Hi! Welcome to Chiptune Tuesday! Today I’m going to tell you about a couple of bands who’ve released chiptune versions of their own non-chiptune albums, and why you should care.
I was reading the rather awesome Bandcamp Buried Treasure feature on MetalInjection.net, which is all about good-but-cheap underground metal albums on Bandcamp (no surprises there), when I came across post-rock act Capture the Sun. I noticed whilst listening to their delightful debut album that there was a link in the corner to a free chiptune version of that album…
So, it takes a few listens of the two versions of the albums to see why this is a cool idea, and not just a gimmick: some of the tracks are actually vastly improved by chiptune-ifying them.The very first track A War Is Coming To This Island, where white noise is used to simulate the sampled crashing waves on the analogue album, really demonstrates the power that minimal sounds have to evoke more complex ones.
Certain tracks in the second half of the album, such as Woe to the Blasphemer, Will Hell Swallow You Up really benefit from being subjected to the minimalist aesthetic of chiptunes. However, the tracks that impress the most when played using analogue instruments — Geothermal and the brutal ||:REPEAT:|| — don’t work nearly as well as chiptunes.
Stripping the melodies down to the bare essentials to make chiptunes versions seems to improve the more straightforward tunes, but it’s detrimental to the more complex layered tracks, which are more dependent on the guitarist’s technique.
Another band to have done the same thing (i.e. to release a chiptune version of one of their own albums) is Ovid’s Withering. Long-time readers might remember them from our article on Legend of Zelda-inspired heavy metal.
Ovid’s Withering have released a chiptune version of their album Scryers of the Ibis; the chiptune version is called Scryers of the Ibits. *groans* Naff joke titles aside, it’s actually a pretty good album, and an interesting contrast with the original.
The two albums consist of the the same tunes, but they have very different tones. The analogue album has vocals – which range from brutal grunts to brooding spoken word, and these work in unison with changes in musical backing between the brutal guitar work and the delicate piano, and the use of sampled weather, to create a dense, claustrophobic atmosphere. Soundwise, Ovid’s Withering could loosely be classed as part of the deathcore genre as evinced by their use of blastbeats and metalcore breakdown, but they often veer out, drawing inspiration from black and symphonic metal, and from the subgenre of technical death metal called djent.
Like the macabre artwork on the cover, which engages with horror tropes and uses simplified colours and stylised art to make the central figure as threatening as possible, Scryers of the Ibis takes on the listener head-on: all in all it’s a brutal album despite the complexity of the musicianship. The staccato bass lines tend to mesh in with the drums — giving a distinct division between the rhythm and melody, which gets more distinct when one of the two pushes the other into the background. The (very djent) track Winter In Tomis is the best example of this, with alternate melodic and staccato sections.
The chiptune version of the album has a very different feel. The staccato sections work very differently in chiptune, and where the rhythm section dominates, the album suggests the sound of boss-fights in NES games. Where the analogue version of the album seems to be close-up and personal, the chiptune version is detached, and feels like it’s showing you a bigger picture. The More djent tracks have the feel of old racing games — a fast rhythmic intensity that conveys the urge to go fast. The drum breakdown in Acheron certainly conveys this feeling, and contrasts nicely with the spooky-as-hell muffled synthesised speech sounds in this track.
Though the two album covers show a similar situation, a bestial figure with horns and a staff dragging a woman backwards though a misty wilderness, the long-distance view of the action seen on Scryers of the Ibits suits it’s more detached and spooky timbre.
Post-rock and technical metal, with their focus on creating interesting and complex melodies by layering simpler patterns (and the relative unimportance of vocal elements in both genres) lend themselves well to a cross-over with chiptunes, bringing enough similarity that the disparate elements can mesh well. Furthermore, converting a song to chiptune can give it a whole new timbre.
So, readers, can you give me any more examples of bands who’ve explored the minimalist 8- or 16-bit realm and brought back altered versions of their own works? I’d love to hear about more examples.