Volcanic Rock

Time for another musical list. The last two times I looked at forest music and store music. This time it's volcanoes, and other magma-infested areas.

What I, perhaps erroneously, assumed in my years of video gaming is that almost all soundtracks go heavy with the electric guitar when they reach the inevitable volcano level of the game. That's partly from wanting to ramp up the tempo to go with the heat, and I assume partly to do with how heavy metal album covers tend to be fixated on flaming skulls and chasms full of hellfire and succubi that look like Lita Ford and Joan Jett rocking double-guitars.

Turns out there's a broad range of what might constitute a "volcanic" track that the following ten entries just about cover. When you sit and consider what sort of ambient music best suits a volcano, there's evidently a few directions you could take it.

(As is usual, I've gone with one game per series here. I also can't link to the track in question in each individual entry, so I'll just put them all here:

  1. Ys: The Oath in Felghana - A Searing Struggle
  2. Final Fantasy Mystic Quest - Volcano/Lava Dome
  3. Atelier Iris 2 - Marduk
  4. Super Mario 64 - Lethal Lava Land
  5. Diddy Kong Racing - Hot Top Volcano
  6. Super Metroid - Norfair Lava Zone
  7. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time - Fire Temple
  8. 3D Dot Game Heroes - Biscrow Volcano
  9. Tales of Eternia - Efreet Gorge
  10. Street Fighter IV - Volcanic Rim )

List items

  • Oath in Felghana's "A Searing Struggle" is the Ur example of what I talked about early on about how volcanoes are an excuse to go all crazy guitar solo heavy metal, especially in RPGs. I mean, Ys music in general already turns every figurative dial up to 11, but this particular track represents when Ys III starts to get serious: the lava-filled dungeon the player is unceremoniously dropped into midway through the game has no quick exit or reprieve, and is definitely where the gloves come off.

  • I think the first time I got cognizant of this recurring musical cue of "hard rock for volcanoes" in RPGs was with Mystic Quest, which is a mediocre game that was unfairly granted one of the best soundtracks in the entire franchise. FFMQ's music has been fairly rock opera until now, but Lava Dome is when it really starts laying down the jugga jigga wuggas.

  • Marduk represents a crossing point between the first type of volcano-based music - the heavy metal sikis - and the second type, of which I'll discuss more of in a moment. The SSH remix, created by the musician hired for Gust's alchemy RPGs in presumably his spare time, represents a sort of delirious endless guitar solo that might accompany a volcanic eruption; it's practically a pyroclastic flow of thrash.

  • Lethal Lava Land's theme, which is also that of the desert stage, represents what I call "ethnic volcano music". Specifically, it draws from music and instruments from the Indian subcontinent to create a "hot" sound, presumably because your mind goes to tastebud suiciding curries. I always appreciated this kind of music as a kid, because it introduced me to a type of sound I didn't normally hear. Sitars and other Indian instruments weren't particularly common in music I listened to. Well, outside of the Beatles.

  • David Wise is definitely no slouch when it comes to atmospheric synth, and it was hard to narrow down all the Donkey Kong Country games for a suitable volcanic tune. I think Hot Top Volcano pips it, for many of the same reasons as SM64 above: you get such a distinctive sound from those instruments that, in my mind, is hard to extricate from the type of sweltering video game music they feature in.

  • Super Metroid's Norfair music represents the third kind of volcano music I regularly hear: that of the super atmospheric, too hot to think too hot to move variety. Norfair's lava zone music is meant to be heard for the first time by an exploring Samus Aran who is ill-prepared to deal with the high temperatures of the area - rather, the game intends for the player to find this place, become immediately intimidated by the deleterious effects of the heat, and then leave for cooler pastures. The music helps reflect this with just how ominous it sounds. It's a brilliant instance of video game music at its most gameplay-congruous.

  • The Ocarina of Time's Fire Temple atmospheric music is just straight up weird, however. It, too, presents a situation where it's simply too hot and dangerous for any sort of adventurous, rousing melody, and instead goes for the barest semblance of ambient music with some truly ominous vocals. This is not a place where you feel welcome, nor should you.

  • The last three games on this list are... well, they're pretty much cheating. These are all tracks with "volcano" in them, or are based in video game volcano locations, but don't really have much to do with the setting. I just like the music. Such as 3D Dot Game Heroes's Biscrow Volcano here, which is the sort of jaunty tune you might expect from a game not-so-subtly aping the Legend of Zelda.

  • Efreet Gorge is, likewise, a great Tales track that just so happens to play in a volcanic region of the game. You get a sense of the danger here, but it's the Eternia-specific organ-style synth that really sells it for me. I loved the bizarre instrumental choices in that game, and it reminded me of the equally synth-y tracks of Valkyrie Profile.

  • Volcanic Rim is the "theme" for Street Fighter IV, more or less, and is easily the most memorable piece of SF music since we first heard everyone's themes (like the ubiquitous Guile's Theme) all those years ago. It is still attached to a volcanic stage, though, so I'm counting it here. Figured I might as well end this list on a metal showstopper, given that it started the same way.