For Fans Of
There has always been a strong crossover market between music fans and video game lovers and one of Ireland’s more successful independent musicians, Gavin Dunne AKA Miracle Of Sound, has been tapping into that market since 2011. Dunne writes music across a wide array of genres – from metal, rock, pop, electronica, acoustic, folk, and even doo-wop, among others – with the music being inspired by movies, television series and far, far more commonly, video games. His releases on YouTube come with a montage of footage from the source material and towards the end of each year, he compiles all of the year’s tracks into a full album, which is what this review looks at. The album in question here is his seventh record, the appropriately titled ‘Level 7’, which was written, performed, recorded, mixed and mastered by Dunne himself (a massive feat, to be sure) and it was released back in December of 2016. As a massive gamer and as an avid listener of Podquisition – a terrific weekly video game and pop-culture podcast that Dunne takes part in – it was a no-brainer to check out his new album before the slew of great and shite 2017 releases hits my ears and email inbox.
The album starts off strongly with the slick, sci-fi rock anthem of ‘The Natural Heart’, a song made in honour of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (man, what a game). It’s by far the best song on offer, what with its tight structure, strong melodies and pop sensibilities, ultimately showing Dunne putting his best foot forward first. The only other song that gets its hooks into you this well is his GTA V song, ‘Payday’, whose chorus has been drilled into my fucking skull due it being the intro music for Podquisition. Soma’s song, ‘Ditto’ begins as a dark, atmospheric soundscape driven by dynamic vocals that slowly morphs into this overly aggressive electronic, synth flurry. Which captures the natural-contorted-into-the-artificial theme of Soma’s narrative and visual aesthetic quite well. Now, I wasn’t completely sure which game ‘Some Things Never Change’ was referencing. I had my initial hunch upon hitting play, but as soon as I heard the song’s first piano notes, I knew immediately what game I was looking at – Fallout 4. This is a beautiful song that nails the loneliness and wonder of The Commonwealth wasteland and is a grand, reverberant five-minute journey that snowballs into a solid climactic finish full of high strings, vocal layers, and minimal yet booming percussion. If Fallout 4’s in-game radio stations had had ‘Some Things Never Change’ on rotation, I’d have liked it a hell of a lot more!
‘The Man Who Rocked The World’ is if you somehow couldn’t by the title, an upbeat 80’s synth-pop tribute to the late David Bowie, and with its solid arrangement and chipper timbre, does indeed feel like a long lost Bowie track. As far as video games go, this is also a reference to the mechanically satisfying yet thematic and narrative cluster fuck that was Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, which also included in its OST a cover of ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ performed by Scottish musician James “Midge” Ure. The marching snare drums in the rather brief ‘Pawns Of War’ underpin the sorrowful vocals telling tales of forsaken soldiers dying on foreign lands, referencing the themes of the single-player campaign from DICE’s Battlefield 1. And, you know, the actual horrific experiences of WWI. Straight up with you, I was never interested in what Tom Clancy’s The Division had to offer, but the soaring, synth-heavy track that is the Depeche Mode sounding ‘The Lucky Ones’ genuinely wanted me to go balls deep with that game. I mean, I won’t – that games trash – but my peaked interest now exists because of this very song… even if it is really bloody similar to ‘The Natural Heart’ in terms of its structure, writing and tone. The 8-bit intro of ‘Hell To Pay’ gives way to a Meshuggah inspired down-tuned riff-fest that musically honours Bethesda’s 2016 demon massacre simulator, DOOM rather nicely. That game’s composer, Australia’s very own Mick Gordon would be a fool to not be proud of this homage, what with it’s tightly syncopated rhythms, punishing guitars and intense synths. I can only hope that Dunne explores these heavier tendencies more frequently in the future (where appropriate) because he delivers it very well and the classic metal/hard rock grit to his voice really suits that style.
Now, as I am incredibly biased, I must give this record points for not just having one but two Dark Souls 3 songs – the fucking epic, orchestral rock song ‘Fires Fade’ and the slower, more restrained ‘Forever Flame‘ respectively, the former of which has some great vocals from singer, Sharm. After investing 100+ hours into Dark Souls 3 (including the short yet sweet Ashes Of Ariendel DLC), I actually returned to From Software’s latest work and spent some time with this duo acting as my sonic companions and goddamnit, they were a near-perfect soundtrack for my favourite title of MMXVI. Alongside Dark Souls 3, Inside, Superhot and XCOM 2, another personal favourite game of mine from 2016 was Ubisoft’s Far Cry: Primal, which proved that ditching modern technology and the English language of the previous games was indeed for the better. It’s a superb yet familiar experience and the dark, percussive, tribal chants that make up that game’s song, ‘Kana‘, made for a terrific audible representation of the Wenja trib’s struggles and the land of Oros, with Dunne even going so far as singing in the prehistoric language that the game’s characters use!
So, those are the positives of ‘Level 7‘, but now the positive buck ends as we get to the weaker songs that really hold this record down.
First off is ‘Clockworks’, a reference to the Clockwork Mansion from Dishonored 2, easily the most creative level design of that entire game. Yet the song adheres to the game’s musical theme far closer than a lot of its peers do and it just idly plods along for four minutes, soon becoming forgettable (kinda like that game). Then there’s the sickeningly cheesy synth and vocal melodies of ‘Jet Fuel Heart’, an overly glossy song that could never hope to improve the painfully mediocre experience that was the 2016 Ratchet & Clank remake/reboot that Insomniac Games squirted out last year. As for Watch Dogs 2, you have ‘Numbers’, which is at best an average drum n’ bass track that wouldn’t have been amiss in a terribly campy ‘90’s hacker film. And if you’re going to do drum n’ bass, then at least do it as well as Shy FX does, Christ. Also receiving the double song treatment is one of Dunne’s all-time favourite titles, the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt with the Celtic folk offering of ‘Skellige Winds‘ and the rock-focused ‘The Path‘ (which also lyrically references his previous Witcher songs). As truly overrated as I believe that game to be, this pair weren’t all that bad… yet they just didn’t reach the quality benchmark set by other songs like ‘Fires Fade‘ or ‘The Natural Heart‘.
Considering that Uncharted 4 is the best of those four games, an entry that didn’t bother with the supernatural bullshit that the previous games eventually fumbled into, ‘Here We Go Again’ had some big expectations to live up to if it was to match the source material. And if Dunne’s goal was to instil a sense of adrenaline, adventure and grandeur in the listener like Uncharted 4 does, then he’s failed worse than David Cage’s pathetic attempts at writing coherent narratives with this corny rock song that only a very desperate Muse would churn out for a Hollywood action flick. Though, the subtle use of Arabic scales in it was a real nice touch. Rise Of The Tomb Raider’s track ‘Edge Of The World’, featuring Lisa Foiles, is nothing but a poor mans Nightwish (so…Evanescence?) and is as generic and as bland of a hard rock song as you could ever loathe hearing. The whole time while listening to it, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that if the song had been taken in a far heavier direction, like ‘Hell To Pay‘, or even going in a softer, acoustic route would have been better served. Now, it’s not like Square Enix is going to let the cash cow that is these new Tomb Raider games go, so I’m sure Dunne will have more songs about Lara Croft’s adventures in the future, and hopefully, songs that are a damn sight better than this!
The main issue of ‘Level 7’, as a full body of work, is that it’s just too fucking long, and yes, I’m aware of the irony being that this review has also been quite long so don’t bother mentioning that. But this album is 21 songs long, 19 if you don’t count the 2016 version of the Iron Maiden-like ‘Sovngarde Song’ for Skyrim: Special Edition (which just like that remaster, wasn’t necessary) and the male vocal version of ‘Fires Fade’, which sadly doesn’t hold up to its female counterpart. As a wise man (me) once said, “With having great length comes great responsibility to maintain one’s interest”. And Miracle Of Sound’s latest does that, just only half of the time. See, there are 10 to 12 solid songs here that would make for a great album, yet with the remaining 11 or so songs being present, ‘Level 7’ is just held down by cringy, dead weight. Dunne consistently matches the right aesthetic and sonic tone to the games he writes about (see: ‘Hell To Pay’, ‘Ditto’, ‘Fires Fade’) but that doesn’t make them inherently good songs (see ‘Jet Fuel Heart’, ‘Numbers’, ‘Skellige Winds’) and the novelty sadly wears off.
Variation is a great thing, and the talent to produce these mix of styles is admirable, yet with writing so many songs in so many different genres means that many of them feel subpar when compared with artists that stick to just one genre. For instance, despite ‘Hell To Pay’ being a good song, it could never hope to hold a candle to Meshuggah’s or Twelve Foot Ninja’s actual work. Finally, I think if you have a personal love or hatred for a particular game and Miracle Of Sound writes a song about it, then the bias about that game may positively or negatively affect your appreciation of the song in question. Though, I suppose that’s the risk one takes when your music is so focused upon the content of another medium.
1. The Natural Heart
2. The Path
3. Get The Gang Back
4. The Man Who Rocked The World
5. Skellige Winds
6. Hell To Pay
7. Pawns Of War
8. Fires Fade
10. Some Things Never Change
11. Edge Of The World
12. The Lucky Ones
13. Mother Of Flame
14. Jet Fuel Heart
15. Forever Flame
19. Here We Go Again
20. Sovngarde Song (2016)
21. Fires Fade (Male Version)
‘Level 7’ is out now, and you can stream it below. Also, yes, I did leave out Overwatch’s song ‘Get The Gang Back’ and the Game Of Thrones track, ‘Mother Of Flame’ because they both left me utterly cold and because this review was already of a mammoth fucking length.