And now for something completely different...
Music For Fragfests
"Songs For Deathmatch 2" is, as you may already have guessed, the second in a series of CDs of music intended to be played while you are deathmatching. The man behind the music, James Grote, has previously produced pieces for id Software and 3D Realms, creating soundtracks to accompany demonstrations of Quake 2 and Duke Nukem Forever at the E3 computer games trade show in recent years.
His first CD sounded excellent, but was a little disappointing in that it featured only eight tracks, totalling rather less than half an hour of music. It's something of a relief then that the sequel weighs in with a dozen tracks and a more healthy 41 minutes of music, and all for just $10.
The CD also now includes all the tracks in handy 128kbps MP3 format as well as standard CD audio, which saves you the time of ripping the files yourself if, like me, you're an MP3 fanatic.
Of course, as any man will tell you, size isn't everything. What counts is how it sounds. So without any further ado, let's take a look at what you get for your money...
The First Half
The album opens with "Razor Edge", which begins with some slightly spooky sounding noises, soon joined by stabbing distorted guitars and a slightly cheesy electronic drum. Things start to look up when the real drum beat kicks in though, with a driving guitar riff and rolling drums pushing the track along.
About a minute in a synth line comes in and there's a little breakdown with some eerie guitar sounds floating around in the background before the main beat kicks back in again. Towards the end of the song the deep guitar riff drops out, and a higher pitched lead line comes in to replace it, sounding almost like an old (I'm talking early 1980s) U2 song at times, with the bass still rumbling along underneath it all.
The second track, "Alienation", starts with a fast paced drumbeat behind a dark choral melody which dominates the first minute of the track, and this theme continues throughout the song, alternating between being played on a guitar and using the choir sound. The track ends with the drums dying (rather suddenly) and a string sound coming in to accompany the choir. A nice dark and moody instrumental.
"Chron 2" follows with the same almost gothic feel, with heavily distorted rhythm guitar riffs and a catchy lead guitar line cutting in and out throughout the song. A couple of minutes through the song everything cuts out and an almost Nine Inch Nails sounding distorted noise rhythm comes in to give the song a slower mid-section, with the undistorted lead line floating around over the top of it.
"Deviation" is back to more metal, with deep stabbing distorted guitar riffs and a fairly plain pounding drum beat with the occasional roll to liven things up. Towards the end there's a couple of short sections with some spooky industrial sound effects and a rather mournful sounding choral bit, which actually works a lot better. Not the best track on the album, but enjoyable enough.
"Unhinged" is anything but unhinged, starting off with a promising sounding electronic bit before descending into more low heavy metal style guitar riffs and pounding drums, with some rather thin sounding choral sounds over the top in places. In the middle everything cuts out and there's a rather nice little bass riff before the guitars come back in to accompany it, only for everything to suddenly cut out and an entirely different guitar riff to start up, punctuated by some occasional dodgy whammy bar fiddling.
Track six is "UltraMedia", changing over to a more electronica sound for the intro, with a slightly thin but dancey drumbeat and another nice choir sound. This is soon joined by a really nice guitar riff and a more metal-ish drumbeat, before cutting out again to go back to the intro drumbeat with a lilting lead guitar line over the top.
There's a lot more of this than there was in the first album, and it looks like James has got a bit more confident in his guitar playing. The result is mostly catchy and uplifting, with the two sections alternating through most of the song, although the freestyle fretboard mangling bit in the middle doesn't quite work for me. A nice way to end the first half of the album though...
The Second Half
Kicking off the second side is "Rezin", another heavy metal instrumental with a nice bass line hidden away under the distorted guitar riffs to give your woofers some exercise. It's hardly a remarkable track, but it makes a nice background to your fragging, which is after all the whole point of the CD.
"Electric Skies" on the other hand is a complete change, with a beautiful rolling piano loop starting things off and some synth sounds over the top before the drums kick in. It's a refreshing change of pace, especially the mid-section with its sinister sounding strings and slow heavy bass line.
This soon cuts out though, and the piano loop comes back to be joined by a soaring guitar line that soon descends into more freestyle fretboarding, though this time it works a lot better than in "UltraMedia". The string and bass section comes back for the ending, though sadly it soon fades out rather suddenly. One of the best tracks on the album.
Next up is "Psychward", returning to the metal mayhem side of things with burly disorted guitar sounds and some suitably heavy handed drums, occasionally toning down to introduce a distorted bass and high synth whine to the proceedings. Towards the end there's more of the fancy fretwork rising above it all, and the end has an almost operatic metal sound before it all dies down.
"Illuminati" starts up with one of the most haunting synth lines I've heard in a long time, with an echoing grated drum sound in the background before the main drum beat and a bouncy electronic bass sound start up. It gets a bit confused in places, but generally it works very well.
A long droning choral sound comes in towards the end, and the result is depressing but hauntingly beautiful. Sadly it's all over too soon, and at just over two minutes this is the shortest track on the album. Which is a shame, because it's also one of the best.
After this brief interlude, "Chron" is a return to the land of distorted guitars and unsubtle drumbeats. A dark and sinister piece with some nice subdued metal riff work throughout and eerie noises occasionally sticking their head over the parapet of distortion.
At just over four minutes its the longest track on the album, but not overly long, especially as a more melodic guitar line comes in over the top of the rhythm at the end, though once again it all fades out rather suddenly just as things start to get interesting...
And so on to "Closure", which is .. what's a polite way to say this? Horrible. It starts with a bombastic, over the top piano "melody", and then the most cheesy, whiny, grating synth brass sound you can possibly imagine comes in over the top to cap it all. Eugh.
Towards the middle things pick up though, with the piano calming down for a bit, and a beautiful dreamy guitar line that's amongst the best lead guitar work on the album floating over the top of it all. It's just a shame about the rest of the track...
Apart from the final track, which is truly hideous, the rest of the album is at worst good and at best excellent. It's a fitting follow-up to the original, and shows a more mature and experimental approach.
James' guitar work has improved noticeably, especially when it comes to the fretboard thrashing lead lines, and once again the music wouldn't sound out of place on an original game soundtrack. Given how poor some computer game music is, it's a miracle that nobody has hired this guy yet.
It not only makes nice background music for anyone who likes more than the sounds of their opponents' screams to accompany their deathmatching, it also stands on its own merits. As with the original, I've been listening to it while I've been working as much as I have been while playing games.
Here's looking forward to "Songs for Deathmatch 3"... "Songs For Deathmatch 2" can be bought here for $10 plus shipping, and you can also listen to some samples of the tracks before buying the album.
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