‘Metal Gear Rising’ composer talks meme resurgence and lyrical boss fights

Meet the man who put the "Metal" in 'Metal Gear Solid'

If you’ve seen a cyborg attempting to beat the shit out of an American senator recently, then you’ve been exposed to Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Outliving its initial release in 2013, Revengeance is back in the collective consciousness and bringing with it over-the-top dialogue, colossal story beats, slice-and-dice action, and an incredible soundtrack that really puts the “Metal” into Metal Gear Solid.

To live up to Revengeance’s frankly bat-shit story, characters and premise, developer PlatinumGames wanted each boss to have their own lyrical track, so the studio enlisted composer Jamie Christopherson – who’d previously worked on a number of games for Capcom – to define the game’s sound. NME sat down with Christopherson to ask all about the iconic game’s revitalisation, and how its music came to be in the first place.

“We wanted to get the character of the bosses into the songs,” explained Christopherson. “While I did want it to be specific to that boss, I also wanted it to be left to interpretation a little bit. So, the lyrics are very kind of fanciful and poetic in a way.”

Revengeance was unique at the time, and still is, for how it used lyrics in boss fights to reflect each opponent’s inner thoughts, providing the fast-paced game with not just a kick-ass metal soundtrack, but a way to expand on its seemingly one-dimensional characters.

“There’s a duality in the lyrics just like how the game discusses the duality of war, right? We tried to leave it up to interpretation and have multiple meanings,” Christopherson told me. “It’s fun to see different people interpret what we wrote in different ways, because that was kind of the point of the game, and then the lyrics can be interpreted differently too, depending on who’s playing or reading it. In some ways, they’re very poignant and meaningful, and in another way they’re meaningless. If that makes sense.”

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Credit: PlatinumGames

Whilst Christopherson was in charge of Revengeance’s soundtrack, it was PlatinumGames who was in charge of mixing and layering Christopherson’s stems (the individual instruments and melodies of a track) into the final product. “PlatinumGames should get all the credit,” said Christopherson. “They used a game audio engine called Wwise.”

As noted in this PlatinumGames article, this means the studio itself was responsible for how each part of Christopherson’s work came through during boss fights. “PlatinumGames made sure the lyrics would kick in at the height of the boss battles,” explained Christopherson.

So this means PlatinumGames was the one to implement Christopherson’s work in thematically interesting ways, like cutting the lyrics during the Jetstream Sam boss fight, as if to represent his inner thoughts being overtaken by concentration. It’s this combination of Christopherson’s work and PlatinumGames’ mixing that make Revengeance’s music still a joy to explore today, almost a decade later.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Credit: PlatinumGames

Every title in the Metal Gear Solid franchise has had original vocal tracks, so going into Revengeance Christopherson saw the lineage of songs like ‘Snake Eater’ and ‘Can’t Say Goodbye To Yesterday’ as quite intimidating, but that this was something he quickly overcame when learning about this new, action-focused take on the series.

“I was definitely a fan. Like a big fan,” said Christopherson. “I don’t think I’d played every game, but I definitely had played Metal Gear Solid 2, that was the big one.

“I was a little daunted at first, about having that history of huge, iconic music, and an iconic game series. But as we got into the project, I realised that this is a totally different game and it wasn’t going to have to compete with where the main series was going and just be just totally separate.”

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Credit: PlatinumGames

This is why Revengeance takes multiple swings at different aspects of the metal genre, with orchestral and electronic influences permeating the soundtrack. “We talked about giving different bosses different types of metal sounds,” added Christopherson. “Like you got the Metallica metal, and Rammstein was an influence for the Sundowner fight, for example.”

Opening track ‘Rules Of Nature’ is incredibly heavy, whilst songs like ‘The Stains Of Time’ rely on synthesised sounds, and yet everything blends together in a cohesive way. Each and every track doesn’t get lost in the mix either, and Christopherson says that’s because of his conscious choice regarding melody.

“I was very cognisant about melody. I’m a big fan of melody. So the compositions of these songs, even though they’re very hardcore, and driving, the melody is still there,” said Chrisopherson. “You can play them on the piano or in 8-bit, or even in a Nintendo style and the song still comes through. That’s a key to why they’ve also lasted long, because of the melody, a strong melody can kind of stick with you.”

The main reason Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is back in the public consciousness is undoubtedly the memes. Character quotes (especially from Senator Armstrong), music remixes, and fan-dubbed cutscene videos have seen Revengeance’s Steam player count rise dramatically in the last few months.

Christopherson is aware of all this, calling it “a little strange and surreal,” though he’s ultimately impressed and happy to see the game back in the spotlight. “Someone sent me an email a year ago saying “have you seen all these memes?” and it’s kind of just piqued my interest to see what it’s all about. Since then it seems to have gone even crazier.

“One of my favourite things about the meme stuff is, people have taken my songs and made like 8-bit versions or 16, like Genesis versions, and I love listening to those and seeing how well they work in that style,” Christopherson added.

Perhaps the strangest – and arguably best – iteration on this trend is a mashup of ‘Collective Consciousness’ and Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You,’ which to both Christopherson’s and my own surprise, works quite well.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance deserves its current resurgence, with incredible performances, action, and socio-political messages that still feel cutting edge after all this time. Christopherson’s music, and the vocalists that help bring it to life, also play no small part in the well-deserved praise Revengeance gets. So if you haven’t played the game before, now’s the perfect time to take a virtual vacation with the limb-chopping Raiden.

Will Nelson is a news writer and regular contributor at NME. 

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