Super MadNES Give Video Game Music a Power-Up with Heavy Metal Licks

Photo credit: Nicholas Mauer & Neil Schuh

Super MadNES have taken the video game music scene by surprise since their formation by adding traditional heavy metal flair to retro fan-favorite Nintendo soundtracks–a combo that would have likely concerned most mothers in the ‘80s. The collision of influences such as Judas Priest, Rainbow, Accept and Iron Maiden with the passion for Castlevania III, Batman, Megaman X and Robocop should produce one hell of a performance for show-goers at The Wayfarer on Saturday.

The Huntington Beach-based group consists of Ryan Iyengar (keyboards), Lacey Johnson (keyboards), Ryan Bradley (guitar), Josh Seguin (guitar) and Nico Saavedra (drums). The classically trained band has plenty of XP when it comes to creating their riff-oriented guitar and synth arrangements to ever-so-complex gaming soundtracks.

A bonus: Live performances include electrifying visuals that gamers and non-gamers alike are bound to find captivating. The pixelated gameplay background and music associated with the particular level in the game are presented in synch to create an overall immersive experience for the audience.

One of the most rewarding parts of performing, Saavedra says, is when fans express their excitement about the high level of difficulty it is for Super MadNES to play a particular song. “It’s not easy to play this stuff,” he concedes. “It’s a lot of notes. A lot of it is not meant to be performed. These composers for these games–they wrote the music, but they didn’t write it with the purpose of making it friendly for someone to play it on an instrument …

“People are so engaged,” Saavedra continues, “and the fact that people are so engaged like that–that’s the big reward.”

Super MadNES are wrapping up their summer tour, where they have been winning over fellow geeks and metalheads across the country. This year has been a success for them in regards to headlining shows, and their 2020 plans include an arcade-themed release with new action-packed songs that will be a major upgrade to their setlist for their shows to follow.

When the band initially formed in 2016, it was what the Bubble Bobble platform’s intro would consider to be “the beginning of a fantastic story.” With just three members three years ago, Super MadNES were eager to make their ideas become a reality and to take a unique approach to their band. Both original and current members have a genuine love for gaming, or as Saavedra put it: “We’re adults playing around with the nostalgia of the games of our childhood.”

When the band started, they had no idea there was a video game scene within the country, nor how booming it was. Fast forward a few years, and they can say they have been able to astonish audiences at major gaming events like Anime Expo, BitGen Gamer Fest, Retro City Festival, MAGwest and Replay FX. They have also performed with the notable composer Vince DiCola, instrumental power metal cover band Powerglove and OC locals 8-Bit Jazz Heroes among many others.

A few of the band’s favorite games outside of the ones whose soundtracks they perform include: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda, Donkey Kong Country, Super Metroid, Final Fight and Gradius. Gaming offers them a means of unwinding, having fun and keeping their inner child alive.

“Us as a band, we all came together because we were looking for something like that in our lives,” Saavedra says. “The band was designed to be that; it was designed to be a group of friends that can get along, that can have fun, that can play games, that can do music together and then they can also be serious about it all in the same package.”

Album art: Ben Hosac

Super MadNES can attribute their swift success to their strong work ethic and unconventional tribute to video games. The band has three releases: Blasters & Daggers (2016), which is based on Megaman X and Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts; Clockwork (2017),a compilation of songs off Castlevania III, Batman, Ninja Gaiden, Double Dragon and Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts; and Gothic Warriors (2018), which includes songs off the Castlevania III and Batman soundtracks.

The pairing of certain games on each release is anything but random, Saavedra says. It is calculated to create a theme based on how both games are played, their visuals and how each individual soundtrack might contrast the other to create some sort of balance. Saavedra uses the example of their debut album that features songs off Megaman X, a straight-forward soundtrack, versus Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts, which takes on a more orchestral and dark sound.

If video game music wasn’t badass on its own already, a heavy metal rendition makes it all the more stupefying. While some may think like Kathy Bates’ character in The Waterboy and claim heavy metal (or in recent news, video games) is the devil, that misconception couldn’t be further from the truth for Super MadNES.

“Heavy metal music for us has never been a negative thing in our lives,” says Saavedra, who maintains the genre is one of the most positive and energetic forms of art that provides listeners with a way to release energy and get going. Super MadNES, for example, is a positive band that primarily draws in video game fans who typically don’t listen to heavy metal outside of the band’s recordings and performances.

“If someone’s thinking that heavy metal music is negative, come to a Super MadNES show and we’ll show you how opposite from that we are,” Saavedra says, “and see how many people we’re making happy.”

Super MadNES perform at The Wayfarer, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa; Sat., 8 p.m. $10. 21+.

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