Game Music Saturdays: Danimal Cannon – Roots


How many sounds can you create with a Gameboy?

Apparently, a lot.

Imagine in your mind a mixture of guitar, nature sounds, synthesized piano, and a whole bunch of Gameboy soundchips, and you’ve got Roots in a nutshell. Created by Danimal Cannon, of video game rock group Arm Cannon (and sometimes Metroid Metal), the album takes one through a variety of genres. From what I can tell, the intent was the exhaustive use of the DMG-01  sound chip located in Nintendo’s original Gameboy. That chip has been host to some amazing music in the past (anything from the Gameboy Mega Man games, Mario, Zelda, etc), but has it ever been put to an extreme test of fortitude in creating a progressive rock album? Honestly, who could imagine it being used in that sense?

Look no further than Roots to show you something you’ve never heard before. The opener (and album titled number) is simply amazing. Cannon really brings out the best elements of progressive rock with a multitude of melodic lines crossing each other repeatedly throughout. I don’t even know how you create such catchy music that not only creates that same feeling of prog rock, but also remains something uniquely chiptune. Certain segments really exemplify that headbanging vibe of a great guitar riff without being an actual guitar riff. Then an actual guitar riff comes along, yet it’s not jarring at all to juxtapose the two in a single song. It’s such an excellent start that you might think that the rest of the album would suffer by comparison – surprise, it doesn’t.

As the album’s pretty lengthy, there’s plenty of material for just about any musical taste. These aren’t short songs, either. Well, some of them are rather short, but many have time to gestate and develop fully into real songs, not just little chiptune ditties.  “Forest Gnome Shindig” displays a funky, yet out of this world vibe that only a song named after a gnome could deliver. “Polywrath” amazes in its complexity, showing the versatility of the Gameboy sounds to fulfill the roles of various real-world instruments. “Agrobacter” uses acoustic guitar as a background to create soothing tones which crescendos, but never overpowers the listener.

Finally, we return to a faster pace with “Danimal Across America”, which I would guess is supposed to sound like the most awesome roadtrip ever. “A New Day” reminds me of the Duck Tales “Moon” theme from the old NES game if were played by a wavy and bizarre harpsichord. “The Big Crunch” is what it says, more thrash than prog, a descent into death metal as best expressed by chiptunes. Boy, is it heavy. Who knows how to craft the same feeling of those pounding double kick-pedals with a video game sound chip? Danimal Cannon, apparently, discovered the secret. “Synergy”, as one might expect with collaborators like Shnabubula, is appropriately funky; having soloist virtuoso Paul Wardingham on your side isn’t a bad thing, either.

Of course, I could just gush all day about Danimal Cannon’s brilliant album, but listen to it yourself and you’ll understand. This assumes you also have an attention span to listen to a seventy minute album in its entirety; it’s a lot to take in at once, quite honestly. Some people don’t like instrumentals, either, and that’s understandeable. If so, you will not like this at all. It requires some dedication to just sit down, listen, and take it in without getting distracted.

Which, you might think, is a weird thing for an Internet blogger to say. Anybody who spends as much time on the Internet such as  myself has some form of ADD when it comes to music and the like; sometimes it is background, other times it merely hangs their for no particular reason other than to remove that evil “white noise” from reality. Still, that’s not what Christianity requires; it requires full-engagement and attention. You might not think so, but there’s an element of training that comes from the traditional impulse of Scripture reading. To immerse one’s self into Scripture is to immerse yourself into a particular social setting and moral world which, at some point, has to rub off. Take Joshua 1, for example; who hasn’t heard this verse before:

This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.

Joshua needs to study the Law, the one passed from God to Moses to Israel, in order to do God’s work. That’s a tall order for Joshua, let alone anyone, but that’s part of the point. If you don’t think about these issues, how can you get the subtle details and important nuances? Life can’t exist on the superficial level alone.

So it is with Danimal Cannon’s superb songs. They take time and dedication. Sure, you could just look at them as some interesting chiptune/rock fusions and call it a day, but instrumental music always has a great depth to it. You’ll hear things you’ve never heard before and appreciate it in a different manner than the first time. Like a fine wine, it’s difficult to make a judgement based on a knee-jerk reaction; let it decant and then enjoy! It’s a darn good album, and certainly a pleasant surprise. Most of all, it’s something completely new. I can’t think of another artist who is using chiptune in quite this manner. While I wouldn’t call it a new genre in and of itself, it’s certainly a cross-pollination between progressive rock and the chiptune community which has yielded excellent results.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.