Last week Bury Tomorrow returned home, playing an explosive, powerful set on Download Festival’s main stage. New songs ‘Death (Ever Colder)’ and ‘Life (Paradise Denied)’ saw the group embrace the future, following the additions of guitarist Ed Hartwell and keyboardist Tom Prendergast to the fold, while classic anthems like ‘Cannibal’ and ‘Black Flame’ still hit like a sledgehammer to the chest. “It was such a cool experience” says Predergast, his eyelashes just about recovered from their onstage brush with pyro.
A few hours later and the band are huddled backstage about to tackle an even greater challenge than playing to 60,000 metal fans – taking on streamer Leahviathan in a game of Diablo Immortal. The challenge is simple enough – the first to slay 50 demons and the boss, wins.
Despite playing on home turf, Bury Tomorrow’s Dav Winter-Bates gets his virtual ass handed to him on the free-to-play mobile dungeoncrawler before the band sub in secret weapon Hartwell, who quickly earns the name “Thunder Thumbs”. When Leahviathan still dominates, they resort to chaos.
“They are absolute menaces,” Leahviathan tells NME shortly after the game. “There was backseat coaching, underhand tactics and they eventually just covered my eyes and screen. It was exactly like playing with your siblings,” she adds with a grin.
“It’s really good fun,” she says about Diablo Immortal. “The gameplay itself is very enjoyable and it’s very Diablo – run, stab, have some fun.” She grew up playing Diablo 3 but doesn’t consider herself a hardcore Diablo player. “That’s the benefit of this game though, it’s a great introduction to that world.”
Like Leahviathan, Winter-Bates knows his way around Diablo thanks to Diablo 3 but isn’t a diehard fan. “Diablo Immortal is great though. It’s basically D3 adapted for mobiles, which means you can play awesome games wherever you are.” He usually plays tactical first-person shooters or RPGs but has a feeling Diablo Immortal might be making a few appearances when the band hit the road later this year. “We’re going to lose some hours to this, aren’t we,” asks Hartwell.
Like many, Winter-Baytes got reacquainted with gaming over the lockdown and started streaming “to take my mind off the fact I couldn’t tour. I missed the interaction that comes with playing live, so Twitch became my new community, and that’s what spurred me on. Turns out that online community was so much bigger than I thought it was going to be.”
He set up his own Discord server for alternative music lovers, The Calpol Club, to bring together like-minded people. “There’s a massive sense of community that runs through music that was really lacking during the lockdown. It wasn’t just gigs, it was that level of belonging. The Calpol Club was for fans of music from all over the world that were trapped in their own homes, that wanted that level of interaction and wanted to engage with the people they would have at gigs.”
But now gigs are back on (Bury Tomorrow have a very busy summer, followed by their own headline tour) why is Winter-Bates still streaming, still engaging with The Calpol Club?
“A Discord community feels a lot more personal. It’s right there at your fingertips and there are a lot more immediate responses. Over the past few months and years, that became a crux for a lot of people. It felt like home, so I don’t think they want to give that up and neither do I.”
“It’s so much easier to cultivate a community now,” he continues. “Some social media seems very individual, but things like Discord, Twitch, and Reddit are very much community based. And that’s what we’re all looking for, community.”
The Calpol Club has a zero-tolerance policy on anything close to hate speech meaning “it’s become this really nice place, where there are no judgements. It’s a very safe place to express yourself, because we’ve built a community of people who are all there for the same reason. It’s very different to places like Instagram or Twitter, which can be quite toxic at times.”
“Collaborative experiences are a big focus nowadays,” adds Leahviathan. “People want experiences that they’ll remember together. Emotive, single-player experiences are great but then you’ve got something like Diablo Immortal, which is just having fun with your friends.”
Games like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX introduced a generation to alternative music back in the ‘00s and today, games like FIFA are carrying that torch. Elsewhere the worlds of gaming and rock are become increasingly entangled. Bring Me The Horizon contributed to the Death Stranding soundtrack, Against The Current are writing songs for League Of Legends and then there’s upcoming rhythm game Metal: Hellsinger with it’s oh-so-heavy soundtrack.
“People are starting to realise that gaming is an art in itself, so they’re involving other art forms inside that. There’s something special about music as well, that connects to you emotionally and games have always done that really well – look at Final Fantasy 7. The combination of the two though makes for a really appealing, emotional experience,” says Leahviathan who first got into alternative music when she was a teenager.
The camaraderie between rock and gaming “comes from being a part of fringe society,” says Winter-Bates. “You can be made to feel a bit like an outcast if you’re a gamer, or if you’re into metal. You can come together as a community though. Platforms like Discord and Twitch allow people to form this family, this unit of people who you’ve never met but share the same passion. The two worlds collide seamlessly for that very reason.”
“You look at Download and you’re in a field full of people you don’t know, but you feel a kinship and a friendship towards them. Being on the outside of the mainstream draws everyone together,” he continues. “And who love doesn’t a good bit of metal when they’re killing shit.”
Winter-Bates’ streams switch between discovering and exploring new music, and gaming.
“I really like that the worlds can be one and the same,” he explains. Sure, he’s not “as good as he wants to be. I’m only ranked Silver on Valorant and that’s my favourite game at the moment. The more I play though, the better I want to be. But it’s more about the fun, the strategy and the entertainment that comes from it,” he explains.
There’s also that escapist, fantasy element that “people need that right now” according to Predergast. “There’s been this big shift in perspective around the world and it feels like people are adapting to these new ways of communicating and bonding. I hope it continues to grow and evolve.”
Both metal and gaming are going through a resurgence, where the limits of both artforms are being expanded in every direction.
“During the lockdown, we saw a lot of bands taking to streaming platforms to share their music. There’s been a whole host of in-game concerts and virtual gigs and I think people realise that streaming wasn’t just for this idea of a gamer that they had in their head. They realised it was actually a very serious world. As for metal bands, virtual concerts from Trivium and Architects proved that metal music was capable of doing massive, spectacle events,” explains Winter-Bates. “I think people really sat up and took notice.”
“What’s really cool about it is that nobody can tell you there’s a ceiling. It can be as big as you want it to be, because you literally have the entire world at your feet – you just need to reach them.”
Bury Tomorrow are taking that confidence into their new record, which is currently being mixed. “When you’re faced with not being able to do something, but come out of the other side there’s this mentality that if we survived that, we can take it to any level that we want to. Opening up to different avenues of people in different areas of the internet just made us more ambitious. We’ve not left anything out on the album. We’ve gone to the next level.”