By Rich Howells Weekender Editor
January 21, 2014
Over the years, multi-instrumentalist Kris Huber has played in many different projects, but his latest involves his two lifelong passions – music and video games.
Originally from Nanticoke, the 24-year-old Bloomsburg resident has been performing live since he started as a teenager in a Dream Theater cover band called Ytsejam. Among other acts, including his solo work under Futile Effort, he was the singer for death metal group Pillage and the drummer for Ethereal Collapse, a respected local heavy metal band with downloadable songs on the game Rock Band.
“Blademode” takes this relationship of gaming and music to a whole other level, essentially covering songs from games like “Sonic the Hedgehog,” “Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past,” “Killer Instinct,” “River City Ransom,” and “Final Fantasy IV” with a metal twist.
“The first ‘Sonic’ game, I remember playing it when I was really young with my brother when the (Sega) Genesis came out, so that was a very influential game for me, so I wanted to pick something from that. Same thing with the ‘Legend of Zelda,’ the one that was on the Super Nintendo, ‘A Link to the Past’ – that one I wanted to do something from because I remember going to my grandmother’s house because she had a Super Nintendo that she bought just for myself and my brother and my cousin,” he recalled.
For over three months, Huber crafted all the songs himself, playing guitar, bass, drums, and even the Otamatone, a Japanese toy shaped like a musical note. The largely self-taught musician also mixed and mastered the seven-track CD, and while this type of music was totally new to him as an artist, he didn’t have much trouble adapting.
“My main genre is a progressive metal kind of thing, so bands like Dream Theater and Opeth, even older bands like Rush and King Crimson. They have these really long instrumental parts and they’re very instrument oriented, so focusing on a song that didn’t really have any kind of vocal parts or anything like that wasn’t really that difficult,” he explained.
“With some of the songs, there was only one or two melodies or one or two riffs or what have you, so essentially trying to make a full-fledged song out of it, out of one or two riffs, is kind of tough, so you have to kind of embellish on certain things and write in your own stuff just to fill it and give it more structure and give it a little bit more variety so you’re not just hearing the same stuff over and over and over again. That was probably the toughest thing.”
Having both his shoulders recently operated on didn’t help matters.
“I didn’t even think I was going to be able to get the songs for the video game album done in time for MAGfest, which was the primary reason why I was doing it. I still had like three or four songs that I didn’t even have drum tracks to after my surgeries were already done. So it was definitely down to the wire,” he admitted.
Recorded under the name Kroth, “Blademode” was born from a suggestion by his friend Joe Cammisa. They are both contributors to the gaming website Save/Continue and the SML Podcast; the name “Blademode” comes from an inside joke involving the naming of that site.
“They were trying to come up with names for the website and one of the names that was considered was ‘Blade Mode,’ and we all thought it was a really terrible name, so we just berated the kid that ended up coming up with it,” he said with a laugh.
“At first I was going to try to put it under a fictitious band because I didn’t know how people would react in the video game community knowing that I did all the instruments for it, if it was just one guy. I didn’t know if they would think that some of it’s programmed or some of it wasn’t actually performed, so I’m just like, ‘Well, I’ll just put it under a fictitious band name (Kroth) and maybe they’ll think there’s more people involved.’”
Huber had never been to the Music and Gaming Festival, or MAGfest, held this year on Jan. 2-5, but he couldn’t afford the trip to Maryland, so Cammisa suggested he record a CD of game music to sell at the convention and pay his way, considering the popularity of video game cover bands and chiptune artists at the annual event.
“If it wasn’t for him telling me, ‘Hey, you should totally do this,’ I probably wouldn’t have done it,” he acknowledged.
“I didn’t just throw the songs together; I put a lot of work into them, but at the same time… I didn’t want to take it too seriously because video games are essentially supposed to be fun. That’s why you play games. They’re there so that you’re using it kind of as a distraction and you’re there to be entertained, so this whole album essentially was just for entertainment purposes. I’m not trying to be serious.”
Listeners, however, took the project very seriously. MAGfest organizers allowed Huber to sell the 200 burned CDs he made out of his backpack to random strangers, using a “pay what you want” model, and succeeded.
“I was extremely surprised with how well the CD ended up doing because essentially it’s just a burnt CD. … I just let people pay whatever they wanted, and nine times out of 10, people were paying about five or 10 dollars,” he enthused.
“The majority of the time, I was making money; it just fluctuated how much on each CD, which was fine for me because then if people didn’t have a lot of money to give but they still wanted a CD, they could still have it, but if somebody wanted to really support it and give me a couple extra bucks, they did that as well. There were some people that ended up giving me $20 for a CD, and that kind of blew my mind. I’ve never paid $20 for a professionally pressed CD, so I was really shocked by that!”
Some of the songs featured solos by artists well-known in that community – Ailsean, Stemage, and Norg – which helped add some credibility to the record, and he played some of the songs live on drums in the festival’s Jamspace to a receptive crowd.
“I didn’t know exactly what the reaction was going to be, but everybody took towards it really, really well. Even just the people that listened to the music but didn’t end up picking up a CD, they were just like, ‘I can’t wait to hear more stuff from you.’ I was extremely surprised with how much camaraderie there was within the video game remix community. I had no name for myself when I went down to MAGfest,” he noted.
“Here I am with this CD in a paper sleeve and not one person was just like, ‘Nah, get out of here with that.’ Every single person gave it an honest shot and everybody enjoyed it.”
He earned enough money to pay for his hotel stay and food for the weekend, learning about the gaming music community in the process.
“I had no idea how high the demand really was for performers doing this stuff because I’ve never been around it before. It’s not just MAGfest. There’s Game Over Baltimore, which I think is in a month or two, that’s put on by the same guys at MAGfest,” he said.
“As far as the amount of people that were there, even on the second stage there had to be at least 700 or 800 people for each performer – main stage at least double or triple that. There were 12,000 attendees at MAGfest alone, so it’s definitely grown a lot over the past couple of years, and I’m still learning a lot about it.
“For some of the metal bands that were at MAGfest, I saw pits, and I didn’t think I would see that. It was actually kind of refreshing. It was really nice to know that there’s this big community of people that are literally into the exact same things that I’m into.”
Now Huber is looking forward to creating new game-related music and continuing to satisfy those two very important parts of his personality.
“With how well it was received, I almost have that exact sense of accomplishment from when I beat ‘Double Dragon’ when I was like 8 or 9,” he emphasized. “It’s the same concept.”