SM. The song has a really cool breakdown at the halfway point, at which point it slowly builds itself up again. This is a great arrangement.
The 3rd track is arguably the one fans will have most nostalgia for: “Brinstar” from Metroid. Like the original, this track is more energy driven and gets your foot tapping pretty quickly. The guitar section at around the one minute mark is pretty awesome.
The “Item Room” and “Item Collect” pieces are probably the most impressive tracks on the CD arrangement-wise, as Grant takes a short jingle and manages to flesh it out to almost a minute without feeling forced or resorting to completely original parts; again, a masterful arrangement.
“Kraid” is another fan favorite from the original Metroid, and for my money, it is the absolute best song on the CD. From the second you turn this song on, the familiar melody will strike your heart and the performance of the band will floor you. Intimidating, chilling and gripping, this song delivers in every way, and is so good I would probably consider it one of the best arrangements of a video game song I’ve ever heard.
“Ridley” keeps intact the eerie hypnotic feeling it has always had, with a high energy arrangement with some absolutely brilliant guitar work, while “Phendrana Drifts” from Metroid Prime stands out a bit, being that the source material is from a newer game and has a different nature, but nonetheless is wonderfully performed. “Boss Medley” from Super Metroid is the longest song on the CD, clocking in at nearly 7 minutes. It is exactly what you’d expect, hard hitting and blood pumping, though after numerous play troughs, it’s the only song I find a bit exhausting because of length and nature, being boss fights and all.
The brilliance of this CD does not simply apply to just the performance and arrangements, but also mixing and track order. The instruments are clean, volume balanced and track order shows some consideration in how the album flows. The last three tracks prove this point best, starting out with “Meridian” from Super Metroid, going into the “Escape” and then the “Ending” from Metroid. Like the games, these songs take you through the final section of the adventure so to speak, and seemingly wrap things up until the very end where that bass from the beginning returns, kicking you right back into the “Metroid Theme” in an absolutely flooring performance. The arrangement is rather straightforward with this one, but it fits; it’s a song the fans all cherish, and the track placing ends us on a high note, wanting more, yet feeling complete with what we just heard.
2009 has been a great year for game arrangements and doujins, with Smash Bros releasing Bacon EP, Arm Cannon releasing their follow up album, and Ese and Magical Trick Society focusing on Final Fantasy , but perhaps most importantly when we look back at 2009 we’ll remember that Varia Suite was released. This CD is a masterpiece and a product of such quality that we don’t see very often. Even if you don’t have a connection to Metroid music, the CD will most likely satisfy your music taste and serve as an excellent entry into the world of Metroid. For my money, it is the best CD of 2009, official or doujin, hands down. Highly Recommended.
Don’t believe me? Head over to Bandcamp to listen to the whole album, FREE, streaming. Then you can pay for a digital download or CD release.
Tags: Doujin, Hip Tanaka, Kenji Yamamoto, Metal, Metroid, Metroid Metal, Reviews, Ryoji Yoshitomi, Stemage, Varia Suite