When I was sent the press release for the new Deadspace EP, ‘Gravity’, I suddenly realised I hadn’t played Dead Space in over three years and figured this could make for a pretty unconventional review. The idea here being like how Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side Of The Moon‘ syncs up with the Wizard Of Oz in a scarily consistent manner. I mean, come on, in this instance, both share the same name, the EP’s called ‘Gravity’, Dead Space is set in space, the band is practically black metal with depressive/emotional undertones, space is black and this game is depressingly bleak – this shit practically writes itself!
So I popped my copy of Visceral Games’ sci-fi/horror masterpiece into my Xbox 360 for the first time in three years with the monitor volume turned down low and I put ‘Gravity’ on repeat as loudly as I could, and went to work. But first, some much-needed context.
Deadspace (the band) are – and I quote – a “blackened post goth-rock band” from Perth, Western Australia. Now, whether or not that genre description is them being serious or is simply them taking the Mickey, I actually couldn’t care less. Because in a nutshell, this quintet is a very solid atmospheric black metal band, with plenty of heavy, visceral moments and some truly haunting, well-written, instrumental interludes all thrown in for good measure. Their new four-track EP, ‘Gravity‘ – a follow-up to 2015’s ‘The Promise Of Oblivion‘ – is out now and has a superb flow to it, precise and impactful instrumental delivery and it really displays quality over quantity. Even so with just four tracks and its 32-minute runtime overall. Now, at the risk of drawing a very general and “normie” comparison, I would label Deadspace as an Australian version of Deafheaven, just minus all the shoegaze nonsense but with all the melody and emotion intact, plus there’s some actual singing here too.
Dead Space (the game) was a 2008 third-person horror title that combines claustrophobic atmosphere with tight, brutal gameplay, and started a terrific franchise (even if Dead Space 3 was somewhat bollocks). The game centres on protagonist Isaac Clarke and his journey through the USG Ishimura, an interstellar mining ship that has distress signals comin’ out the wazoo. His goals are to find out just what the hell happened to the thousand or so onboard crew and to hopefully find his girlfriend, Nicole Brennan, alive and well. However, with this being a horror game, shit doesn’t hit the fan so much as it breaks it because within minutes things go horribly awry and Isaac and his fellow crew are left stranded on the Ishimura. They soon learn that in place of the once human crew now stands hordes of horrific monstrosities of flesh and bone, called the Necromorphs in-game. These Necromorphs are created by an onboard sentient artefact called the Marker, which elicits powerful psychological reactions in people through a mixture of telepathy, sonic pulses, and other such nonsense. Look, just think of these Markers as malevolent, homicidal versions of the Monoliths from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Now, Dead Space was a fucking huge game back in 2008. The game received huge critical acclaim for its superb combination of tough, gory, action-packed combat, beautiful graphics, solid sound design (which won’t really count for shit for this article) unnerving atmosphere, and the games large amount of “brown pants” moments.
To help connect up these two varying mediums for this write-up, and to justify all the time I spent on this, I’m going to quote Deadspace vocalist, Chris Gebauer, from the aforementioned press release on the concept that outlines ‘Gravity‘ and it’s tracklisting:
“The brutality of birth itself, the crippling deprivation of life, the release of death, and the inevitable rebirth into the vast nothingness”.
What’s the connection I’m drawing here? Well, you start Dead Space and things get rather violent and brutal early on (the “birth”). You play through the game and it’s harrowing moments (there’s “life”) and you’ll most likely be horribly killed many times (there’s “death”) and you respawn at the last checkpoint (the “rebirth”). So yes, that’s me stretching to make this gimmick work. But fuck it, I’m rolling with it, so off we go!
(Note: never one to cheat the system, whenever I had the game paused, so to was the music and vice versa. Also, full disclosure, this ain’t my first rodeo – this was my third playthrough of Dead Space.)
My initial thoughts after selecting a new game in the main menu and hitting play on the EP was “Good god, it’s been ages since I’ve played Dead Space!“. Which was soon followed up by “Man, I hope this EP is really good!” and oh, it most certainly was good. It’s also safe to say that gaming nostalgia hit me hard and fast here, however, yet so to did a disheartening sense that this may have all been for not. See, the sci-fi setting wasn’t gelling with the emotionally tinged black metal that is Deadspace’s music (not a fault of the game or the band’s, only my initial judgment on this idea). An example of this miss-match was the game’s intro cinematic. With Isaac watching Nicole’s final transmission, turning it off before it ends (hint for later), the far-off view of planet Aegis VII, and the fast approaching Ishimura coupled with the slow, restrained, heavy drums, shredding vocals and repetitive, droning guitar riffs of the EP’s first song ‘Birth’ weren’t working well in conjunction.
“Damn, so much for this gimmick“, I thought, as it didn’t suit at all. Things didn’t improve that much after the crew – consisting of Isaac, Commander Zach Hammond, Specialist Kendra Daniels and two poor, unnamed sods that get horribly killed early on – are separated by the game’s first encounter with the Necromorphs.
However, things eventually started to click when the sombre clean guitar and ethereal vocals of the intro to ‘Life‘ provided a very ominous soundtrack for my way through the darkened, bloodied halls of the Ishimura towards the end of Chapter 1. Things were even more successful as the EP concluded its first spin, repeated, and the outro piano of ‘Birth‘ provided a haunting accompaniment to my path through the Medical section of the ship later on in Chapter 2. Also early on, you eventually venture through a part of the ship that has had the hull been ripped open. Walking through this section with the epic build-up of ‘Death’, cued in by the fast, rolling drum fills, was simply surreal when the song’s climax hit. That’s a word you’ll see used frequently here – surreal. At that point in time, I found myself just standing there, among the floating debris and corpses, and just gazing out across the distant horizon of Aegis VII.
Goosebumps were well and truly had, people. It was in this moment that I felt as if their music had been intentionally made for this very game. It wasn’t, but it sure felt like it.
Actually, these outside moments, as well as the handful of zero gravity sections found throughout the game (which are always a lot of fun), worked so well with the abstract interludes that help bridge each of the EP’s four songs. These created many further moments of goosebumps and surreal moments. Hell, even when the band’s music is going full-speed with heavy guitar riffs, pummeling blast beats and cacophonous screams, it was still intense and memorable when played alongside certain set-pieces and enemy encounters in-game. But for the sake of word count, I can’t go through all of these sadly – the buck has gotta stop somewhere. Also for the sake of not over-bloating the word count, I’m now going to quickly run through a few moments that really stood out to me in this venture.
One such moment also occurred very early on in my play time. I stumbled across a crazed survivor that was skinning some poor bastard alive in grisly fashion. When she notices me, she laughed crazily and slashed her throat with the very blade that was previously inches deep in that aforementioned poor bastard. That scene is really fucked up just by itself, but with the guttural vocals and steadfast grooves of ‘Birth‘ playing, it was just…something else entirely. I can’t really put my finger on what it was but if I had to call it, it would be disturbing, to say the least. Likewise, ‘Rebirth’ ends with an audio sample discussing life, religion, and for one to let go of their materialistic ambitions. Which was oddly apt at various points when I was walking past discarded luggage and items of crewmembers that fled the game’s cosmic horrors of flesh and bone, only to probably die some cruel, dismembered fate somewhere in the bowels of the USG Ishimura.
Man… Dead Space really is a cheery game, isn’t it? I suppose then it’s fitting that both the game and the EP are rather depressing (remember the words of Deadspace’s singer about the EP’s deeper meaning?), yet both are just so cathartic in their gameplay and sonic content respectively.
As for the Marker mentioned earlier, much of the surviving crew affected by it leave crazed, ominous messages across the walls, floors ceilings and any surface that these disturbed individuals can pen their bloodstained writings. When wandering past such scriptures much later on in the game – to a “wall of sound” of blackened metal was just exquisite. And by exquisite, I mean, creepy and surreal as fuck! Especially with the EP’s bridging instrumental interludes cascading out from my speakers as I looked on these bloodstained ramblings. It was all chilling stuff.
The same can be said for when you venture through mid and late-game halls that the Necromorphs have since converted to their liking and as such look like one of HR Giger’s wet dreams. They were also noteworthy due to the echoing screams, sharp, tonal riffs and ominous timbre of ‘Birth‘, which played out over these visuals. At this point in time of playing/writing, I felt as if Deadspace played a more extreme or heavier style of metal or perhaps had a far more experimental sound than this whole piece would have never worked.
On the flipside, one moment that wasn’t so much ‘chilling’ as it was ‘kick ass’ was one the games first key boss fights. To progress through the ship you must first kill this giant creature that’s poisoning the ship’s air supply. The remaining crew called The Leviathan, or as I colloquially call it, “The Gaint Man-Eating Wall Vaganus”. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? But having the dark riffs, down-trodden timbre and surging rhythms of the first half of final track, ‘Rebirth’, accompany me in this fight made for one hell of an awesome encounter. Also, the way this song transitioned into its “chorus” as the creature roared at one point had me grinning from ear to ear.
Now, I’d say spoiler warning here, but Dead Space is eight years old now, so if you haven’t played it by now, then tough!
In the final act, and in one of the most organic moments of this entire experiment, the climax of ‘Death’ hit at the exact moment that Isaac comes to terms with his own sanity. In this integral plot point, he pushes himself to re-watch Nicole’s final transmission all the way through only to fully learn & then accept that she killed herself prior to his arrival; an action taken in order to be spared from the horrible fate that so many of her fellow crew members had suffered. This means that Isaac’s encounters with Nicole in the second half of the game were just figments of his deteriorating mental state brought on by the stressful situation and his exposure to the Marker.
The final notes of the song’s outro also offered an immensely emotive score to follow up on what was games big “twist” (oddly enough, if you take the first letter of all the Chapter titles, it spells out ‘Nicole Is Dead’. Go figure). I’d argue that the full version of ‘Death’ – the music video version is only half of the song – is easily the best song of the EP’s four tracks. In this particular context, the song is eerie and stylistically balanced enough I could have used it as the game’s entire soundtrack. Furthermore, the soft, melancholic piano of its outro is, as an emotional motif, just so isolating and at that point in the game, for Isaac to be completely alone on a barren planet in a distant star system with no help coming was again, just surreal & chilling.
It also provided an apt soundtrack to this quaint null in the proceedings; to balance out the previous intense, emotional peaks of the EP, the song and the game. Well, that is before it transitioned effortlessly into ‘Rebirth’ once more and the game began its final moments; the encounter with the game’s end boss – the Hive Mind, the creature controlling the Necromorphs. Funny, the end of a great EP also coincides with the end of a great game. Once the colossal hellspawn that is the Hive Mind was killed just in time for ‘Rebirth‘ to wind down, you get Isaac off-world, the final cutscene plays out, the narrative for Dead Space 2 gets set up (which is still the best entry in the series), and the credits rolled. Done. I was finally done.
I checked to see exactly how long this play through had taken me – five hours, thirty-six minutes, and thirty-nine seconds. Yes, the game counted that time for me. No, that wasn’t in one sitting – it was over two nights. Come on, I do have some kind of life, after all.
So, mission successful I would say! However, as stated before, not every single moment of Dead Space synced up perfectly with ‘Gravity‘ like say, Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ and Wizard Of Oz.
Obviously, the save points, the loading sequences between the game’s Chapters, and the narrative sections where the other crew calls you to inform you of what horribly coincidental problem has befallen you all now didn’t fit with the music. Not in the slightest, but considering the way that this whole experience started out, I prepared myself for plenty of inconsistent sections. Which were definitely apparent, but the more the game went on, the more these jarring moments ironed themselves out.
As stated previously, that is to absolutely no fault of the band’s nor the game that these two different pieces of art didn’t fit at times. As I’m 100% sure that the band’s music was ever meant to be contextualised in this way. Yet I still loved the game and of course, ‘Gravity‘. For my money, ‘Gravity‘ is easily one of the better Australian metal releases of the year. Oh, and thankfully, having something to listen to and enjoy really helped me get past the game’s shitty turrent section that you have to do about halfway through (seen below). Well, as much as possibly could be done to help that particular part of the game not stick out like the sore, infected thumb that it is.
At this point, I do have a few observations about this experience I’m going to share.
Firstly, while I’ve gone on and on about the band’s instrumentation aligning with the on-screen action and events, it was the EP’s sonics that also worked with the game’s setting. To explain, the thundering, reverb-soaked drums made it seem like you were not only watching the band play live but as if they were playing live within a giant, desolate ship; not unlike the one you venture through in Dead Space.
Singing or screaming, there is a big emphasis placed on the vocals ambience to often keep in the middle or further back of the mix, which works best for the band’s black metal sound and vibe. Much like the space of the drums, listening to these vocals as I passed through empty bowels of the ship perfectly punctuates the on-edge nature of the game. Also speaking of the vocals, I had to chuckle at the fact that Gebauer’s vehement screams could also be potentially used as sound foley for most of the Necromorph’s that you encounter. For instance, the very first scream on ‘Birth‘ is the stuff of nightmares but in the best possible way. Chris – if this whole music thing doesn’t work out, maybe take up a career in voice acting!
Secondly, one thing I really became aware of was my own cognitive disconnect, for lack of a better phrase, that was sometimes occurring across this five-hour run.
Listening to this EP in a critical way and playing a game – something that is interactive, and not passive like watching films – created an interesting dissonance at times. Having played so much of this game and the series over the years enabled me to fall into autopilot mode as I focused in on the music. With the EP blaring out, I couldn’t hear enemies creeping up behind me nor any subtle audio or musical cues for certain set pieces. Which made the horror elements and occasional jump scares of the game that much more palpable. Chapter 3’s encounter with The Hunter necromorph was extra stressful not being hearing the audible cues it gave off, and again, I wasn’t gonna cheat the system. With that being said, when ‘Life‘ or ‘Rebirth‘ were in full swing and blast beating away, I found myself fighting harder and more desperate; more reckless. I was rushing through areas and skipping the text and audio logs that I’d normally search out for in games like this. Instead of merely walking steadily along, weapon and sense at the ready, I’d be sprinting along to the blast beats. I ignored most of the “optional” areas and was powering through this game on an autonomous rhythm and the music itself had set me on that course. I wasn’t even aware of what was going on until about two or so hours in when I realised that I had rarely ever played Dead Space in such an aggressive manner before.
Huh, I guess that metal music does indeed make you more violent. Well, in video games, at least.
So to wrap up, this was a very gimmicky but very fun little experiment and you should try it for yourself. Now, as Killyourstereo.com utilises a review scoring system out of 100, it’s time for our fabled scores, kids.
So, as far as Deadspace’s ‘Gravity’ goes, I’m going to give it 85/100 for being a great EP that even after a dozen listens, I can still put it on – game or no game – and enjoy it as freshly as ever. It’s as long as it needs to be and every section of these songs feels so necessary for the larger release as a whole. Deadspace know exactly when to have the lead guitars take over; when the groove needs to be maintained and built upon; when the instruments need to be going hard and when the time calls for eerie ambience and vocal prominence. It’s really bloody good, is what I’m trying to say here.
Also, in what I believe to be this website’s first ever video game review, I’m giving Dead Space 90/100 for just being a fucking sensational game and for holding up so well after eight years, in its visuals, its gameplay, and also in its scares & terrific atmosphere.
Now, for my next trick, I’m going to play through The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion as I listen to Deadspace’s ‘The Promise Of Oblivion’ on repeat. Oh, boy.
‘Gravity’ is out now and you can buy it here.