Gateways To Gaming: A Love Letter to Twisted Metal 2 and Morbid Angel’s “Gateways to Annihilation”
Gateways to Gaming is a new column where The Necrosexual discusses classic video games and albums that shaped his musical world and twisted his mind.
“…Welcome to Twisted Metal.”
...and I welcome YOU, holy hordes, to my Hack-N-Slash dissertation. A case study in extreme music and extreme videogames, with an emphasis on the classics.
This research is based on true events from my teenage years. As a wise pervert - me - often says, you always remember your first! And Morbid Angel’s Gateways to Annihilation popped my death metal cherry. Technically, the honor is jointly shared with Harmony Corruption by Napalm Death, which I acquired that same fateful trip to the Main St. Jukebox in Stroudsburg, PA in the early oughts.
Twisted Metal 2 reigns atop the throne of 32-bit carnage, and is the first Playstation game I ever laid my hands on that utterly enthralled me. It’s like Mortal Kombat meets the Road Warrior, with the “careful what you wish for” message of a Twilight Zone episode. This catastrophic cocktail is sweetened with a neon aesthetic, as its steamy animation could be mistaken for an Aeon Flux segment one might come across late at night on MTV. Pair this game with an incredible death metal showing from Morbid Angel, and their replay value is synergized for untold hours in a blood-crazed, virtual rabbit hole. But hey, beats heroin.
The first Twisted Metal innovated the vehicular combat platform, but its chunky graphics and sluggish controls makes it a chore to master. 1996’s Twisted Metal 2 improves upon its predecessor with a distinctive “run and gun” style of play, and thus captures the holy grail of gaming: vivid visual violence, a lovable roster of scumbags who embodied the “twisted” moniker, and YOU behind the wheel. “Cold finger on the trigger,” so to speak.
Gateways to Annihilation both echoes and abandons the musical DNA of Morbid Angel’s discography, which up until that point, had traversed to the edges of the extreme metal landscape, and evolved within it. Their debut Altars of Madness is a satanic sonic spell book that elevated death metal beyond the primitive thrashings of their peers in Death and Possessed, and Blessed Are The Sick is a cerebral follow-up to the evil equation. Covenant proves Morbid Angel could write the top-selling death metal album of all time without compromising their brutality one iota. Domination slows down and oozes like a viscous fluid from the sewers grates of fuming industrial towers. Formulas Fatal To The Flesh returns to the speed with the fiery intent of an archfiend straight out of hell, blistering like a meteorite through the heavens.
Finally, Gateways to Annihilation heightens the strengths of their previous albums with a more methodical approach. Like the brooding meditations within the mind of an insane monk, its attack unfolds with a balance of furious riffs, skin-melting guitar solos, and deep grooving rhythms that kick into hyperblasts at a whim. And it’s their most cohesive singular album—remember, Gateways to Annihilation also avoids their old habit of padding the track list with re-recordings of demo materials, a temptation neither their first three records, nor Formulas Fatal To The Flesh, could resist.
Gateways to Annihilation might seem like an odd match for Twisted Metal 2¸ because it is. The quick and brutish nature of the game lends itself to equally paced outbursts, like Terrorizer’s World Downfall, or Kreator's Pleasure To Kill. However, the reward of a deep dive through the intricacies of Morbid Angel’s masterclass in death metal excellence, is what ultimately minted Gateways to Annihilation as my go-to soundtrack to burn the asphalt in Twisted Metal 2.
After all, Twisted Metal 2 is made to be picked up and played again and again. It’s the story of a global demolition derby to the death. The last driver standing gets any wish granted from the godlike Calypso, a cross between Donald Trump and Shao Kahn. No sneaking around. No laborious puzzles or scavenger hunts to space out the action like water in a desert. Definitely no drawn-out dialogue that reads like a poorly translated Japanese soap opera. It’s kill, or be killed! The strategy? Seek and destroy your enemies, or seek out more ammo, generously sprinkled in easy to memorize locations, and in colorful forms like napalm bombs, homing missiles and lightning strikes, to assist in the murderous task.
A player’s success in Twisted Metal 2 lies in their ability to keep a cool head and sharp reflexes, attacking and evading in constant motion, like a shark on the hunt. It also takes patience, as one is all but guaranteed to meet a smoldering demise in their quest to beat the gauntlet. Three lives are all you get to endure eight levels, and two punishingly difficult boss fights—or else it’s game over, man.
So, I quickly lost myself in the dark revolutions of Gateways to Annihilation whenever I yearned to blow up deathmobiles with machine guns. The album even unfolds like the loading screen of a videogame. The introduction of “Kawazu” builds ups with a spooky chorus of digitalized frogs, I presume from deep in a Floridian swamp, or maybe from Trey Azagthoth’s backyard, echoing in the background as he commits similar acts of videogame ownage with his Sailor Moon-themed railgun gang in Quake III. The full band roars in with “Summoning Redemption,” whose rhythmic core beats like a double-bass war drum for nearly the whole of its seven minutes. The album maintains a maniacal tempo courtesy of Pete “the Feet” Sandoval’s inexhaustible stamina. His kinetic drum work on songs like “Ageless Still I Am” and “Opening of the Gates” prove a valuable metronome for one to zone out and home in on this game of cat and mouse, with cars and missiles as the pieces.
And there’s no shortage of toys to play with in the “field of screams” that is Twisted Metal 2. Almost every one of its 12 playable characters are balanced with strengths and weaknesses in regards to speed, special attacks, armor and handling. I’ve grown partial to Mr. Grimm, who is definitely the most metal character of the game. He is literally the Grim Reaper in a motorcycle helmet and leather jacket. Mr. Grimm’s screaming skull missile can kill most enemies with a single, well-placed shot, but his armor is light, so he’s easy to kill.
Mr. Slam, on the other hand, drives a plodding yellow construction tank that crushes adversaries with its front-loading claw. He’s armored and powerful, but slow, the video game equivalent to the crawling sludge of a song like “He Who Sleeps,” perhaps.
Another reason why this audio-visual mash up works so well are their tones, and how drastically they contrast. Gateways to Annihilation is Morbid Angel’s magnum opus for the millennium, a musical tapestry draped in occult mystery and otherworldly harmonies. Steve Tucker bellows the verses as if he’s a prophet who must deliver a message of doom from the elder gods.
In comparison, Twisted Metal 2 is flavored with “friendly violent fun”, to quote the book of Exodus. The nineties were a magical time of adult humor in dark video games, and a restless adolescent like me was giddy to indulge. Ahead of Grand Theft Auto, Twisted Metal 2 encourages players to splatter civilians. It even offers a small boost of precious health as a reward. It’s horrifying in the real world, but in Twisted Metal 2, bystanders are portrayed with cardboard signs, cheering like fans at a hockey game. How can you feel bad about it? It has these silly little easter eggs, too – shoot your missiles at the Statue of Liberty from the rooftops of the New York City level, and her gown bursts into flames, revealing a voluptuous Lady Liberty in a red bikini.
The bright color scheme of Twisted Metal 2 looks like Morbid Angel sounds, especially on Gateways to Annihilation. The Amazon level is covered in red lava, thick and flowing like Trey’s improvised three-minute solo at the end of “Secured Limitations.” One scrappy character, Roadkill, drives a tattered hot rod, and holds a ghastly resemblance to Trey Azagthoth. The Antarctica level is a palette of muted blue to match the frozen atmosphere, not unlike the cavernous complexity of the solipsistic track “I.” Even Dan Seagraves’ cover art on Gateways to Annihilation has a videogame-like air. The iconic image of its drippy skull cathedrals distorted by a black portal looks like a background from Mortal Kombat 2.
Twisted Metal 2 is addictive, because winning the game once is rarely enough. Each car has their own nuance the player must learn, to maximize their handling and firepower, and each character has their own ending that could only be witnessed, in the days before YouTube, with certain victory. This is again where Gateways to Annihilation shines as an accompaniment for repeat missions. The guitars are densely layered, but crisp, so one is destined to discover more subtleties with play. Erik Rutan shreds as a worthy fretboard foil to Morbid Mastermind Trey Azagthoth, with Trey panned to the right and Rutan at the left. Their distorted voices intertwine like serpents racing through a wormhole on breakneck tracks like “To The Victor The Spoils.”
And what spoils await the determined gamer, who finally conquers all eight levels, defeating both the devil in an armored tank and a flaming clown head as boss fights? A grand prize in the form of a minute-long cut scene, where their driver’s wish is granted. SPOILER ALERT - it usually backfires on them, in hilarious and tragic fashion.
Mr. Slam, for instance, wishes to build the world’s tallest skyscraper, only to fall off. Mr. Grimm wishes to reap all the souls in the world, but is left fiending for all eternity like a junkie after everyone’s been killed. The racecar driver who wishes to be the fastest of all time breaks the speed of light and ends up in prehistoric Earth. There’s something deeply frustrating about besting such a demanding game, just for your avatar to get stomped to death by a T-Rex. Helplessly watching the cast be made “At One With Nothing” with these cruel endings only motivates me to play it all over again, out of spite. Similar to how Gateways to Annihilation, at the conclusion of its 11 songs in just under 45 minutes, leaves me hungry for another dose: partly because the album is catchy as all hell, and partly to comprehend the gravity of its mind-warping sense of purpose.
More than two decades later, Twisted Metal 2 and Gateways to Annihilation remain just as potent a high, the crowning achievement for each respective franchise, whether they’re imbibed separately or in conspiracy with each other. Their venom is the vice.
Ageless, still they are.
Gateways to Annihilation released on October 17th, 2000 via Earache Records.
Twisted Metal 2 released in 1996 via Sony Computer Entertainment.