There’s been a lot of hype lately over id Software‘s newest entry into the storied Doom video game series, and for good reason. The latest installment, simply titled Doom, pits a supersoldier marine against an unending onslaught of spooky demons, all while heavy metal guitars blare and explosions erupt and enemies burst into sprays of gore and violence. I haven’t played the game yet, but it looks like a fun throwback to old school first person shooters: all speed and violence and evil imagery. That’s just the kind of thing we dig around here. While watching some gameplay footage of the new game, though, I was reminded of the first Doom game, and how a mutual respect between id and Nine Inch Nails led to Trent Reznor designing the soundtrack for id’s next ultra-violent, ultra-evil shooter Quake. Let’s revisit that timeless classic and its excellent soundtrack together.
id Software released their very first Doom game in 1993. That game, a groundbreaking first person shooter that would set the tone and pace of the next generation of shooters, particularly multiplayer shooters, drew heavily from 90s pop culture satanism and heavy metal aesthetics. It featured a green-armored protagonist, the eponymous Doom Marine, battling the invading forces of hell on a ravished Mars. The next year, Nine Inch Nails released landmark album The Downward Spiral, earning international acclaim and allowing Reznor to become producer du jour in the American rock scene.
As fate would have it, one of the most metal and gothic-obsessed workers at id, American McGee, was a massive Nine Inch Nails fan. After he and the other employees at id discovered that Reznor had an equal admiration for Doom, id developers tapped Reznor to create the soundtrack for their next hyperviolent shooter, Quake. Building on the frantic fury and devilish aesthetic of Doom, McGee and fellow developers crafted a Lovecraftian shooter of monolithic proportions, housed within a brand new, state of the art engine that would catalyze online deathmatches for years to come.
Quake’s story revolved around a sole survivor of an interdimensional invasion at the hands of some sort of malevolent entity codenamed “Quake.” To combat the entity, players had to travel through a series of labyrinthine worlds, including Cycolpean structures based on Egyptian, Gothic, and Medieval settings adorned with flaming pentagrams, hellfire, and occult symbolism. Players were tasked with fighting a number of reanimated corpses, malicious beast, and eldritch horrors before finally confronting Quake himself, revealed to be the Black Goat with a Thousand Young herself, Shub-Niggurath.
Trent Reznor’s soundtrack for that journey is the perfect accompaniment for blasting mummies with shotguns and decimating demons with grenade launchers. The official soundtrack, which you can hear below, features 10 tracks of alternately pulsing and brooding dark industrial music. Some tracks, like “Aftermath” and “Damnation,” feature strong kernels of the sounds that would eventually germinate in The Fragile and With Teeth. Other songs, like the main theme and “The Hall of Souls,” are truly eerie, using backing vocal effects and heavy reverb to create an unhinged, disturbing (and insidiously surround-sound) soundscape. The soundtrack itself is mostly understated, using texture and tone and subtle yet driving backbeats to capture the feeling of journeying deeper and deeper into a chthonic underworld to face malevolent beings of ancient and evil intent.
“[The Quake soundtrack] is not music, it’s textures and ambiences and whirling machine noises and stuff. We tried to make the most sinister, depressive, scary, frightening kind of thing… It’s been fun.” – Trent Reznor
In addition to the soundtrack, Reznor also designed the other sounds, and for his work, the id developers included an NIN logo on ammo boxes for the naigun on each and every Quake release after the original. You can hear the sound design in action in the video below.
Reznor would eventually be approach to do the sound design for Doom 3 for the PC and Xbox. Although Reznor’s work was eventually scrapped due to poor management, you can still hear an early build of his design in the Alpha gameplay video below. Reznor’s work on Doom 3 seemed to evoke the faster, more frantic pace of the early id titles rather than the survival-horror orientation of the end game. Interestingly, Chris Vrenna, former NIN drummer, would go on to write the main theme for the game.
Watching the gameplay video for the new Doom below, it’s hard not to see this game as a fun throwback to the early days of competitive shooters, when grinding industrial noise was paired with Lovecraftian imagery for a potent and immersive experience. We can certainly thank Trent Reznor for his part in creating this legacy.