Remember That Time Trent Reznor Wrote the Soundtrack for Quake?


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.

(Photos VIA and VIA)

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  • Lacertilian

    Just seeing those screen-caps brought back a heap of memories!
    Along with Doom, Quake 2 was (and probably still is) my favourite game of all time.
    The online multiplayer deathmatch shit was some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing vidya, and I’m quite sure hearing the soundtracks so frequently during my childhood rendered me a metalhead before I’d even heard a Metallica song.
    Lame-Lizard Story: My neighbour and I used to watch a these two guys from around the corner carrying CPUs to each other’s houses while we were riding our bikes and playing footy or cricket, thinking they were the biggest nerds ever. One day we went down to the local park to have a smoke and there they were, bong in hand. After the initial shock, we ended up going to their next LAN-thing and became great friends, getting baked and playing FPS games at night while they started playing sport with us during the days.
    None of this “Siqq360NoScopeLadderStallBrah” shit.
    *pelts deliquent kids on lawn with 33.6k modems and berates with archaic l33t speak*

    • some 33.6k modems could be software upgraded to 56k modems.

  • Guppusmaximus

    I was absolutely addicted to the multiplayer in Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory. They had sniper only maps, weird obstacle course maps and those barrier(?) maps with the secret rooms to crossover. Good times m/ m/

    • Dubs

      A lot of my early PC gaming memories are fuzzy, but my main love was Starcraft. I first played it at a friend’s house in 98 or 99, I guess, and I became addicted.

      • Guppusmaximus

        Starcraft was awesome!

  • CyberneticOrganism

    FUCK. YES. I loved the Quake soundtrack. Good call, W.

  • Just gonna sit here holding my breath for a new Redneck Rampage.

    • Sploopy Thunderplop

      LMAO, I actually remember that one. Guess you’re waiting for a new Postal as well?

  • Elegant Gazing Globe

    loved this game.

  • Hubert

    Cool retrospective on Quake

    • Hans Müller

      Cool! I like that guy.
      Here’s a ridiculously long one by the awesome Ahoy:

      And if you want to start at the beginning, he also did one on Wolfenstein and one on Doom.

  • Dubs

    Sorry if those links were kind of wonky for a second there. Linking videos that are in a playlist does weird stuff. Should be fixed now.

  • Waynecro

    Mighty fine writing, W. This is a really cool article. I never played Quake, though I played the hell out of the original Doom and Doom 2. The new Doom looks pretty neat (neat = extraordinarily violent and gruesome).

  • Paris Hilton

    This is as good as the article I read about Doom now vs. Doom in ’93. LOL I’m such a nerd! XD ????????????

  • Ha, rad that they did the NIN logo subliminally in the background like that. In the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo remake, David Fincher made sure to namedrop too…

    • Dubs

      A ranking of NIN obsessives:

      1. W.
      2. American McGee
      3. David Fincher

      • Seriously tho, how fucked up is it to name your kid “American”.

        • Dubs

          Honestly, all this time I thought American was a pseudonym. Nope. He just had hippie parents.

          • Either hippies or XTREME PATRIOTZ

          • Waynecro

            When I was a kid, I had a lady neighbor named America. Shit blew my mind.

          • Sploopy Thunderplop

            Well, there’s America Ferrera (Ugly Betty).

        • RJA

          A good friend of mine from high school named his daughter Americus.

          edit: Unfortunately he falls under XTREME PATRIOTZ, He named his son Tauer (tower)

          • dang

          • CyberneticOrganism


          • Silly (stupid, really) kids names is a fiery passion of mine. Thank ye’ for helping me on this day.

          • Sploopy Thunderplop

            Well, Gwyneth Paltrow named her kid Apple. I forget what she named her other kid, but more than sure it was derp-worthy.

          • So if his daughter’s name is Americus (America), his sons name is Tauer (tower), surely his last child’s name will be Wahl (wall)?

            That would complete the trifecta of ridiculousness.

          • Dubs

            I know a young lady named Liberty.

          • *bald eagle cries in the distance*

          • Sploopy Thunderplop

            I had a friend in high school named Knowledge. Sounds kinda bold, but ridiculous at the same time.

          • RJA

            He named his 3rd child Eva – no fun there.

        • I’m sure someone at Anheuser-Busch has done it at some point.

      • Had to Google American McGee. To lazy to read about him though. Doesn’t look like somebody that would interest me.

      • sweetooth0

        you should probably put me on that list right up there with W. I literally have every NIN release including the Broken Movie and I’ve seen them like 5 times live.

        • Dubs

          Ha, you honestly may have me beat!

          • sweetooth0

            OK, I’ll admit some of the singles and EP’s I have are not legit copies, but most of them are.

  • Quake (and especially other games using that engine) is my jam

    i also saw NIN in the early 2000s and i remember them being great

    • Dubs

      I think it’s worth mentioning Unreal in the same breath since the fast and frantic shooter drew heavily from these early games.

  • Elegant Gazing Globe

    Additional metal pedigree –

  • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

    Scary stuff back in the day. The menace of being scragged by a Scrag and whatnot

  • Sploopy Thunderplop

    I actually thought he did the Doom 64 soundtrack all this time. Doh! :-p

    • CyberneticOrganism

      That was Aubrey Hodges, and you can get that soundtrack here:

      • Sploopy Thunderplop

        Yep yep, I Wikipedia’d it since I thought it was skipped over in the article. I might check out the soundtrack again, since it’s been about 17 years since I played the game or heard the soundtrack.

  • Dubs

    In case you didn’t see this on Kotaku (and I don’t most of you would), here’s Bill Gates hocking Doom.

  • Guacamole Jim

    Never played Quake or Doom (didn’t have many video games growing up), but very interesting writeup! When my regular internet returns and I’m not running off my cell phone data, I’ll rock this soundtrack. You’ve whet my appetite.

  • Count_Breznak

    The new Doom is…well, it doesn’t really know what it want’s to be. The mp is complete modern fps console peasant garbage. Actually worse than that (the “no weapon pickups” and “crawling-through-waist-height-tar-like speed” are the worst offenders). decent. But somehow always manages to feel like a boring version of Bulletstorm.

    • Waynecro

      Bulletstorm was awesome.

      • Count_Breznak

        A very underrated gem.

  • Pentagram Sam

    Damn, even though I’ve fallen out of video games for a loooong time and pretty much I’ll never buy another console again, (not snarky reasons, just… time basically) this article really brings back how much I used to be a cpu gamer. Shit like this, Doom, Hexen, Blood, Duke Nukem, Command and Conquer, d-damn. Had a couple other cpu buddy dudes where we’d use our SUPERFAST 56k modems and have long ass Nukem, Doom, Doom II, and Hexen co-op sessions.

    I remember I bought Quake brand new and prayed to the digital gods that my cpu would still be strong enough to run it and lo and behold, it did!

    Goodbye world!

    Alas, when Quake II came out, it time for an upgrayde.

    Cpu gamers represent, wut wut.

    • TrickleDownOvTacoKvltRiff

      Me too dude… a really long time. I owned Pitfall tho…

    • Sploopy Thunderplop

      Definitely brought back memories of Doom, Goldeneye, Kiliak The DNA Imperative, etc. Most I’ve played in the last few years is Audiosurf and a few old NES/SNES games here and there.

    • Count_Breznak

      Speaking of C&C:

    • CyberneticOrganism

      Hexen looked like garbage but it was still fun.

  • That Doot image made me lol real hard. Perfect. I’m really stoked to play the new Doom but I gotta wait a while, already bought Uncharted 4 this month and still balls-deep in Dark Souls 3. Great article, Rubba-dub-dubs!

  • Scrimm

    Nine Inch NOPE

  • RustyShackleford

    This is sick stuff. I was too young for Doom and shit (sadface) so I’m making up for it by getting the new one. Yep.


  • Sir Tapir The Based

    Remember that time Reznor wrote a good song? Yeah, me neither.

    • Dubs


    • CyberneticOrganism

      Bad tapir, BAD! *swats floppy snoot-nose*

  • Dave Vincent’s Perm

    Doesn’t Brutal Doom have an 8-bit version of Slowly we Rot?

  • Janitor Jim Duggan

    I’ll have to fire up my copy of Quake on GOG.

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