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Vangough - "Game On" (CD)

Vangough - "Game On" CD cover image

"Game On" track listing:

1. Wily's Castle
2. Marine Fortress
3. Simon's Revenge
4. Your Darkest Hour
5. The Turtle King
6. Green Hill Terror
7. Corneria
8. The Killer Instinct
9. Torvus Bog
10. Coral Capers

Reviewed by on September 14, 2010

"Mute your game and throw on 'Game On!'"

Video games like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Final Fantasy have had their soundtracks become almost as iconic as their game play. Some soundtracks get re-arranged for symphony, some are stripped down to intimate piano versions, and some select few are given ass-kicking re-imaginings as heavy metal songs. Enter Clay Withrow, the main man and creative force behind progressive metal act Vangough. Some people have a simple appreciation for the music in video games – Vangough has a love.

Don’t look for vocals on “Game On!,” because there aren’t any. This album is an instrumental tribute to video game music from the past twenty-five years. The album starts off with a galloping synth-infused rendition of a Mega Man 2 boss theme, “Wily’s Castle.” With blistering synthesizer and guitar solos and great drum fills, you’d wish the original game’s music was as exciting as this. Imagine Dream Theater writing the soundtrack to a video game and you’d come close to this. “Marine Fortress” is a throwback to Wave Race 64, a cool and driving song with a nice mixture of themes.

“Simon’s Revenge” is a nine-minute epic track pulling from the Super Castlevania IV catalogue, combining together several portions of the game’s most notable themes. Flowing from theme to theme in Opethic style, Vangough immerses the listener in the glory of the fight against vampires. “Your Darkest Hour” brings the 1980s flair to the album as the anthem to Punch-Out! “The Turtle King” lurches in with some heavy Witchery-type riffs and the trademark Super Mario Bros. eerie keyboards. I don’t remember Mario having anything to do with blast beats, but they sure fit here. The string section and percussion breakdown at the middle of the song is especially fun, too, giving a momentum change to the song. Towards the end, furious death metal guides the listener to the next song – a Sonic the Hedgehog tribute.

“Green Hill Terror” is one of the best tracks on the album, combining many different music styles. Sonic has never been more metal. “Corneria,” the album’s Starfox tribute, and “Killer Instinct” both take off running with synthesizers. The latter sounds like what a combination of Six Degrees-era Dream Theater and Steve Vai would sound like together. “Killer Instinct” is, hands-down, the best track on the album, with the bulk of the music being original to Vangough and not just derived from the game. The theme development and technicality of playing are top-tier.

“Torvus Bog,” derived from Metroid Prime 2, brings some straightforward traditional metal into the fold for another epic-length song filled with rising and falling melodic metal. “Coral Capers,” coming from Donkey Kong Country, ends this album’s journey with all the synth you could want, rolling over the listener in waves. Fans of Novembre, Saturnus, and other metal bands of their ilk will love this last track for the way Vangough gives a prominent place to what would otherwise be called “background” music in metal.

The production on the album is a noteworthy point. It’s a known fact that video game music doesn’t sell, so it’s not often that re-imaginings of video game music ever have the budget to make a professional recording. The production on “Game On!,” which is handled by Clay Withrow himself, Sterling Winfield, and Gary Long, is of a far better quality than the songs of the YouTube cover-song superstars or the Overclocked Remix-ers. The blood, sweat, and tears behind the making of this album really show in its quality. The whole thing leaves you thinking, “What if everyone paid this much attention to their music, and why haven’t I paid enough attention to the music in video games?” My suggestion: Mute your game and throw on “Game On!”

Highs: The integration of game music and original Vangough music is seamless and ass-kicking

Lows: The lack of vocals (though you don't really need them for game music)

Bottom line: The whole thing leaves you thinking, "What if everyone paid this much attention to their music, and why haven’t I paid enough attention to the music in video games?"

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)