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The Music of Metroid 

by Nate Andrews - August 19, 2011, 9:11 pm PDT
Total comments: 7

After twenty-five years, a carefully composed structure of musical accompaniment remains a defining piece of the unmatchable Metroid experience.

Since its inception twenty-five years ago, Metroid has existed as a foil of sorts for the rest of Nintendo’s library. In an era when the industry giant made much its mark with titles of infectious pep and catchy, lilting ditties, the game’s precedential lack of guidance and oft-bleak atmosphere were ostensibly the antithesis of Nintendo’s cheery image.

An impeccably unique vision for the sound design was an undeniable factor in the effectiveness and believability of the original Metroid’s environments. Composer Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka’s ambition was for the game’s audio to be a seamless, organic construct, a holistic aural experience to imbue the player with reactions and emotions relevant to the situations on screen.

This vision has stayed with the series ever since: Across the eras of its existence, the sober echo of Metroid’s music has expanded and evolved, though never strayed far from its landmark roots, set down so many years ago.

The Early Years

Metroid

The title track, an ominous boring of a single-note bass line and an echoing minor note progression—backing a cold, unyielding title screen—voiced the twin tones of the game’s audio accompaniment without hesitation. After sending single notes of unrest out into space, the iconic theme settles into a nobler, more enchanting style before returning to the emotionless drone.

The rest of the score follows suit, falling into either the category of unsettling isolation or bright resonation. The two styles are employed on an even basis throughout the game: The marching space operatics of "Brinstar" and "Escape" are matched by the plodding dirge of "Norfair" and dire, racing pulse of "Tourian," for example.

In addition to introducing a slew of memorable themes and distancing the series from anything that had come before, Metroid’s music laid extensive tonal groundwork for the games that would follow to expand upon.

Metroid II: Return of Samus

The originality and unprecedented atmosphere of the first Metroid’s soundtrack was matched five years later by the off-kilter, hyper-organic aural qualities of Metroid II: Return of Samus. Though several tracks (the game’s title theme, “Samus’ Appearance," and “Enter SR388," for example) capture and largely improve upon the layered style established by the first game, the remaining majority of songs are ambient affairs. Tracks like “Ruin," or the “Cavern” series of pieces are strangely paced, stumbling experiences, resorting to dribbling electronic beeps and boops and lacking the thematic qualities of a Metroid song.

Despite taking the direction of ambiance imbued by the first game’s songs to a literal level, Metroid II is successful in highlighting the interplay between low drones and high tension through its audio. As a whole, it’s certainly the least inviting of the series, but tracks like “The Metroid Hatchling” and “Ending”, which venture away from the organic into more traditional territory, should not be missed.

The Turning Point

As it did in so many other regards, Super Metroid signaled a dramatic shift in the aural style of the series. As “Destruction of the Space Colony” slips from an eerie whisper into a more menacing version of the well-known title track, the change in quality is nearly palpable.

Many tracks, most notably the theme, introduce and incorporate a fantastic blend of faux choral, brass, and percussion accompaniment to the Metroid formula. Tracks like “Arrival on Crateria” and “The Space Pirates Appear” benefit immensely from this new layering of older organic sounds and new samples. Others, like “Brinstar Red Soil Swampy Area," feature ominous, pulsing beats rolling slowly beneath piano and woodwind tones, adding musical depth to the environmental ambiance of Metroid II and adding space to what can otherwise be constraining tension.

The heightened instrumentation and introduction of background chanting/singing in Super Metroid set a deep musical direction -- along with its use of literal operatic elements, cinematic cues, and more pronounced examples of both burgeoning unease and airy catharsis -- which every game in the series since has followed, and often expanded upon.

The Prime Years

After Super Metroid, the series slept for nearly a decade. When it reemerged in the Metroid Prime trilogy of games, the structure took on a drastic new form, as did the music. The title track of Prime set the stage for what would be the fullest realization of the disparate elements from the past games, with squirming biological background noise, pounding rhythms, and a hauntingly melodic strain.

The GameCube allowed the Prime games plumb the depths of the tone the series was known for. The resulting diversity could already be seen in the first game: “Planet Tallon IV” exuded cold wisps of choral ambiance”; “Energy Core” was a focused electronic track with a foot-tapping beat; “Ice Valley” and “Wrecked Ship Frigate Orpheon” are an expertly layered pair of relaxed, exploratory piano pieces.

While in the same vein, Prime 2: Echoes was very low-key, a bit tribal, and darkly ambient --  an experimental sort of divergence similar to Metroid II. It was not entirely noteworthy, but it was consistent in its aural representation of the light/dark mechanic within the game. Notable tracks include: “Torvus Bog," “Darkness," “Sanctuary” and “Dark Sanctuary”.

The final installment in the trilogy, Prime 3: Corruption, was a stylishly detached return to form after the previous game. Heavy on choir and chanting (listen to the piercing, thundering choral orchestration on the title track, and the tribal, exploratory traits of “Bryyo Cliffside” ), it was certainly breezier than Prime 2 (“Bryyo Ice” is a synth-y stream of crystalline drips and drops), though more of a refinement of the first Prime’s music than any sort of revelation.

The Aftermath

Even after so many years, Metroid’s music remains infinitely re-listenable. In fact, talented fans of the series have long been crafting and remixing the source material into personal and varied forms. Essential listening includes:

Talkback

Kytim89August 19, 2011

Check out this website about a fan made Metroid music CD.

http://www.shinesparkers.net/harmonyofahunter/

Wow Kytim. That was linked in the feature already!

LithiumAugust 20, 2011

Metroid Metal is and has allways been my favourite metroid cover artist/band.

anyways, from the new harmony of a hunter album i'm really enjoying "Kraid's campfire ballad" enjoyed it to the point where i had to upload it myself when i couldn't find it on youtube.

Mop it upAugust 21, 2011

The Super Smash Brothers Melee version of Brinstar Depths is probably the best piece of Metroid music I've heard, it really captures the mood of the series. I actually feel the original game has the best music, despite its aging in other areas; the main Zebes theme or whatever it's called works well as the signature theme for the series, and the title screen music is one of the best ones out there for any game.

BeautifulShyAugust 21, 2011

A few songs I like from the Metroid series.
Super Metroid
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVUYyVfydqY

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9j0oinD6xE

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mj47pXTCKmU

Metroid Prime
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDReqFj4yeM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOgY3nTqUEU

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNM8e6rKqg0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QwjHWnG--Q

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgwGYmAH0BA

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUGEk-Y7M2M

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WaIoLwVQJes

Metroid Prime 3

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPD92f41bzo

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvcfrLKCtgA

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LuzAcqgABO4

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKfVgwp-rDE

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rHnfNmiAcM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9xq-vK7tNc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTziReWJlEo


I finally got around to checking this out. Freakin' awesome! I'm a sucker for the original Prime theme, myself.

Ian SaneAugust 29, 2011

The first time I played Super Metroid and Samus' theme came up over the little prologue cutscene I was thinking "oh yeah!  I'm going to like this game!"

Ever year I make my house all spooky for Halloween and that includes blaring some scary music.  Some Metroid Prime themes are naturally included but I also include the Mother Brain music from Super Metroid.  Though that song is only like a minute long and I'm not sure if any kids have come to the door during that exact slim timeframe.  So far its inclusion on the Halloween playlist might be entirely for the amusement of myself and my friends.

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