One of the first and most spurious misuses of my university student loan was a Halo 3 Master Chief edition Xbox 360. It was a disgusting olive green with hideous decals and a questionable shiny gold disc tray and I absolutely adored it. But, even though I played Halo 3 multiplayer and Assassin's Creed to death, my first memories of the 360 are actually somewhat hazy.
It's around the time a friend showed me that I could rip albums to my hard drive and use them to soundtrack my playtime that my recollections really come into focus, because it put a very different spin on how I approached the games I was playing. The first album I ripped to my console was Lateralus by Tool, which remains one of my all-time favourites. I've embedded a track from it below.
Curious to try out this newly discovered feature, I put Lateralus on while playing some Gears of War campaign co-op and was amazed by how well the two synced up. It helps that Tool produced an album that never really takes a minute to calm down; even the quiet moments are imbued with a sense of anticipation which, in turn, helped keep the tension up as I shot my way through the bro-tastic adventures of Delta Squad.
Almost 10 years on, I can clearly remember those moments where I pressed A and kicked open a door just as a track came thrashing into life. "Wear the grudge like a crown of negativity, calculate what we will and will not tolerate," sang Maynard James Keenan. Marcus Fenix is 99 percent grudge, it's perfect.
I can picture myself - an awkward undergratuate listening to prog rock while playing a game about a walking dude-bison
Listening to Lateralus became such an integral part of my time with Gears of War that I found myself unwilling to play without it. I've had countless firefights punctuated by Keenan's roars; others soundtracked by twiddly bass riffs or steady, foreboding drum lines. (Incidentally, I am just now learning how hard it is to write about music without sounding like an insufferable prig. How do music journalists do this every day?)
Anyway, Lateralus wasn't the most subtle soundtrack for a video game. Each song remained stubbornly at the forefront the entire time, stripping away any sense of ebb and flow the original score might have leant the game, but even that seemed incredibly apt. The swirling, brooding aggression of the album (ugh, listen to me) fit perfectly with Gear of War's hyper-macho atmosphere - even walking at a snail's pace while Marcus jammed a finger in his ear and had a conversation with Anya felt vitally important. Epic, even.
Thinking back on those days with Gears of War, I can picture myself all too clearly - an awkward undergraduate with shoulder-length hair listening to prog rock while playing a game about a walking dude-bison and his manservant shooting anything that moved. Objectively speaking, it's not a good look. Nonetheless, I transport myself back to those days whenever I listen to that album. Lateralus helped me find a completely new way of playing and, in accidentally picking such a good soundtrack, I'd made a part of Gears of War my own.