Artist: Andy Gillion
Album Title: Arcade Metal
Label: Independent Release
Date of Release: 2 September 2022
Here’s a confession for you: I don’t like computer games. Ok, so that’s not entirely true. I used to like computer games when I was a boy in the late 80s, early 90s when things were so much simpler. Two-dimensional gameplay, and a controller that comprised of up, down, left, right, A, and B. I could cope with that, and I enjoyed a game of Super Mario Bros., Sonic The Hedgehog, Street Fighter II, and Tetris as much as anyone. But then came controllers with extra buttons, and games with 3D universes and graphics. They were (and still are) great to look at, but when you started to need to have a command of upwards of six or eight buttons on top of the direction pad, as well as 360° awareness, I lost interest.
Why am I telling you this? Well, the title of the record subject to this review should give you a clue. ‘Arcade Metal’ is an album that takes us all back to a simpler time, when the likes of Sega and Nintendo ruled the world, where arcade machines were all the rage, and when my puny brain could manage to beat a few levels of the latest game without having to dislocate my digits, or spend hours hurling abuse at fellow gamers on the other side of the world as you battle them somewhere in the cloud. Ah, those days. Jumpers for goalposts, long care-free summers, and four-channel TV. Is it just me, or is everything covered in a rose-tinted hue of nostalgia?
I suspect that the musician responsible for ‘Arcade Metal’ may share a similar viewpoint too. Andy Gillion, perhaps best known for his impressive stint within the ranks of Mors Principium Est, is a songwriter, guitarist, and producer of some considerable ability. Still criminally underrated or simply unknown, Gillion has already released one album under his own steam, the excellent ‘Neverafter’ from 2019. But he has also been responsible for penning several scores for videogames too. And, in 2022 the Englishman Down Under has gone one better with ‘Arcade Metal’, a record that seeks to bring two of his apparent passions, gaming and heavy metal, together under one roof whether they like it or not. And the results are, for the most part, glorious.
Did I mention previously that Gillion also has a great sense of humour? No? Well he does, and is responsible for the hilarious ‘sock of doom’ sketches and much more. If you’ve not seen them yet, you’re missing out. This sense of humour comes through on ‘Arcade Metal’, mainly via the song titles. As such, we are treated to names like ‘Damn you Water Level!’ and ‘Glitch’, not to mention plenty of fun, vibrant, bright and breezy melodies to blend in with the heavy riffs, fast paced material, and the copious amounts of shredding. This is album to make you feel good and believe for a while that all is positive about the world. And by heavens do we need that right now.
During the weeks leading up to its release, Gillion took great delight and immense pride in unveiling an impressive cast of guest musicians to help bring the album to life. For me, the inclusion of Jeff Loomis (Arch Enemy, ex-Nevermore), Per Nilsson (Scar Symmetry) and Trivium’s Matthew K. Heafy are the most notable, although Japanese composer Yuzo Koshiro will pique the interest of gamers the world over thanks to his video game soundtracks. Gillion is also joined by 66Samus on the drum stool, as well as a clutch of other contributors besides.
Referred to as a ‘video game themed instrumental shred album’ Gillion wastes little time in capturing the listener’s attention. Or, more accurately, Koshiro doesn’t, thanks to an atmospheric and melodic soundscape that’s both warm and dramatic, heightening the anticipation for what’s to come. And when Gillion enters with a soaring lead accompanied by 80s electronic drum effects, it’s impossible not to smile.
The sound of a coin dropping into a slot conveniently introduces ‘Insert Coin’, and within seconds, we’re away. The speed of the composition is electric, reminding me of the excesses of a band like Dragonforce in some ways. The melodies though, are strong, the virtuosity on offer from Andy Gillion is incredibly impressive, and the blend of retro sounds and more modern heavy metal trappings is really nicely balanced.
If anything though, ‘1988’, featuring young guitar virtuoso Li-sa-X, is even better. The pace is once again brisk and uplifting in a carefree manner, but the melodies are stronger, catchier, and thoroughly delicious, digging their claws deep into my brain, burrowing further with every subsequent spin. I was in a bad mood when I started this review, but after ten minutes or so of this album seeping into me, I feel completely different. So what that my flight home after an intense work trip is delayed, I’ll get home eventually.
If I were to inject a note of negativity, it would be that there is a very slight lack of variety across the album as a whole. It means that I occasionally forget where I am on the record as some of the songs can feel like they blend into one. But it is hard to hold this against anyone, because even if it were to be one long forty-minute song, it’s not one to be sniffed at, that’s for sure.
‘Glitch’ is aptly-named as it injects a touch of the quirky into proceedings, creating more of a progressive fusion vibe, albeit with plenty of electronic and six-string histrionics for good measure. The aforementioned ‘Damn You Water Level’ is a gentler, more serene song that harnesses the feeling of water, the way in which the melodies gently seep into you. I particularly like the way in which the music becomes muffled momentarily to suggest we have dipped beneath the surface as we fight our way to the end of the pesky level, a level that sees the heaviness unexpectedly ratcheted up towards the end.
Other highlights include the darker, heavier ‘Enter The Castle’ which features Jeff Loomis, who offers more within this five minutes than he has on the last two Arch Enemy records combined as far as I’m concerned, and it’s a joy to hear him let loose. This is a full-on, monstrous shred-a-thon that will impress anyone that loves the sound of a lead guitar or two in full flight. ‘Final Boss’, featuring Per Nilsson, is also out of the top drawer, a thunderous, fast affair where 66Samus really earns his corn trying to keep up with the axe gymnastics going on around him. And ‘GAME OVER’ is a gorgeous mix of chilled out noodling and heavier, chunkier riffing, pulled together by some scintillating lead guitar-led melodies.
If you don’t feel a little better about life or don’t have a big smile on your face by the end of ‘Arcade Metal’, then I guess there’s no hope for you. I do, every time, whatever the circumstances in which I find myself. For that alone, Andy Gillion should be highly commended. The fact that the music itself is also of an incredibly high quality, with some killer guest appearances, is just the icing on the cake. Whether or not you like computer games, if you are a fan of the sound that guitars make at full flight, ‘Arcade Metal’ needs to be heard, you won’t regret it.
The Score of Much Metal: 90%