“With new blood-oozing enemies comes the reemergence of pulse-elevating music which persists until the final demon heart is crushed.”
By Steven Petite
One of the most widely used opening sequences in video games (and other entertainment forms) seems to be the “waking up” scene. A character wakes up to find a world in need of his services. This occurs in Metal Gear Solid V, Halo: Combat Evolved, Assassin’s Creed, Gears of War, virtually all of The Legend of Zelda entries, and a myriad of other games. The reincarnation of Doom follows this trope, but unlike other games that start with flickering consciousness, Doom doesn’t let the tension ramp slowly. Less than a minute into the game, after breaking free from chains attached to a gurney, I’m holding a pistol, firing frantically at the demons who want to feast on my organs. From the onset, it basically says, “this game moves fast, and if you try to catch your breath, you will die.” In order to properly guide the player into the intended flow, Doom does more than just shove hoards of scorched mutants in your face, it uses a sense beyond sight.
It’s not the fiery rubble of Mars that creates a lasting impression. Nor is it the impending entry to Hell that sets an ominous tone. For me, the moment when Doom showed its true self was when the first guitar lick emanated in the background. I’m standing in open terrain. Blood-thirsty swarms of enemies are circling around me, closing in as I struggle to choose a direction to spray my bullets. The iconic Doom riff chooses it for me, breaking down into a blend of heavy metal and rock; the music beckons me to run, jump, and shoot in symbiotic rhythm.
It’s not often that a game’s soundtrack stands out to me. That’s not to say that I don’t respect and admire the music in the games that I love. I recently went to The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses, a touring orchestra dedicated to performing the influential and timeless sounds of Link’s travels across Hyrule and beyond. To me, the mark of not only a great game soundtrack, but a vital one, is if I couldn’t imagine playing the game on mute or with personal music in place of the dedicated audio. The Doom soundtrack is vital; Without it, much of the pleasure and entrancement of the experience is lost. The fast-paced gameplay works so well because the procession of the distorted guitar and demonic bass give it a basis to stand on, and consequently, thrive off of.
The music of Doom serves as a gameplay element, in much of the same way as rudimentary staples like running, jumping and shooting, and despite the risk of sounding like I’m putting too much emphasis on its importance, heavy metal holds the entire experience together. While the actual experience falls short of genre-defining or even innovative, the most satisfying portions of the game are undoubtedly and unsurprisingly the ones where a “demonic presence” is detected. Put simply, Doom is a wave shooter, occasional traveling and platforming mechanics, but it’s always in the pursuit of the next cluster of demons. And with new blood-oozing enemies comes the reemergence of the pulse-elevating music which persists until the final demon heart is crushed. It’s a proverbial musical bookend for a story drenched in red.
Mick Gordon, the composer for the reboot, sought out a way to keep the iconic “E1M1” theme that Doom has been known for since its first appearance in 1993 while also riffing off of it to come to something new. He ended up playing the riff lower on the neck of the guitar, but when he still wasn’t satisfied, he found a nine-string guitar to lower the riff even more. The end result is a spine-chilling number that is incredibly dark, resembling a kind of heavy metal music that sounds like it came straight from depths of Hell. A lot has been said lately about the music of Doom, and while some have made claims that Doom is more akin to punk, make no mistake, Doom is heavy metal to its molten core.
I’m compelled to replay Doom, a game without a remarkable story or spectacular gameplay in theory. I’m compelled to revisit Hell to engage in the musical dismemberment of demons — again and again.
Steven Petite, who’s both metal and punk, often contributes The Moment column.