Chiptune Tuesday: NESBM

Welcome back to Chiptune Tuesday, and to the new-look AddAltMode. Yes, we’ve given our site an overhaul, do let us know what you think of the new look and layout.

Now, the Chiptune aesthetic is an interesting one; and to a great extent it stems from minimalism — a stripping away of unnecessary fluff to focus on what’s really important in a composition. It’s not the only genre of music that revels in a minimalistic aesthetic that I can enjoy, though, 2nd-wave black metal was also deeply rooted in minimalism. Let’s compare the 2 genres:

Chiptune Black Metal
Minimalist Aesthetics Minimalist Aesthetics
Many noted eccentrics in scene Many noted eccentrics in scene
Nostalgic for 1980’s and early 1990’s Nostalgic for 1980’s and early 1990’s

What if someone combined the two?

The little orcs in the bottom left corner actually look quite cute in this version.

Oh, someone totally went there.


Yeah, there are bands (bands plural!) who cover 90s black metal tracks using emulation of NES sound chips. This is called NESBM (Nintendo Entertainment System Black Metal) — the name deliberately mocks NSBM (National Socialist Black Metal) which is a movement within the black metal scene associated with some very dodgy political views. NSBM types are generally regarded with derision by the majority of the black metal scene, and are generally regarded as fair game for mockery.

Despite the spikes and “grimness” which obsess “orthodox” black metal fans of the scene, black metallers on the whole tend to have a strong sense of humour. Indeed, modern black metal, long since cast adrift from its roots in the mid-1990s and Northern Europe, really requires some measure of a sense of humour to really appreciate. A genre of art that abhors commercialism and popularity above all else can’t become a global movement without at least a little bit of irony.

I find chiptune covers of grim-and-true black metal songs inherently funny, since the feral shrieks and wilfully distorted noises from which that these songs were originally crafted couldn’t be further from the 100% clean, almost clinical, tones that the chiptune method provides. However, there are some really interesting observations that can be made by stripping down many black metal tracks just to their tones.

8BIT Emperor’s version of I Am The Black Wizards (originally by Emperor) sounds like a missing boss-fight music from Castlevania or Ghosts’n’Goblins:

The same artist’s cover of Immortal’s Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark) is as driving as the original – and the interlude in the middle remains as spooky as before.

It doesn’t always work; 8 Bit Mayhem‘s version of Burzum’s War sounds like a sped-up Status Quo riff over some blastbeats. Though the original does too, to be fair. 8 Bit Mayhem — who are arguably the founders of NESBM — get some serious kudos for releasing every album with a cover which renders a genre classic in the graphical style of the NES.

The lighting is better on the NES version.

The version on the right looks almost quaint.

Some bands have gone one step further, and combined extreme metal with chiptunes more directly, by layering one atop the layer: Xexyz‘s Rygar’s Quest from their Primeval Mountain Album is a classic example.

(The track in question is 6 minutes 30 seconds in.)

I don’t have much of a conclusion to this post, just this: NESBM exists and when it’s good it’s good, and when it’s bad it’s hilarious. Get you some!


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