11th March 2016 - Ubiktune Records
03. Long Live The New Fresh
04. Collision Event
07. Red Planet
09. Halo Of Dust
12. Axis (piano version)
Although there hasn’t exactly been an explosion of crossover music in recent years, there are a number of artists pushing the boundaries of two or more genres – particularly in metal – who have been recognised for their innovation or appeal: Metal Hammer’s annual Golden Gods nominated popular rap/metal band Hacktivist for their Best New Band category in 2014, whilst electronic/EDM/metal innovator The Algorithm won Best Underground Band in 2013. Beyond the accolades however, there’s certainly an appetite for artists who mix genres, and especially those who do so with seemingly wild disregard for convention.
Enter Danimal Cannon, the chiptune/metal crossover project of Buffalonian video game music composer Daniel Behrens. Despite being quite niche, chiptune music has a massive worldwide following, and is certainly one of the most innovative styles out there: not content with picking up a stock instrument, artists eke sound out of a variety of machines, even building their own apparatus out of consoles and writing new software to push relatively simplistic hardware to its maximum potential. It’s incredibly DIY, and more than a little punk, so the melding of metal with chiptune makes a great deal of sense. Underground scenes? Check. Satisfyingly technical? Check. An acquired taste? You betcha.
How chiptune music is made is perhaps just as interesting as the compositions themselves. Behrens uses a 1989 Gameboy, but only three notes can ever be played via a Gameboy’s sound chip at the same time, so composers have come up with a variety of tricks to get past what is quite a hamstring. It all gets rather complicated, but essentially the software is used to manually program complex rhythmic, note-heavy arrangements, along with how they sound, how often they repeat and a variety of other factors, and so despite initial limitations, the music comes across as incredibly well-thought out and considered down to the minutest detail. Chiptune artists are essentially creating the very sounds they use as well as how the sounds go together; you practically have to be an audio engineer to understand it all, and it makes for some incredibly challenging music.
Which is exactly what Lunaria is: challenging. With no interest in breaking you in gently, opener “Axis” throws the full force of what a full-blooded chiptune/progressive metal coupling can offer at you. Behrens is incredibly adept at writing these creative, ear-worming leads that pay full homage to their chiptune origins, but that also sound perfectly placed on top of his absolutely thundering metal guitar work. The latter aspect isn’t entirely complicated most of the time, doing its job laying the foundations for the chiptune elements, but it all works together intuitively. Much as The Algorithm’s Rémi Gallego has done with the style he has made his own, the meld creates something as impressive as it is fun.
Unsurprisingly, the record makes full use of as many progressive tricks as it can muster. “Collision Event” opens in full on prog mode, sounding part-way between an early Pokémon game and the Devin Townsend Project, using both guitar and Gameboy for leads. Such incredibly involved compositions are a testament to the creativity of the one-man bedroom producer movement. Wielding two contrasting instruments to produce something that feels at the same time like an expansive video game soundtrack as well as a fully-formed progressive metal record.
As with a lot of prog, Lunaria is also conceptual, dealing with the “giant impact hypothesis” – the best working theory we have for for how Earth’s moon came to be. The album’s name plays on the words “lunar” and “aria” – essentially a song about the moon, who is anthropomorphised in a lunar goddess character, played by trained opera singer Emily Yancey. Lunaria is largely instrumental, but the titular second track and closer “Postlude” in particular feature her vocal talents, bookmarking the record nicely and offering a little insight into the story. There’s also a little extra treat at the end of the album, with fellow Ubiktune artist Shnabubula - AKA Samuel Ascher-Weiss - covering opener “Axis” on the piano, which serves to highlight just how complicated a song it is.
If you’ve been after something a little extra progressive into which to sink your teeth, then Lunaria could be exactly what you’re after. It offers much for fans of acts like The Algorithm and Chimp Spanner, and rewards a dedicated listener with a many-faceted experience that is a testament to the genre boundaries it strands astride.