The music of Killer Instinct will always remain close to my heart, even if it was a product of its time. When I was a kid just getting into music, Killer Cuts and Gold Cuts were very influential for me thanks to their incredible mix of dance, pop, industrial, and electro-funk, very popular genres of the 90’s. Even today, these soundtracks from composers Graeme Norgate and Robin Beanland are regarded as some of the best game soundtracks. KI as a whole represented a proud, unashamed snapshot of everything that was “cool” and popular during that time.
So, when a new KI was announced at E3 in 2013, I had a miniature freak out just thinking about the implications of a new Killer Cuts album. Even though a new OST hasn’t yet been announced, Mick Gordon, composer of the new music for KI, has teased it via Twitter and even asked for fan input.
As a huge fan of KI’s music, I have to say that I’m extremely impressed with Gordon’s work thus far on his Soundcloud page. He’s clearly a fan, and that he “gets it”. He also seems to know exactly what other fans would like to hear, and is even throwing little references to the original music in his work.
But how did we get here? A lot has changed over the last 20 years, for games and for music. Let us embark on a musical journey of cheesy 90’s video game music and how it was reimagined and reinvigorated for a new decade of gaming. (Check out PART 1 here)
Sabrewulf’s theme, or, “Tooth and Claw” on Killer Cuts, fits the character perfectly but is very unlike the rest of the songs on the album. Rather than going for a pop, dance, or industrial vibe like almost every other track, his theme focuses on classic horror elements, particularly werewolf-themed ones. Dramatic violins, organs, and even a wolf howl round this one out. I found it very reminiscent of Castlevania.
Sabrewulf’s theme for Gold Cuts does something similar, but has a much more dramatic tone, with glorious 16-bit horn samples. It has a much more action-oriented feel to it, something the 2013 version would embrace… sort of.
Gordon’s take on Sabrewulf’s theme harkens back to the original “Tooth and Claw” track, but clearly has its own identity. Frantic, eclectic string instruments are used to great effect, creating the most unsettling of all the new themes. His amazing use of percussion and brief stops in the music also creates an amazingly brooding and impending theme depicting Sabrewulf’s descent into madness.
Of all the themes, Spinal’s seems to have the most natural progression from where it started to where it is now. The instrumentation used to create that erratic “bone sound” (forgive me, I have no idea what it’s called), has remained a staple of his theme since the beginning.
From the moment Killer Cuts’ “Ya Ha Haa” begins, it paints the perfect picture for the type of character Spinal is – unpredictable, ruthless, and cutthroat. For his updated theme on Gold Cuts, more choir chants were added to give him a creepier, more demonic tone.
Gordon took these as inspiration for Spinal’s new theme and created something that completely surpasses the originals.
Through his Twitter account, Gordon revealed that creating Spinal’s theme was a global effort, combining the talents of 20 people across five countries over three months’ time. The “Spinal Choir” consisted of 13 men singing in Swedish and Gothenburg, written by Gordon himself and Pontus Rufelt. Also, as a fun fact, the “horn” sound you hear over the “Ready” text is the sound of a Tibetan Kangling, a human leg bone flute. An actual HUMAN BONE was used in the making of this one track. How metal is that?!
The cybernetic knight Fulgore has been the face of KI since the beginning. His menacing mug adorns the box art of the SNES game, and to this day remains one of the most iconic fighting game characters. His blood-red eyes, dual arm blades and helmet plume are unmistakable, and a perfect way to end the Xbox One’s first season of content.
Creating a theme for an iconic character such as Fulgore requires a careful and respectful touch, something he has more or less received over the course of three games. His theme on Killer Cuts (titled “Full-bore”) portrays him as this unstoppable force that has escaped confinement. An eerie siren starts off this track, followed with some staccato percussion evoking the sound of clanging metal. Some effective electronic sounds and synthesizers complete Fulgore’s brooding industrial theme, a tone that did not continue on with Gold Cuts.
Fulgore’s theme for KI Gold starts off with some unfortunate butt-rock guitar soloing, a sound that has aged even more poorly thanks to the Nintendo 64’s sound processor. Thankfully, the crummy guitar samples are mostly short-lived, as the chorus features an otherworldly melody. Appropriate assembly line and machinery sounds depict a new Fulgore model being assembled midway through this track. Makes sense, since the KI canon states Jago destroyed the first Fulgore model during the original game.
Canonical accuracies aside, Fulgore’s theme for Xbox One is a total sonic assault on the ears, making up for any cheesiness in Gold Cuts. Starting off by paying homage to the original Killer Cuts track with the signature siren erupting in the background, Gordon’s new theme quickly erupts into furious double bass drumming and pummeling guitar riffs. Just fast forward to 00:57 and listen in awe of this track’s unrelenting ferocity.
At about the 2:04 mark, fans will notice once again that Gordon pays tribute to the past, this time to Gold Cuts, by incorporating Fulgore’s chorus, and it works out perfectly. The new direction that Gordon takes Fulgore’s theme strikes the perfect balance of being completely awesome and new while still paying respect to the original music, which is the mark of a talented, true fan. Well done, sir.
Main Theme and Character Select
KI’s Main Theme and Character Select theme haven’t changed much over the course of each game. The new ones are heavier, louder, and much more impactful, but that is to be expected. Their general melody and tone has remained the same, which is very good for fans of the game and its continuity.
The Main Theme, which has been a staple of the series (and one of the coolest main themes in my opinion), has aged amazingly well. This YouTube video uploaded by user Patricio Herrera perfectly mixes the three Main Themes together so you can hear their evolution:
However, I will say that the guitars sound a bit more muffled here than in the game itself, but you get the idea.
The Character Select theme, which wasn’t introduced as its own track until Gold Cuts, underwent a few changes, namely from being more dramatic to just straight-up-in-your-face metal. For Killer Cuts, it only appeared briefly at the end of the track “The Instinct” at around the 4:08 mark. Here, it appears as a much more dramatic and creepy theme.
On Gold Cuts, it gets a bit grittier and edgier thanks to the electric guitar samples. However, Gordon’s new version blows the old ones out of the water. Heavier and harder, the new Character Select theme hits with more impact than ever before. It really makes you feel like you’re pitting the ultimate badasses against each other.
As of this writing, neither Microsoft nor Mick Gordon has announced a new Killer Cuts album. As a fan it’s frustrating to not have an official release yet, especially considering the original Killer Cuts album came packaged with the game during a time when game music wasn’t really a priority for game publishers and developers. I’m confident an album will be announced at some point though, so until then, lets at least enjoy the evolution of Killer Instinct’s music!