Master Boot Record – Metal Goes ChiptuneWednesday, 18th March 2020
Making a vast library of music incredibly quickly, Master Boot Record has been routinely releasing new music over the last few years – be it in the form of albums or cover songs. But this week is something special – the band recently signed with Metal Blade Records, and Floppy Disk Overdrive is the first result of said partnership. Master Boot Record’s music is unique in and of itself, capturing a genuine heavy metal vibe through use of chiptune and video game music sounds – it’s an intriguing combination best left for the listener to hear for themselves. In an effort to get a better understanding, we fired off some email questions to the band to dive into how their sound has changed with the numerous releases, the impact of chiptune video game music, relationships between the video game music and metal market, and much more.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel that Master Boot Record has advanced over the years with your sound?
MBR: It’s actually an atypical situation because I’ve been producing over 130 songs in 3 years, and if you also consider the cover songs and the new album its even more. That’s basically one song per week. But if you go through the albums or cover songs you can really feel the progression in the sound. Then there’s one other conceptual peculiarity of my trademark sound – I’ve always been used the same core sounds: the synth guitar, the bass synth guitar, the lead, the pads have always been the same even though through the years I’ve been improving the mix to make them work better together.
Sometimes I’ve added some new sounds like for example in this album I’ve introduced the clean synth guitar sound which I never used before. Previously, I was updating the drum sounds adding a layer of Addictive Drums 2. With the next album I’m planning to use Superior Drummer 3. But it’s always been like this. One step at time. My focus has been always the composition though, and the fact I am working in a limited framework made of the same ensemble. I think it’s pushing creativity and really forces me to focus entirely on composition rather than fancy sounds.
See, the thing is nowadays there’s two main schools, one is that of modern metal where literally everyone sounds the same, they go to the same producers they get the same sound. The other, especially in electronic music, is that of having several fancy sounds for each track. With either of these tactics, ultimately the end-result is a super generic sound that makes it impossible to recognize it. That is something I really didn’t want for this project, so once I found my own sound I’ve just kept improving it and focusing instead on what really matters which is the riffing and composition.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel makes Floppy Disk Overdrive stand out from your other releases?
MBR: First of all, I think this release has a more complete set of sounds, especially with the introduction of the Clean Synth guitars. It is an iconic signature of my sound, as I’ve tried to have each song communicate different composing solutions and emotions. This album is a representation and summation of all the work I’ve been doing previously. It also has medium length and very long songs compared to the releases before.
I think the peak of my sound achievement before this album was indeed my previous album Internet Protocol, but that was still lacking something and was a very short album. This one instead is a more mature and complete record that can be a very good introduction to what I do. It embodies all the spirit of everything I’ve been doing, including visually and it also incorporates songs that are really different from what I’ve done in the past. This album in particular, has a lot of references to different genres of heavy metal, especially bay area thrash metal and death metal. It’s something I did because I wanted people from the metal scene to hear something they can somewhat relate to even though it is completely different and synthesized.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the idea come about to craft a more metallic and driving approach to chiptune/synth music?
MBR: I can’t really say how I came up with this because it’s scattered simply by a lot of life events, including starting to work on a point & click adventure videogame VirtuaVerse that I am developing with my team at Theta Division. Since it’s a cyberpunk game, we wanted to have a special soundtrack and at first I tried to involve other artists. Unfortunately, at the time really few people took that project seriously. Finally, at a point I decided to do it myself and started writing some tracks inspired by chiptune and demoscene music. That brought me back to the times when I was a kid since my family had a computer shop and we sold videogames, hardware and software from the late 80s till the early 2000. I was working there as hardware technician, help desk etc before going into a more specific IT consultant career in networking and other stuff. So, this really hit me in the heart and I started to feel I wanted to include these influences.
Coincidentally, I had already created this synth guitar sound with another secret project that was sort of a proto-Master Boot Record, that I ended up abandoning in 2011. I started to add these metal guitars to some songs but then I realized the result was too hard for some in-game music included in an adventure game. So, I told the guys in my dev team I’d use a few of those song that were too hard for a new project and I began writing more. Writing began on September 1st and by September 22, I had released my first 4 albums in a row! Out of the blue everyone started to support it and my album rose to #1 in Metal on Bandcamp without any kind of promotion. At a point, I decided I wanted to do a cover song of Doom and everything exploded more from there. Since then, I’ve just kept surfing the edge of the wave of all this and it’s been a hell of a ride that brought me ultimately to the record deal with Metal Blade.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you say some of your greatest influences are in developing Master Boot Record’s sound?
MBR: I think demoscene & chiptune music, especially that of Commodore 64, Amiga and DOS era followed by Bay Area thrash metal and classical music, especially baroque and romantic. Add some more death metal and black metal in and that’s basically the core of the influences that I’m mostly including in my music.
Dead Rhetoric: Could you speak to the concept of the band, from having computer commands as song titles to being ‘synthesized and dehumanized?’
MBR: Well that’s simply because I wanted to do a project that was reflecting my life. I was assembling computers and my job was literally messing with all those DOS commands and fixing computers for the people in an era where nobody had any clue. I started really young and I’ve been growing up among all those things. I’ve been dealing with every single type of commercial computer, console and any type of hardware and software you can imagine. We were quite a big “reference” for my area so I just decided to put this all in the concept because I wanted this project to entirely reflect my life experience and I think everyone can really feel this.
You can feel it’s not just made up just to cash into the retro hype like many are doing these days. I think that people can clearly feel it’s genuine, and all I’ve been doing is the demonstration of this. Even my last album, Internet Protocol, for example is an entire server and CTF that is a tribute to the early internet. It’s a full working server with an IRC server, a BBS, ftp, gopher etc that I’ve installed myself where you need to find clues to find the solution to the different puzzles and ultimately win a couple of bonus tracks. I mean, I’m not even hiding that I’m a hopeless nerd and into these things, lol.
Dead Rhetoric: How did Metal Blade Records enter the picture? What makes it a solid home for Master Boot Record?
MBR: I’ve been in touch with Metal Blade for quite some time. I started noticing some of them liked and supported my music, so we started talking from there. They were also interested in my other project Keygen Church. Then at a point I was free from obligation from other labels and I felt it was just naturally what it had to be done. Metal Blade has released a huge amount of albums that literally shaped me as a composer, especially in regards of thrash and death metal.
On the other side, I really wanted this project to break into the metal audience more because I am doing metal first, not electronic music or synthwave or other stuff that has nothing to do with my music even if it gets often associated to it. That is also why I am really happy and proud of being part of the Metal Blade roster. I can’t wait for this album to be out and bring it to life, to make the project grow in the metal scene and to finally make people understand that synth metal is here to stay and there’s still a lot to explore about it.
Dead Rhetoric: Could you discuss the artwork of the new album? It seems to be a bit of a deviation from your previous releases.
MBR: Not really, it’s rather an improvement. My cover art is always a mix of Norse symbolism and magic – Icelandic to be precise – and computer related things, mostly hardware. This is because I consider this project to be a spellware conceptually, a mix of hardware and magic that is cast thru the digital media to break the firewall of sponsored reality. In this case I decided to bring it to a next level. Previously I was mostly mixing images and this time I did a sort of ritual. I carved my own symbols that I felt in that moment into a floppy disk, and then I burned it and then scanned it to create the cover art.
What you see is actually a real floppy I have here with me. This whole process is very representative of the album title as well, floppy disk overdrive, and finally the album is going to be released on spring equinox like my previous one. Everything has a specific meaning for me. That being said, I don’t really like to explain those things in too much detail because I think art should not be delivered with an instruction manual but rather presented as is without much explanation.
Dead Rhetoric: Master Boot Record has done a number of covers of old video game music, such as Mega Man, F-Zero, and Contra. What do you like about these soundtracks to classic games?
MBR: The great thing about covering chiptune soundtracks from old video games is that their sound is really simple because of the limitations of the hardware at that time. This is a very important concept that makes chiptune what it is and also a thing I have adopted for myself since, as I said above, I limited my working framework to a fixed set of sound, similar to the people who composed these original soundtracks.
It’s amazing to transform those songs with my sound and most of the material in my cover songs are actually derivative – it’s never just a 1:1 cover. The majority of the material is totally original even though they always include the original themes. Sometimes, I also do medleys mixing different themes together. I think it’s been really influential on my albums and a great exercise to experiment new ways of composing.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your favorite old school video games?
MBR: Well, I can say that all the 40 tracks that you can find for free download on my server (mbrserver.com/warez.zip) are basically my most favorite games. It’s really hard for me to name my favorite games having played them all, but off the top of my head, I’d say Doom, Dune 1 &2, Another World, Monkey Island, Flashback, Syndicate, X-com, Zak Mc Kracken, Alone In The Dark, and System Shock are probably my absolute favorites.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel that there is a lot of common ground between video game music and heavy metal?
MBR: Absolutely. There is A LOT of common ground. Many of those tunes were basically heavy metal riffs done with the sounds of chips of those computers and consoles but you can totally feel their metal attitude. I think that’s also why when I’m transforming them with my sound, they are so coherent and powerful. There’s also a lot of metal heads that are into chiptune and old school gaming because people my age (and slightly younger) have literally grown up with bread, heavy metal and video games so it’s really something hardcoded in the brain of many, with me included of course.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel MBR has attracted people from synthwave or ‘80s-inspired music?
MBR: I think it has attracted a lot of people from that scene for obvious reasons and I’m really grateful for all the support from that scene, although I don’t really feel to be part of that scene but rather doing metal instead. I have no idea why people think I’m doing Synthwave. Synthwave is basically Electronic Dance Music with no metal riffing, most of the songs are 4/4 on floor with fixed bpm ranging mostly between 120-140. It’s essentially a bit more complex EDM influenced by the 80s or in its darkest forms is basically early 00 EBM / electro-industrial with some arpeggiator presets on it. Essentially, the problem is when anyone hears a bass line in sixteens, they immediately tag it as “synthwave” even though it’s a thing that has been done for 40 years.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s planned for Master Boot Record in 2020?
MBR: I’m working with two great agents, in Europe and North America, to set up a very good tour right now and getting a bunch of festivals. But in the meantime, I’m finishing the video game VirtuaVerse which will be released on May 12, 2020, including the soundtrack I wrote for it. Its basically my unreleased first work, which, is in some way more synth and less metal but still got some bangers on it. (This is the game anyway if you want to check it out https://store.steampowered.com/app/1019310/VirtuaVerse/) or www.thetadivision.com. After that, I’ll probably get back to writing and streaming live. For now, I’m just focusing on these things and then I’ll see what happens.