One night in Cologne
How 'Metal: Hellsinger' forged an unholy alliance between gamers and metalheads
“Metal and games have always been for the underdog.”
As Gamescom 2022 wraps up for the day on August 25, I expect the Koelnmesse in Cologne, Germany to be a ghost town.
I finish my Kolsch at a bar near the south entrance to the convention center and make my way inside, walking against a small amount of foot traffic. But as I approach Hall 6, I am shocked to see dozens — no, hundreds — of people congregating outside, patiently waiting for the biggest metal gig in Gamescom history to start.
Mere minutes pass before the riotous thump of double kick pedals reverberates through the room as the opening band Disconnected takes the stage. After an impressive set, composers Two Feathers kick off the main show with the title track from Metal: Hellsinger, a new video game developed by The Outsiders.
The game fuses metal music with the first-person shooter genre, but it thoughtfully integrates musicality into the rhythmic rush of slaughters and shotguns. Despite what some people may tell you, it’s a whole lot more than just “Doom meets Rock Band.”
That much is abundantly clear as the game’s demonic protagonist, The Unknown, walks on stage amidst erupting pyrotechnics as all Hell breaks loose. Mikael Stanne starts howling the words to “Blood and Law.”
Revered musicians like Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy), Dennis Lyxzen (Refused), Mikael Stanne (Dark Tranquility), and James Dorton (Black Crown Initiate) join Two Feathers on stage to take everyone on a one-way trip to Riff City, suturing sludge and staccato into coherent chaos. Three weeks later, I can still hear the screams rattling about in my skull.
How was any of it even possible? These musicians? At this venue? For this convention? I had to know more.
“I mentioned [the concert] offhandedly to people midway through the project, but it definitely seemed too crazy to do,” says The Outsiders creative director David Goldfarb. “Like a lot of things, the idea stuck around. [Marketing] pitched the concert internally and won a lot of support for it, so from there it was a question of, ‘Okay. How do we make it happen?’”
According to Goldfarb, the main difficulty in orchestrating the concert was coordinating the logistics. The artists were in and the idea had transitioned from concept to reality, but booking the hall and synchronizing with the event staff was a challenge, along with acknowledging and respecting any and all legislation that could affect the gig. To say the least, it was an enormously complex endeavor for first-time concert organizers. Goldfarb says it wouldn’t have been possible without Funcom’s Lina Kvistborg.
“It's probably the same for other people arranging concerts around the world,” Kvistborg tells Inverse. “The differences might be a) They've probably done this a couple of times before, b) they are probably a bigger, dedicated team with clear roles, and c) they might plan their concert in the same country. It was an exhausting but fantastic project to work on.”
“It definitely seemed too crazy to do.”
It’s strange to hear about these obstacles after having experienced the concert firsthand. Aside from some complications with the stream mix, it went off without a hitch, with both the composers and artists putting on one hell of a metal show. While that’s attributable to multiple factors, one of them is Trivium’s guitarist and lead vocalist Matt Heafy, who provides some of the vocals in Metal: Hellsinger.
Heafy has been making music with Trivium for over two decades (it was his first band and first job), but he’s also been streaming music and games on Twitch for almost five years. Heafy cites early childhood experiences with Mario and Doom as particularly fond memories, but he loves the musical aesthetics of Metal: Hellsinger just as much as he appreciates the grisly game mechanics. Receiving an invite to contribute to the game felt like a dream come true.
“I’ve always championed the fact that metal is the most correct form of music for video games,” Heafy says. “When I initially heard the piece written with me in mind, I knew immediately it would be amazing. While metal is incredibly aggressive at times, I’ve always looked at it as a vehicle to bring people together and have that positivity nurtured. Metal and games have always been for the underdog.”
“I recorded the vocals almost two years ago. After playing the beta, I knew I had to redo the screaming, and then after we made history with the live show at Gamescom, I wanted to do the singing even better. Playing the game’s music live made me record it all much better than I initially had. I wish we could have done more. I would have loved to do a 90-minute set with Trivium as well that night. I’m very proud, stoked, and honored that Metal: Hellsinger not only had me in the game but flew me across the world to perform one 5-minute song.”
What many people might not realize is that this isn’t Heafy’s first foray into the industry. Trivium has been extremely prolific in that they are now in close to 20 games, while Heafy himself just submitted his first full video game OST for Martial Arts Tycoon. While he only had a five-and-a-half-minute slot at the Gamescom gig, it was genuinely special for him.
“I’ve always wanted to do all of this,” he says. “It was truly amazing to be able to completely let loose at a gaming convention vocally, whilst being in the game and also being able to meet so many amazing people in the games industry. I’ve been very happy to finally get the message out there that I am ready to start scoring games.”
It was also incredibly special for Goldfarb, who got to watch as some of his favorite musicians performed original songs from his team’s own video game. Even with no crowd, that alone would have been pretty damn cool.
But there was a crowd. While Goldfarb and the team expected around 1,000 people to show up, they weren’t prepared for the 3,500 metal fans who filled out the venue, let alone the additional 2,000 who were “waiting in the freakin’ hallway.”
“I am ready to start scoring games.”
“I’m super proud, although a lot of the pride is directed at our marketing team, who against all odds delivered a once-in-a-lifetime event,” Goldfarb says. “The entire concert, I had a big dumb smile on my face, not only because I was at a concert but because I was at our concert. Just being able to enjoy a show again when three years ago we didn’t even know if we would exist as a company, much less have a concert for a game we loved coming out… Whew. There were a lot of very strong emotions.”
Goldfarb also agrees with Heafy’s aforementioned assertion that metal communities are rare places of acceptance, which accentuated what the gig was able to accomplish.
“My experience with metalheads is that they are indeed the happiest bunch of people and quite accepting, especially compared to indie or punk,” he explains. “There’s definitely the vibe in metal where it’s like, ‘If you love metal, you are one of us no matter who you are.’ It feels really genuine.”
Watch the entire epic Gamescom concert right here:
Metal: Hellsinger comes to PC, PS5, Xbox Series X, and Game Pass on September 15.