“Doom meets Rock Band!”: inside Metal: Hellsinger, the ultimate videogame for metalheads

the video game Metal: Hellsinger
(Image credit: Press)

If you're a metalhead and a gamer, we’ll wager you’ve turned down a game’s in-built soundtrack and stuck your own music on good and loud to slay your way through hordes of demons/zombies/exploding polygons. So, good news: upcoming videogame Metal: Hellsinger is all about providing you with that perfect soundtrack for scything through the forces of Hell. 

“I was playing the 2016 Doom and listening to Meshuggah’s Bleed,” explains David Goldfarb, founder of videogame studio The Outsiders and the man who came up with Metal: Hellsinger’s concept, ultimately serving as the project’s Creative Director. “A lot of the time, I found I was trying to line up my shooting with the beat of the song.” 

Admittedly, fighting your way out of Hell to the polyrhythms of one of Sweden’s most esteemed extreme groups is an easy sell, but there were many obstacles in bringing Metal: Hellsinger to life, not least in figuring out how the game would actually work. The answer came in making it a “rhythm-based first person shooter”. If you can shoot to the beat, you’ll unlock cool stuff and better beats, the songs themselves revealed in layers depending on how well the player is doing. 

“I pitched it as Doom meets Rock Band basically,” David says. “That was the vibe, but also to have it feel like an album cover come to life.” 

As cool as that sounds, the idea hinged on being able to produce a dynamic, unique enough soundtrack to bring it all together. Enter Two Feathers, a studio specialising in music and sound for games that was set up by massive metalheads Elvira Björkman and Nicklas Hjertberg. Founded while the pair were studying (Elvira game design, Nicklas sound design for games), Elvira met Nicklas when she joined his band, Overworld. 

“We both had a love for metal, but also wanted to make videogame music, and so started playing with those concepts together,” Nicklas explains. 

They’ve previously worked on a range of titles including Hammerwatch and Aragami, but Metal: Hellsinger is the first time the pair’s love for metal has been brought to the forefront of their compositional work. Onboard almost from the beginning, Elvira and Nicklas enthusiastically pitched the idea of creating original music for each of the game’s levels. 

With a vague descriptor from David to make something with “groove, technicality… melodeath elements”, they created some base tracks to use as a sample. Then they struck upon another idea: why not get renowned metal vocalists to sing over the top? With a melodeath foundation already in place, the obvious first port of call was one of the pioneers of the Gothenburg sound, Mikael Stanne of Dark Tranquillity (and, more recently, The Halo Effect). 

“Everything was prepared: the songs, lyrics, everything,” Mikael recalls. “It was just my voice there, basically. And then I asked, ‘Do you want more singers, or should I sing more songs?’ They said, ‘Well, other singers would be cool! Do you know any?’ I was like, ‘All of them!’” Elvira and Nicklas made full use of Mikael’s phone book to pull together an all-star cast of metal vocalists to sing on the Metal: Hellsinger soundtrack, including Serj Tankian, Matt Heafy, Alissa White-Gluz, Tatiana Shmayluk and Randy Blythe. 

“We wanted it to be expansive, to take you on a journey through metal’s subgenres,” Elvira explains. “We also wanted it to feel like a real album.” 

Mikael Stanne isn’t alone in his endorsement for the project, either. The release of a two-level demo in June was met with overwhelming approval, not least from one of the stars featured on the soundtrack, Matt Heafy

“It’s very innovative and the songs sound amazing. It sounds like my favourite Swedish bands of all time,” he says. “Gaming was my first true love. I remember playing the first Doom as a kid and thinking, ‘I want to make music like this’, so to finally be on a metal game soundtrack is huge.” 

A passion project for seemingly all involved, Metal: Hellsinger has been praised for its innovative design and intuitive gameplay. But if there’s one thing all parties agree on, it’s that the most exciting prospect of the game is that it could introduce a whole new generation to the world of heavy metal, each song and level offering a glimpse of a different subgenre, from the symphonic tinges of the Serj-fronted No Tomorrow to the pure Gothenburg brilliance of Stygia, featuring Alissa White-Gluz. 

It’s not an unfamiliar concept in the gaming world; in the late 90s and early 2000s, the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series introduced teens to the worlds of hardcore, alt rock and beyond. 

“I just assumed gamers would be into metal as those things go hand-in hand,” Matt explains. “But lo and behold I found out a lot of gamers and streamers don’t know what metal actually is, and I’ve been introducing them to that – I hope it can bring in non-metal gamers and make them think, ‘Hey, I’m loving this!’” 

Adds Elvira: “If Metal: Hellsinger can be the gateway for people to get into the beautiful world of metal, I can be really proud about that.” 

Metal: Hellsinger is released on September 15

Rich Hobson

Staff writer for Metal Hammer, Rich has never met a feature he didn't fancy, which is just as well when it comes to covering everything rock, punk and metal for both print and online, be it legendary events like Rock In Rio or Clash Of The Titans or seeking out exciting new bands like Nine Treasures, Jinjer and Sleep Token.