There is some absurd and crazy shit going on in the world of music. I must admit that, despite being a pretty eclectic guy, my dedication to Angry Metal Guy has made me a little myopic. I focus on a lot of what lands in my promo box and don’t get a lot of input from the outside. Therefore, I’d missed that there is a growing 8-bit music scene developing. Back in the day I thought it was awesome that my buddy made a Nintendocore band called Totally Radd! and we all had a great time with it (including his ridiculously epic cover of “Hallowed Be Thy Name” which works a hell of a lot better than you’d expect). But that was 2003 and this is 2016. I have been trapped listening to metal’s own versions of Nostalgiacore™—re-thrash, retro-doom, the Nostalgia Wave of British Heavy Metal™, old school death metal, old school black metal, old school old school metal. But there’s a whole other world out there, folks! Filled with other nostalgia that I also like. Enter Danimal Cannon.
Lunaria is not Danimal Cannon‘s first album, but it’s the first one I’ve heard and it hits a really special place for me. A beautiful blend of tech metal, ’90s industrial, and GameBoy™ riffs, Lunaria even features a faux-Final Fantasy cover which indicates that the mastermind and I live in the same Lebenswelt; we are united in nostalgia in a way that only two dorks born in our era could be. This probably narrows the specific appeal of this material to the nerdily inclined, of course, because rather than feeling like “Collision Event” features a bass-heavy mix of a missing track from FFVI‘s OST, you probably just think “Why would he use those keyboard sounds?” If you don’t heart midi OSTs,1 I can assume the appeal is slightly limited. (Though, I’d hope you’d be impressed by the fact that this dude actually didn’t use keyboards, but rather wrote this thing on an actual 1989 GameBoy, which gives him hacker cred as well!)
But you’d be wrong to think of Danimal Cannon‘s music in such a limited way! Because the beauty of Lunaria is that it sounds like a really well-produced version of the demos that a super driven, techy metal band would make in Guitar Pro! Songs like “Behemoth” rocket out the gate with genuinely heavy riffing bolstered by 8-bit drums and video game explosions that would justify Norwegian guys in corpse paint to have scenes of the apocalypse blue-screened in behind them! But even if they did, “Behemoth” would still feature a better guitar solo. Or take “Red Planet,” it starts out slow, but about 90 seconds in it rocks out riffs with a rotating feel landing close to Gomorrah‘s loose feel, before transitioning in to a nearly djent-y chug riff. Surprising twists and turns lace the album: “Halo of Dust” sounds like the emotional peak of a Mass Effect game made for NES; “Axis” starts the album off with a Symphony X riff, transfers into 8-bit Opeth for 20 seconds and then knocks out a ridiculous groove riff which is followed by straight up a straight mosh-baiting section.
The majority of the album is, of course, made up of these 16-bit sounds, which makes the whole soundscape bright and lacking in the full range of dynamics that normally encounter heavy music. While the bass is filled out here—this isn’t actually lo-fi in any sense—it’s probably the thing I miss most about Lunaria. And part of the reason I do miss it is because, for example, the title track “Lunaria” and the song “Postlude” both feature beautiful singing from Emily Yancey, while the “Axis (Piano Version)” features the full-bodied piano features of one Shnabubula,2 and shows off the genuine musical genius involved here that way too many would be too quick to write off. Even “Surveillance,” which is likely the most musically straight of all the songs, sounds like a great NIN song made with a bit more irony and metallic energy.
While sonically it could probably use a bit more oomph to make it even more powerful, Lunaria is an unequivocal success! And it’s not just the nostalgia that keeps me coming back to Lunaria. Rather, it’s the brilliant composition, an ear for catchy and inventive melody, and Danimal Cannon‘s unique take on a blend of seemingly unmixable sounds. It’s crazy to say, in a 2016 as loaded as it is with high-profile metal releases, but Lunaria was written on a GameBoy and it’s still one of the most engaging records I’ve heard in 2016.