British-born multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Andy Gillion is probably best known for his lengthy tenure as the lead guitarist and songwriter in the Finnish melodeath outfit, MORS PRINCIPIUM EST, from 2011 to 2021. He did embark on a solo career in 2019 with the release of his debut full-length “Neverafter,” which was predominantly an instrumental affair boasting symphonic, progressive, and melodic death metal elements. Now, the plot thickens with the independent release of his sophomore solo outing, with its title “Arcade Metal” not-so-subtly hinting at what it’s all about; the album is a shameless confession of Gillion‘s love for vintage video game soundtracks. On top of featuring an awe-inspiring onslaught of virtuoso guitar guests, legendary video game composer Yuzo Koshiro also makes a guest appearance on synths, transporting the listener further down the memory lane to the golden era of guitar shredding and video game nostalgia. Resonating by turns with the air of chiptune prog metal of bands such as OU and the somewhat 1980s-tinted instrumentalism of artists such as Tony MacAlpine and Vinnie Moore, these thirteen new instrumental bangers create nothing short of an authentic sonic backdrop for an arcade gaming experience – down to the song titles.
The game is set afoot with the brief 2-minute intro, “In the Arcade,” featuring the aforementioned keyboard wizard, Koshiro, whose résumé boasts, among other things, the soundtrack for nothing less than Sonic the Hedgehog. Synths obviously take center stage with the motifs and textures resonating rather nicely with the analog warmth of decades past; the keyboards trigger fond flashbacks of some of our most memorable gaming moments from the adventures of Link to, say, the synthwave stabs of the 2017 Bethesda first-person shooter, Prey. Toward the end of the song, Gillion makes an entrée with his rapid-fire guitar licks. So, the intro track sets the tone for the whole album pretty nicely: chiptune keyboards on occasion and LOTS of tasteful guitar shredding.
The song titles spell out a narrative to the album. After setting your foot in the arcade, “Insert Coin” rolls out melodies that are charged with an oriental yin & yang quality, in a somewhat Marty Friedman -like manner. The guitar lines are subtly reminiscent of Friedman‘s chops on his 2021 outing “Tokyo Jukebox,” albeit the drums – courtesy of 66Samus of DECREPIT BIRTH – along with the slapping basslines trigger fond flashbacks of Jan Hammer‘s soundtrack work for the original, 1980s TV series Miami Vice as well. Speaking of which, the ghost of the 1980s is rather strong throughout the album. Hence, the following track, “1988” could not possibly be more aptly titled. It features Li-Sa-X, a 17-year-old Japanese guitar phenomenon, whose signature licks resonate with nice RACER X vibes.
“Tokyo Street Massacre” features 6-string maestro Matt Heafy of TRIVIUM. While his metalcore past might not shine through so prominently, given that the song has neither screamo vocals nor such metalcore staples as blast-beats or breakdowns, the song’s guitar melodies do sound soaring. The riffs are crushing – just add a pinch of chiptune synths and there you go!
In a true arcade gaming fashion, the album has a couple of short interludes, sound snippets of sorts, entitled “Level Complete” and “Invincible,” neither of which last longer than 20 seconds. These soundbites are more like the sound effects when Mario has a bite of a mushroom. As standalone tracks, they don’t really have much to offer, but when you listen through the album in one go, they come off as short, nonchalant sound clips, as though denoting a new round in a boss fight.
After cautiously sidestepping into the pyrotechnical realm of Steve Vai in “Glitch,” the album showcases yet a few more rounds of instrumental guitar madness. “Damn You Water Level!” features Australian axe-meister Stephen Taranto of the Sydney-based prog-metal outfit, THE HELIX NEBULA; the prog elements are not very in-your-face – not on this track, let alone on the album as a whole. Young, aspiring guitarists, no doubt, may be better equipped to appreciate the varied nuances of each guest on the album. Yes, I must admit that, at times, it’s pretty hard to distinguish between Gillion‘s own chops and, say, the instrumental cyber metal of the guitar luminary, Paul Wardingham, featuring on “Megadrive.” To be honest, Jeff Loomis of NEVERMORE, contributing his signature guitarism to “Enter the Castle,” is the only guest on the outing whose playing style is familiar enough for me to know when he’s actually on. On the other hand, it may just suggest that Gillion has picked his collaborators rather well, not to mention that their delivery is consistently brilliant throughout. Before the game is over, Per Nilsson of SCAR SYMMETRY drops some wicked guitar chops on “Final Boss” and Gillion lets rip alone on the last two tracks, “GAME OVER” and “Continue?”
By and large, “Arcade Metal” is quite a breathtaking guitar assault, not for the faint of heart. It helps if you’re into instrumental guitar shredding but, take me for example, the songcraft and the solos are nuanced enough even for the casual listener to become overwhelmed in the most positive way, regardless of whether guitar pyrotechnics are your guilty pleasure or not – and the chiptune elements certainly add a nice touch to the album. If I close my eyes while listening to the album, it feels as though I am suddenly Matrix-diving through the fantasy worlds created by such pedigree game houses as Bethesda, Arkane, Nintendo, or Naughty Dog.
Written by Jani Lehtinen
- In the Arcade (feat. Yuzo Koshiro)
- Insert Coin
- 1988 (feat. Li-Sa-X)
- Tokyo Street Massacre (feat. Matt Heafy)
- Level Complete
- Damn You Water Level! (feat. Stephen Taranto)
- Megadrive (feat. Paul Wardingham)
- Enter the Castle (feat. Jeff Loomis)
- Final Boss (feat. Per Nilsson)
- GAME OVER
Andy Gillion – guitars
Sam Paulicelli (66Samus) – drums
Gillion Records (self-released)