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Words: Mat Ombler
Relevance isn't a word you'd usually associate with survival horror games, yet in the middle of a global pandemic, video games such as the remake of Resident Evil 3 and The Last of Us Part II feel terrifyingly real. When Sheffield five-piece Bring Me The Horizon first started work on their survival horror-inspired single, 'Parasite Eve', back in February, they never imagined a deadly viral outbreak would become reality.
"All of these video games and movies that we've been growing up with are now starting to feel very real," the band's vocalist Oli Sykes tells me on a Skype call. "I got Resident Evil 3 a couple of weeks ago and I couldn't help thinking: this is weird playing a game about a pandemic while there's a pandemic; how life is starting to feel a bit like a video game. There's something really scary about that."
The band's latest single - 'Parasite Eve' - stemmed from an idea to write a survival horror-themed song, and is a nod to Square (Enix)'s video game series of the same name. For those unfamiliar with the series, it was produced by Final Fantasy's creator Hironobo Sakaguchi and follows the story of New York cop, Aya Brea, as she attempts to stop a lifeforce known as Eve from wiping out mankind.
"I've always thought the game had a cool name, and I've always wanted to use it somehow," says Oli. "But it was always like, 'How the f*ck are you gonna use that in a song without it just meaning nothing?' Now it just feels so fitting. It's terrifying."
While the band continued to work on the track remotely through lockdown, Oli, like many of us, also got a chance to catch up with a backlog of video games he hadn't played yet, and this year's Doom Eternal was one of them. Oli was blown away by the game's soundtrack and sound design, widely regarded as one of the heaviest video game soundtracks ever created. Impressed, Oli reached out to the game's composer, Mick Gordon, to work with the band on 'Parasite Eve' (watch the video above).
"I f*cking loved the game," he says. "At first, it took some time to get my head round it because it's so strategic and there's so many weapons, but it's one of those games I could just play forever. It's so much fun."
The sonic landscape of Doom Eternal became important reference material for the band's new song. It might seem strange that one of the UK's largest rock bands has chosen to collaborate with a video game composer, but this isn't the first time video games have influenced the band's sound. Video games have always been a big part of Oli's life, ever since he first got his hands on a SEGA Mega Drive controller.
"I was at a mate's birthday party and I remember all the kids were playing, and I just sat on my own playing Sonic," he recalls. "I just became obsessed with it. I always look back and think about it because, ever since then, I've been a die-hard SEGA devotee. I queued up at midnight for the Dreamcast and defended it until the very end. Same with the Saturn, even knowing that deep down they were failing consoles."
Oli has owned a video game console from every generation, but says it was the release of Metal Gear Solid on the PlayStation that made him appreciate video games as an art form. Outside of the band, Oli runs a clothing company called Drop Dead Clothing. In its early days, Oli printed a run of Metal Gear-themed designs, but there was just one problem: they weren't officially licensed.
"An animator from Metal Gear Solid actually got in touch with me and said she was a fan of the band and the brand," Oli says. "We got talking, and she actually did some stuff for us. I don't know if she showed Hideo (Kojima, the game's director), but she showed it to Yoji Shinkawa (lead character and mecha designer for Metal Gear), and I was like, 'Oh sh*t, there's a lawsuit coming,' but he loved it so much."
Oli ended up receiving a hand-drawn picture of Solid Snake, signed by Yoji, which he proudly displays in his office today. After Yoji left Konami with Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima to set up a new development studio, Kojima Productions, the band received an invitation to write a track for their first video game, Death Stranding. There was just one catch: they had less than a week to get something across.
"We can usually spend months writing a song, but we just didn't have that luxury," Oli says. "We had to do what we knew we did well and push it as far as we could in the timeframe. That's why it ended up sounding like classic Horizon, I think, while on Amo (the band's sixth studio album, released in 2019), we were pushing ourselves way out of our comfort zone and trying things that we'd never done before."
There was no brief for the song and information about Death Stranding at the time was scarce - it eventually released in November 2019 to a mixed reception. Oli dug through game trailers and the Kojima Productions website to piece together ideas, while making sure they felt relevant to non-players. Taking inspiration from the quote "Homo Ludens" on the website, itself a reference to Johan Huizinga's 1938 book on the importance of the play elements of cultures and societies, the band wrote the track 'Ludens' (watch the video above) in just five days. It was well received by Bring Me The Horizon fans, with many regarding it as a return to form and reminiscent of their earlier material. Both 'Ludens' and 'Parasite Eve' will feature on the band's upcoming EP, which Oli says will be a heavier and more aggressive record than what was heard on Amo.
The collaboration between Mick Gordon and Bring Me The Horizon might seem like the perfect match. While Bring Me The Horizon's latest albums have taken a more experimental approach, Oli says their bread and butter has always been writing heavy music; this is a band that made a name for itself writing deathcore breakdowns, after all. What the band and Gordon both have in common is their ability to make heavy music accessible.
"You can feel other artists in his [Mick Gordon's] work," Oli says. "It feels like a homage to metal, but it takes EDM and, I hate to say the word, but even what makes dubstep hit so hard. He mixes all of these elements together in such a way that it just makes everything sound so f*cking huge. I think that's why I loved it so much."
The band went through each section of 'Parasite Eve' with Mick bit by bit, adding flourishes and effects to help conceptualise the song alongside Oli's vision for the music video. "There are loads of snares, sounds and weird frequencies through the song," he says. "All of these little touches are really important to me and he added an extra layer to the song that really gives it this cinematic quality."
The invitation of Gordon to provide additional production to 'Parasite Eve' and other tracks on their upcoming EP, one of four that the band hopes to release in 2020 under the collected title of Post Human, also marks a major milestone for the Sheffield-formed five-piece.
While collaborations with other musicians aren't unusual - Grimes, Halsey and Cradle of Filth's vocalist Dani Filth have all appeared on previous tracks - the band made the decision to self-produce their last two albums, with Oli admitting they'd been stung by producers in the past.
"We're trying to write four EPs this year, so it's not a bad thing to lighten the load a little," he says. "We do everything ourselves, even up to the mixing; we're so involved with the entire process. It's exhausting. I wanted to do this because I genuinely thought Mick could bring something to the table and do something exciting; but it's also, like, we need to allow help, you know?
"I think Mick will have a good role on this first record. Just to keep up that feel. He's not gonna be on every track, but we've already got a bunch of songs that we're working on and we think this is gonna be so perfect for him."
Featured Image Credit: Kojima Productions, @allisic / Alissa Salles
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