"This is a war universe. War all the time. That is its nature. There may be other universes based on all sorts of other principles, but ours seems to be based on war and games."
– William .S Burroughs
New genres are born all of the time. Their usual genesis is through the melding together of two previously mutually exclusive styles, or the addition of a different musical approach to an already entrenched form. Video Game metal however, feels unique and grounded in its foundation. Taking the burgeoning influence of computer games on our daily existence as its motivation for creating a whole new and exciting tonal palate.
This stylistic undercurrent has been bubbling away for quite a while now, with acts like Armcannon, Powerglove and The Protomen all providing some distinct progress away from the trite and listless cliché of Nintendocore, towards something more resonant and fulfilling. But up until now the genre has yet to find a true prophet, its ground Zero of creativity, if you will, that lifts it out of the fog of parody and homage and into the truer and more dependable light of true creativity. Up until now…….
The Brotherhood of Ellipsis are an instrumental sextet (7 if you sound their graphic designer and digital artist) who hail from Sacramento and Legends Unfold is their début album. Their sound is drawn from a wide spectrum of metal history. Creating moods that are by degrees poignant, dramatic, abrasive and technical yet without overplaying any of these hands.
A lot of this album is reminiscent of the pioneers of early thrash and black metal such as Diamond Head and Mercyful Fate, but given a gorgeous digital reboot, without diminishing the clarity of vision that defined those early bands.
But having said that I must point out that T.B.O.E are not guilty of derivative copy-ism or slavish regurgitation. They have a knack of glueing melody to structure which is unique to them. Gliding solos into solos (commonplace in instrumental metal) forming an veritable sonic ballet with an electronic lexicon of exciting moves.
As thoughtful as they are playful, they command the attention of the listener with an effervescent approach to melody and instrumental interplay. This highly effective sound is melodically complicit with the notion of game music without adhering their style to any single type of game or music composer. So while the more game literate amongst you may be able to detect gestures to certain common tropes, (the MarioKart countdown blips being one) their true success is how they fuse the vibe of modern gaming theatrics with the traditions of addictive 2D gameplay.
Often within the defaults of this adolescent genre the application of the 16bit soundcard is often overused. But T.B.O.E have managed to strike a balance between the use of this oscillation and the strident incisiveness of a guitar at its shredded best. Add to this drums that are propulsive and pounding and you have a distinctive and winning concoction. The beats are always interesting and consistently challenging. Shifting from blasted singles to mercurial triplets through to haunting, tremulous grooves.
There is a story behind the structure of 'Legends Unfold' and as far as is possible with instrumental music T.B.O.E manage to communicate this tale. But once again it is the prescient control of the balance of the album which speaks most highly of its success. It does not lean too greatly on any one facet of creativity. It is fun without being flippant; serious but not earnest; heavy without crab-stanced idiocy and technically audacious yet doesn't lose focus on the fertility of song.
They have not, as so many VGM bands do, included a cover of a well know Video Game theme. I feel this has been done because this album is very future aware. Aware that the games industry is now substantially bigger than its music counterpart. Aware that subtlety only works if you know how and when to be brazen. Aware that video game metal has the potential to become a genuine genre rather than a trend or disposable semantic gag. To create this they have drawn from all types of metal yet maintain a specific and distinctive style that is already so developed that it mocks the fact that this is their first LP.
So, if William Burroughs is correct and this really is a war and games universe, then with the release of this record, the musical battle has truly begun.
Legends Unfold is available for pre-order via their bandcamp site and will be available to download on the 2nd of December.
– John Whitmore