Released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1986, Metroid made history as Nintendo’s first foray into sci-fi, a story-driven space epic with state-of-the-art mechanics to match. With Super Mario Bros.‘s nail-biting platforming sections and The Legend of Zelda‘s non-linear structure acting as the foundation for their designs, and Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) as their muse, producer Gunpei Yokoi and the rest of the Metroid team hatched a new IP rooted in player autonomy: the freedom to traverse and dominate a hostile galaxy on their own terms. “If Zelda is the defining medieval fantasy franchise [for video games],” proposes producer Gonçalo Lopes, aka Shiryu, “surely Metroid is the equivalent of science fiction: a future where humanity left our single-planet civilization behind.”
That strong emphasis on desolation and exploration is reinforced by Samus Aran, the series’s cybersuit-wearing, gun-arm-toting protagonist, regarded by many as the first video game heroine. Philadelphia rapper Sammus provides an apt summary of her namesake’s significance in the description for Another M, her 2014 Metroid concept album: “For the uninitiated, Samus Aran’s identity remains a secret for the entirety of the original Metroid game, and only upon beating the game’s boss, Mother Brain, is it revealed that underneath the armor stands a beautiful woman in unapologetic glory. For many male and female gamers, young Sammus included, this revelation marked a critical shift in their assumptions about gender in games and the world more generally.”
Metroid‘s soundtrack, composed by Hirozaku “Chip” Tanaka, is a landmark entry to the gaming canon as well. In stark contrast to the chirpy, attention-grabbing earworms that defined its 8-bit brethren, Tanaka’s score skews moody and elegant, subtly amplifying the harrowing action unfolding onscreen. As technology advanced and the series matured, Tanaka’s palette blossomed accordingly, culminating with the series’s crown jewel, 1994’s Super Metroid. “Every single area of that 16-bit masterpiece is made unforgettable thanks to the stunning soundtrack provided by the system’s S-SMP chip, designed by Ken Kutaragi,” Lopes explains. “Every Metroid game succeeds by casting the player as a lone warrior either stranded or exploring alien landscapes. The soundtrack to these games paint the aural canvas that complement the entire experience.”
Every Metroid game, no matter the title or scorer, is about the journey—and as guitarist and scorer Ro Panuganti explains, the music embodies the same mission. “Metroid‘s music tends to have a beautiful, although scarier, sense of pacing to me,” he says. “You can enter Norfair or lower Brinstar and hours could go by while that music envelops you. Even when fighting a boss like Spore Spawn, you have these elegant but simple melodies going on, and small fills of strings.”
The wealth of Metroid tribute albums on Bandcamp, then, shouldn’t come as any surprise. So far, Samus Aran’s musical legacy spans a vast spectrum of genres, from alternative hip-hop and ambient piano to progressive metal and improvised rock. To commemorate the series’s 35th anniversary, we hunted down six of the best, most original Metroid-inspired releases on the site right now.
The relationship between video games and heavy metal is well-established, and Metroid is no exception. Conceived in 2003 by the guitarist and songwriter Grant Henry—a lifelong geek who’s contributed to TV shows like Steven Universe, also known as the video game composer Stemage—Metroid Metal reinterprets Metroid‘s score as prog metal with a post-rock bent. Inspired by bands like Hum, Cave In, and Opeth, Henry builds the original’s eerie synth lines into scorching arrangements that, while clearly indebted to tradition, showcase the score’s sci-fi power in new and unique ways. “It has become the band’s way of paying tribute to the music with our own vision,” Henry says of the project. “It’s not something that would ever fit in a game, but that was never the point. It’s for us—and for Metroid fans that like prog.” Varia Suite remains the band’s definitive statement, containing nearly an hour of inventive takes spanning the series’s history.
The guiding principle behind this electronic tribute to Metroid, composed by Portuguese board wizard Shiryu, stems from a simple question: “What would Metroid sound like if performed by Vangelis?” The 2017 release, created to honor the series’s 30th anniversary, gives Tanaka’s original a thorough “vangelisation,” its ambient keys and complex production reminiscent of the Greek composer’s iconic Blade Runner score. To that end, Shiryu made the album using a free virtual studio technology template that emulated hundreds of classic Vangelis Yamaha CS-80 patches. “The end result was so much better than I imagined in my wildest dreams,” he says. “I just had to keep going—all the way to the final Game Boy Advance game.” Synthwave fans, take note.
Mechanical Life Vein
Mechanical Life Vein‘s Scrooge Attack flies in the face of traditional OST worship. Culling from art rock, progressive metal, and improv jazz, the Milwaukee outfit treats the game’s dark, otherworldly setting as a launching pad for tense, labyrinthine live arrangements spiked with familiar motifs, like radioactive easter eggs in a topsy-turvy thicket. The end result is a release that’s a little Mr. Bungle worship, a little Captain Beefheart instrumental, and above all, wholly weird. Even the series’s creator is a fan: “Early on I sent a message to Chip Tanaka asking what he thought… I was amazed when he actually replied, ‘Interesting! You guys are so accurate to the original track.'” Samus Aran as a muse for improvised underground rock—you love to see it.
The Dark Hunter
An affiliate of Materia Collective—a major destination for video game music on Bandcamp—as well as the current head of remix label GameLark, Ro Panuganti is a North Carolina-based guitarist with a rock and metal background. Like many of the artists on the list, he regards Metroid‘s soundtrack as a landmark moment for atmosphere and dynamics in soundtrack design: “It’s a master class of scaring the listener, enticing them to win the fight, and get stuck in their head,” he explains. “From a metal point of view, Ridley’s theme is so fast, repetitive but impactful, and the fact it’s in an odd time signature really appeals to the progressive artist in me.” Across the record, Panuganti strikes a perfect balance between blues-driven prog and scorching tech-death, filling out the thrills with sharp interplay, seamless transitions, and well-rounded production. From the visceral title track, to the highly headbang-able version of the Metroid Prime theme, to the aforementioned, intimidating “Ridley,” it’s an unforgettable adventure.
Compact Disc (CD), Cassette
For all its cybernetic weaponry, space pirates, and sentient alien baddies, Metroid is ultimately a a story about humanity: More specifically, one woman fighting for good in a galaxy that destroyed everything she knew and loved. No artist expresses the story’s emotional core better than Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo, also known as the rapper Sammus. For the Philadelphia artist, the revelation of Samus’s true gender “marked a critical shift in…assumptions about gender in games, and the world more generally,” which echoed her own experiences as a rapper and producer working in a largely male scene. Her 2014 album Another M, which interpolates many of Tanaka’s original Metroid samples, positions Samus not merely as a bad-ass fighter, but a feminist firebrand who shatters boundaries—just like the upstate New York rapper. “Cybernetic Armor” explores the character’s traumatic backstory (“I was three seen my folks croak/ So they took me Zebes seized my old clothes”), while “Brinstar” reports from the thick of the fray (“Out in Brinstar/ You live hard/ You get scars”). By approaching decades-old story beats from a first-person perspective, and then re-situating them as fresh, forward-thinking, feminist hip-hop, Sammus enshrines the franchise’s thematic strengths, reaffirming her creative genius in the process.
For a soothing alternative to all the electronic and metal on this list, look no further than DS Music’s soothing Metroid Piano. The producer retools six highlights from Metroid, Super Metroid, and Metroid Prime, including such staples as “Kraid’s Lair” and “Brinstar,” into contemplative piano arrangements that wouldn’t feel out of place at an art gallery opening or classical recital. That the synths have been swapped for traditional keys doesn’t diminish the sci-fi feel in the least. Refrains still quake with otherworldly unease, the melodies spinning around in lazy orbit; the arpeggios drift in and out in soft cascades, like acid rain suspended in zero gravity. “The Metroid franchise has always shined in its world-building and ominous sense of atmosphere, so what better way to capture the alien thrill of space then with the vast sounds and timbres of a lone piano?,” DS Music suggests in the album description. No objections here!