KILL SCREEN 029: Mitchell Luna of SHOCK WITHDRAWAL Was Born in a Bullet Hell

Metal

Photo by Scott Kinkade

Anyone who was around during the console wars of the early ’90s certainly remembers one of its most oft repeated slogans: “Genesis does what Nintendon’t.” A sleek black console with more power than its NES competitor and a library catering to a “mature” audience (i.e. those that favored a heavy dose of violence in their entertainment), Sega quickly hooked its claws into the brain of a young Mitchell Luna, vocalist for uncompromising grindcore fanatics Shock Withdrawal and Maruta. His praise of the system’s comparably fast processing speed and crunchy sound chip proved to be a sign of things to come for his future musical inclinations, but that speed was necessary in powering Luna’s gameplay of choice: Bullet hells. For all of the discussion of extreme difficulty in a certain ARPG franchise, bullet hells are a particularly epileptic and oppressive experience. Often filling the screen with enemy projectiles and forcing the player to make precise, hair-trigger responses in order to persevere, the perpetual onslaught of the gameplay engrossed Luna, making the Genesis a crucial piece of equipment in his formative years.

Though Sega’s presence in the console market barely survived into the 2000s, Luna’s devotion to the Genesis still goes strong to this day. As gamers deemed the older titles passé in favor of the early days of 3D gaming, Luna took the opportunity to buy up cartridges at steep discounts with many of those titles exploding in value in today’s ballooning retro market. Those purchases ultimately were for the love of the game, however, as most still remain part of his impressive collection and in regular rotation in his gaming diet. This library is treated no differently than any heshers meticulously curated vinyl hoard. “I feel a lot of dudes in metal are huge nerds in general,” posits Luna. “So of course you’re gonna like video games.” With Shock Withdrawal’s latest blitz of an LP The Dismal Advance set for release on March 15, the co-nerds at Kill Screen took the opportunity to swap war stories with the vocalist.

What was your first gaming experience?
That was back in the ’80s when my dad bought me a Nintendo. Classic! Like, the classic, quintessential, “Here it is,” with the two games. It was Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt. I think we all grew up with that. [Laughs] And honestly, that game still holds up to this day. Great mechanics and it’s fun. Who didn’t have that first level theme song stuck in their head as a child perpetually? [Laughs] That was pretty much my first gaming experience. That, or going to the arcades at the mall and looking at machines. I used to love just doing that. I’m like, I only have a dollar, but I could just walk around and look at people play for a while, too.

Are there any particular arcade games that jump out in your memory?
Off the top of my head? It’s gonna be a really funny response and not one of the first ones, but I used to really love playing that game Revolution X with Aerosmith in it. [Laughs] It’s just a rail gun shooter and you shoot CDs that explode and it’s really post-apocalyptic and over the top and absurd and really violent and it stars Aerosmith. That was just a really odd marketing choice. It was, like, ’90s Aerosmith, so it’s not like they were even that cool at the time. But it just spoke to me, you know? Just dudes in gas masks with machine guns and the mutants. And of course you have to save babes. Classic ’90s trope there. [Laughs]

Also going to the laundromat. Every laundromat had a Street Fighter II. Even though I was always very okay at fighting games, I loved just watching two dudes going against each other. In Miami, it’s very common for people to shit talk, you know? Watching almost real fights break out over Street Fighter, it was pretty fun. There’s always that one guy who’s spamming moves, doing the little M. Bison sweep kick or whatever.

I guess those would be early game memories. I could go on. My first Sega Genesis was kind of a life-changing moment, if you will.

You’re a fan of Sega specifically. Was when you got your Sega Genesis when you realized that this was a lifelong hobby?
I did enjoy the hell out of my Genesis, but I think I discovered how much I love games when I would go spend the weekend at my grandmother’s house when I was a kid and my uncle still lived there. He had a little gaming PC and that’s all I would do. As a kid, I was never really athletic. I was very socially awkward and stuff, so I would just play video games a lot. Using my uncle’s computer was free. As a kid, my mom would rent a video game over the weekend and we’re entertained for $5, [laughs] so there was a lot of that.

But I feel like I really fell in love with video games when I was at my uncle’s place and he fired up Doom for the first time. Actually, I will say, quintessential gaming moment would be playing the original fucking Doom. Also another game that stands the test of time. I fired it up not that long ago and the mechanics of the movement and how fast it is and the sound design and the music—honestly, I think Doom is also partially responsible for getting me into metal music. Those are MIDI versions of Slayer songs in the soundtrack, and Pantera and Megadeth. I didn’t know that when I was a kid, because I was so young, but I loved the soundtrack. I would just get stoked. And then later on as a teenager at a used CD store, I put on South of Heaven by Slayer and I’m like, That’s a fucking Doom riff! “Behind the Crooked Cross,” holy shit! And then the same with “Mouth for War.” That was another moment I’m like, Jesus fucking Christ, what?! This is something else! It was completely mind-blowing. I honestly think about it. How did they even get away with that back then, like, royalty wise? I still don’t understand how that works. I guess things were different back then. OG Doom—lots of late nights playing it in the dark and it was just awesome.

When this interview goes live, it’ll be the beginning of 2024. What were some of your favorite games from the past year?
I haven’t been gaming as often lately. I’ve been really busy with work and I work from home, so I try to get out and do active things a bit more. I picked up Armored Core VI, but I still haven’t finished it. [Laughs] I got sidetracked. I love the AC series on the original PlayStation and PlayStation 2.

I’ve been playing a lot of Binding of Isaac still, the whole Afterbirth+ version of it. I feel like I’ve been leaning more towards games where I can just get in and get out in an hour, you know? It’s just what my time allows as of late. Sometimes on a Sunday, I’ll game for a while. But I work from home, I live alone, I edit stuff in front of a screen for a living. To then go from bad screen to good screen and back and forth. [Laughs] So, I’ve been trying to not sit in front of a screen for eight hours. So for me, Binding of Isaac, it’s wonderful. I love bullet hell games, first of all. Secondly, it generates a new map every time, so it’s just different things, so many things to unlock. The difficulty can be pretty relentless. The story’s cool, the subject matter is depraved. There’s a kid who shoots tears as a weapon and you’re fighting all these demons in a basement because your mom threw you in there because God spoke to her and told her to kill you. I’m like, That’s pretty sick, I’m on board for this. It’s super original and cool. I always appreciate games like that, that just take this different approach. At first, I was turned off by the aesthetics, but then it they grew on me and it makes perfect sense. And then there’s also this weird humor. It’s just very well done.

Other than that, this isn’t in the last year, but I really love NieR: Automata. That game totally fucking blew me away. I platinumed the shit out of it. I rarely go for every achievement, but that game truly spoke to me. I was legit crying during some of the ending scenes. It’s just so emotionally intense and such deep characters. It’s this bleak dystopian future and the gameplay is incredible, first of all. There’s bullet hell elements in that. Anytime there’s a barrage of bullets and things flying at you and you have to evade and just shoot, that’s my favorite type of gaming. A masochist, if you will.

When you were younger then, did you really enjoy some of the side-scroller shooters like Gradius?
Dude, abso-fucking-lutely. I used to play Thunder Force III. That was my favorite one on the Sega Genesis. There’s this game I had—well, I still have it—called Hellfire, which is just basically space side-scrolling shooter. I still honestly play those a lot. Again, something I could do in half an hour. You get in, either you kick ass or you get completely annihilated and the game is done in half an hour to 40 minutes. It’s honestly the grindcore of video gaming, bullet hell shooters. Like, straight up. It’s just fast and relentless and you just gotta go for it. There’s not much time to think, it’s all twitch responses. I absolutely love them. A lot of the Treasure shooters, like Radiant Silvergun on Sega Saturn or Ikaruga later on. Very overwhelming game [Ikaruga]. It takes a while to memorize all the patterns, too. It’s just such a cool concept, to have to change polarity according to what types of shots are being fired at you and you absorb the same color. It takes a lot of skill to master that game. Really cool looking enemies, really great soundtrack. It’s kind of the whole package. You can beat the game in 45 minutes or just die trying.

Would you say that video games have either had an impact either on your musical or visual sensibilities?
Oh, totally. Going back to the bullet hell thing, I like any sort of media or visual medium that just feels overwhelming. I love Tetsuo: The Iron Man, one of my favorite films in the world just because it’s just coming at you constantly, and I also enjoy music that is just constantly pummeling you. Some of my favorite albums in the world are, like, 20, 21 minutes [and] it’s done. I like anything that’s just speed. You could apply that to almost anything. Everything fast, it just speaks to me.

Typically your lyrical content is about much more serious, real life kinds of situations. Have there been any video games that have influenced your lyrics at all?
With some of the old Maruta stuff, there were a few songs that were inspired by video games. There was a song on the last record we did [2015’s Remain Dystopian] called “Durandal,” which was a reference to Marathon 2, the old Bungee first-person shooter. Marathon was originally a Mac game, and then by the time part 2 came out, they’re like, “Okay, we want to make money, so let’s put this on PC as well.” But it was one of those where it’s a pretty open world, so you’re discovering this giant map. It was back when you would actually read everything happening in the game. You go to some kiosk and you’re reading it’s like, “Go hit this button over there.” You had this A.I. construct kind of guiding you. I wrote these kind of ambiguous references to that. I feel like little parts here and there, I’ll throw in a little silly Easter egg that no one will really get. It’s a sort of nod to what Jon Chang and Discordance Axis would do. He’d always have video game references in a lot of his songs. So, I throw one in here and there just for fun. Not so much with the new Shock Withdrawal stuff. That took more of a personal, internal approach. I even stopped talking about social things as much because I felt like it just gets redundant.

These days, you’re a console exclusive gamer. Why is that?
I used to game on PC in the ’90s, early 2000s when I was a teenager. I used to love playing games online. This was back in dial-up modem days, I would play Doom, I would play Command & Conquer. As I got older, I started working jobs that required me to be in front of a computer all the time. Right now, I’m a video editor. I’ve been editing videos for 10, 12 years at this point, maybe more. I don’t know. What is time? I just don’t like being at the same place where I work to game anymore.

Was that the tipping point when you stopped spending much time on PC or did you check out earlier?
I checked out earlier for sure. I feel like back then, when 3D accelerator cards started becoming a thing, I remember the hardware was rapidly evolving. I think I was looking forward to playing—you’re gonna laugh—Daikatana, because it was the John Romero game. [Laughs] I didn’t miss out on much. But I couldn’t play it on my machine because I didn’t have the right hardware, whereas I can just get a PlayStation and not have to worry about this anymore. It was just being disappointed constantly, or like, Oh man, I got Quake 2 running, then it’s just laggy. So, that was one of the reasons for sure—monetary restraint, not being able to afford it.

Now as an adult, I just really like to get away from this station that I’m sitting in right now and just sit on the couch, press the button, grab the controller, interface is there, boom boom, and just play, none of the distractions. Everything’s tethered and connected to the internet and I’ll get notifications on my Outlook if a new email comes in or something and I’m really bad at being able to turn that mechanism off in my brain. What’s going on there? It could be urgent. But I think this is at fault, too. [Holds up smartphone]

Are there any personal favorites in terms of consoles?
The Sega Genesis for me, 100 percent. Growing up during the epic Super Nintendo versus Sega Genesis war. I feel like console wars are not a thing anymore. You’re gonna play a game on a new Xbox and a new PS5, you’re not gonna notice any difference graphically besides the controllers being different. That’s it. But back then in the ’90s, playing a game, just the experience of the graphics and the sound on a Super Nintendo was so much more different than a Sega Genesis. It was such a strange time, too, where there would be a game with the same exact name, but it’s a completely different game on both consoles, which is just insane to me. I remember Beavis and Butt-Head on Genesis was an RPG and on Super Nintendo it was a really crappy side-scroller.

The Genesis was a little more raw—wasn’t as graphically capable, but it was faster. People will argue about the Genesis sound chip and how Super Nintendo sounded better. Super Nintendo definitely sounded cleaner, but I loved how abrasive the Genesis sound chip is. The Genesis is way more fucking metal than Super Nintendo ever was, I’m sorry.

All of the good side-scrolling shooters were on the Genesis because the Super Nintendo couldn’t handle the speed. I remember being super jealous that R-Type III: Third Lightning was a Super Nintendo exclusive. I’m like, Fuck! Because I loved R-Type. And then I went to a friend’s house and we rented it and it would just slow the fuck down. It just couldn’t keep up. So, bullet hell shooters, Genesis all day, but then I would see my friends playing Super Metroid And I was like, Fuck, man. I’m so jealous. That game looks incredible! I only had one console back then. I was very jealous of Super Metroid and very jealous of Mega Man X. Also—ripping fucking soundtrack. That soundtrack rules. Any Mega Man soundtrack really, but X was phenomenal.

Did your excitement for the Genesis carry over to the Saturn and the Dreamcast?
I never owned a Saturn when it came out because it came and went so quickly. I originally was stoked on a Saturn and it didn’t do well, and then I ended up saving my hard-earned cash for a PlayStation. That’s what I ended up getting, which was a wise choice, I think.

I bought a Saturn years later, mostly to play import games and bullet hell shooters and stuff. I still play it to this day. I still have that, my Sega Genesis, my PlayStation 2. I figured out ways to get an RGB out through a cable and then I run it through a Framemeister, this upscaler. I play games on their original hardware on my 4K TV with the sound blasting. I love the aspect of, Here’s this old piece of machinery and you’re gonna figure out the best way to get this signal out to this modern television and get it to display as correctly as possible. I’m ashamed to admit how much money I’ve spent sometimes on getting this done the right way. [Laughs] It looks so crisp and you get no lag. With emulators and stuff, there’s input lag and with bullet hell shooters, you need every split second, it needs to be accurate and smooth. There’s times I would play this game MUSHA on an emulator and I’m like, God, I fucking suck at this. And then I’ll fire it up on my hardware and I’m like, Oh, I’m killing it. That slight little delay changes the game completely. And then sometimes the music doesn’t sound the same way. That OG hardware, that clanky, robotic Sega Genesis chip is just fucking awesome. It brings much joy to me.

I [James] can understand how for some people, emulators are the way to go if they don’t have the space or the budget. But there’s nothing like sitting down with your old Sega Genesis, popping in that cart of Sonic 1 and getting out your old three-button controller.
Absolutely. I feel like most metalheads are nerds and collectors in general. We tend to just enjoy collecting media. Having a wall of cartridges is just fucking cool. It’s sad—I do play them still, not as often as I’d like just because not having all this time at my disposal. But there are nights where I’ll have a few friends over and we’ll have some beers and play Mega Bomberman or some Sunset Riders. Actually, Contra: Hard Corps is probably one of my favorite games of all time for the Genesis. Dude, the game is incredible. Way better than Contra 3, I don’t care what anyone says. That game, it blew my mind back in day. There’s, like, six different endings and you could pick different paths and fight different bosses and every boss in that game is fucking incredible. Just designed so well and really cool looking, pushing that 16-bit hardware to its fucking limits. Also, great soundtrack.

You are, or at least at one point, considered yourself a retro game collector. How did this come about?
Honestly, it started way back in the day, going back to middle school, even. People had moved on and were playing Super Nintendo and I would ask my friends, “Hey, do you have old Nintendo games?” “Nintendo, like, the first one? Yeah, you can have them, I don’t want them,” because they weren’t cool anymore. I still have a huge stack of games to this day from that era. Me and my best friend at the time would just enjoy playing these older games. We were just fucking nerds. And then in high school, I loved going to flea markets and just cleaning house with all the Sega Genesis stuff. I look back, I’m like, Man, I wish I would have bought everything, because it’s, like, quadrupled in value, even more than that.

It’s insane how much retro games have gone up in price and honestly, that’s one of the reasons I stopped doing it. You’ll go somewhere now like a flea market or a store and it’s like, “I have a copy of Streets of Rage 2—$60.” I’m like, “Dude, that was such a common cartridge. How are you like selling it for that much?” That is insane to me. I’ve debated selling some of my stuff for that same reason. But that’s a full-time job on its own, packing and taking photos and going to the post office. I just don’t have the bandwidth to do that. But that hunt for old games years back was just so much fun. It was just a cool hobby and even seeing something you’ve never heard of and like, That cover looks cool That’s $5, $10. Yeah, let’s do it. I sort of got that every cartridge is, like, $30 on the cheap. It’s wild.

What would you say is the the crown jewel of your retro game collection?
I have a copy of Snatcher for Sega CD, which goes for, like, $1,000 or something at this point, sometimes $6,000 or $7,000. It’s a great game. I don’t know if it’s worth that much, but it’s fucking amazing. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s an old Hideo Kojima RPG and it’s this cyberpunk point-and-click adventure. The animation is fucking amazing. It is really cool looking, great voice acting. I’m a fan of point-and-click adventure games. Not really a thing anymore. There was this other one called Rise of the Dragon on Sega CD that was another post-apocalyptic point-and-click. It is really fun.

What would you say are some of the personal highlights of the collection for you that would be titles that people wouldn’t necessarily know?
One of my favorite shooters—it goes for maybe $250, $300—it’s called MUSHA. Metallic Uniframe Super Hybrid Armor, I think is what it stands for, which is the most Japanese and awesome thing. But it’s a bullet hell shooter. You’re a big mech, really cool soundtrack, the enemies are really cool-looking giant robots. Anything with giant mechs just shooting the shit out of each other is cool, I think.

I have a Japanese copy—I think it was only made in Japan, never made a U.S. version of it—Alien Soldier, the Treasure game. Check it out. It’s fucking awesome. Anything Treasure makes is worth playing. Even the McDonald’s game they did [McDonald’s Treasure Land Adventure] was awesome. It was just a great platformer. It’s similar to Gunstar Heroes, but the mechanics, it takes a while to get used to. It’s kind of like a boss rush game, almost. You’ll go in, it’s run-and-gun, there’s a few segments and then you get to a boss. You beat the boss, you walk for another 30 seconds then boom, another one. You just keep getting hit by these giant epic boss battles, and then it’s just trying to figure out what attack damages that enemy. You have four different guns you can use and you’re a weird cyborg bird creature. It’s just a really neat game.

By no means a rare game, but Shinobi 3 for the Sega Genesis. That to me is one of the best gaming experiences I ever had as a kid. You’re this badass ninja, all of a sudden, you’re at this toxic waste plant fighting this cyborg brain. I’m like, This is amazing! [The movement] was just so fluid and it just felt so good to pull those moves off. You do the spin where you throw 10 shurikens at the same time and you just wipe everything out. There was a Maruta song called “Body Weapon,” and there was a level called “Body Weapon” in Shinobi 3 where the floor is these weird, gross, body horror tentacle things and you could just sink and die if you don’t move. It’s so cool. That game is just so creative and fucking amazing. You fought this weird mechanical Godzilla thing at one point. Also, one of those games where you had to read the manual. I first started playing it, I’m like, Wait a minute, when you pause the screen, you can change your ninjitsu attack? There’s the flame one and the one that you have a force field and one where you can jump higher and stuff because it multiplies you. Awesome game, top notch. Kind of a perfect 10 in my book.

Did you watch any of the the Game Awards trailers?
My little brother sent me that Sega thing. It looks cool. I’m a little bummed Shinobi has that cell-shaded cartoon look, but I can get over it.

Is there any other Sega names that you’d love to see them pull out of the hat in the next trailer?
You know what’d be cool? A new Vectorman side scroller would be pretty sick. I remember they tried to make that 3D and it got cancelled. It was being developed and then it didn’t work out. But I love those first two Vectorman games. They’re really neat.

I would love another Thunder Force game. That wasn’t a Sega exclusive, but III and IV were just so fucking good, and then V on PS1 was great and just unrelentingly difficult. I think they made a VI, but I never got a copy of that one. I’d love a new Gradius game. I know that’s not Sega but, like, God dammit. The fuck, Konami? So many great Konami IPs that are just sitting there, collecting dust. It makes no sense. Why aren’t we getting a sick new Castlevania game? Why aren’t we getting another Contra? Another Gradius? Sunset Riders, too. Why not? They were the kings of 16-bit era, honestly. Anytime you saw that Konami logo, you’re gonna play that fucking game and it’s gonna rule.

You get people who are picking up the pieces of it, though. I mean, the best Castlevania games in the past couple years aren’t real Castlevania games.
True. I love Symphony of the Night. I think that game was just genre-defining, really. And they kept it real. They did it all sprite-based in an era where everyone was abandoning that, which was neat. Bloodlines was also great, but that’s just me being a Sega dude. How many Belmont descendants can there be at this point?

Even if only for the fact that they have an anime now, I [Michael] hope that they do something. I don’t know what mind leech is going around Konami offices right now that is just sucking the joy out of all of them. Maybe we’ll get lucky with Silent Hill 2 and they’ll do something with Castlevania and do it right.
What you guys are saying is that Konami is like the the Earache of a video games? [Laughs]

[Laughs] You’re not wrong! Would Kojima be the Napalm Death of Konami?
Yeah, that’s pretty good. I mean, their split was not very amicable and I remember Enemy of the Music Business coming out. That was an an anti-Earache album. One of my favorite Napalm records, by the way. I loved it. It’s like, The old logo’s back and they’re fucking grind again! It was so sick. Yeah, I think Hideo Kojima is totally Napalm Death in that scenario. That was a good call.

Since you are an avid retro enthusiast, what would you say qualifies as retro now?
In my head, and since I just turned 40, I always think ’90s. But, I mean, PlayStation 2 is pretty fucking retro at this point. That was 20 years ago, which is insane to even think about. In my head, I’m like, 3D? That’s not retro anymore. But I feel that a lot of 16-bit games have aged way better than going to play early PlayStation 1 or even PlayStation 2 games. The super rudimentary, blocky look where the tech was just starting and everything’s just gray and ugly, whereas playing something sprite-based and it was just done really well. For example, I love playing sprite-based platformers and shooters on PS1 and Saturn. They look fucking phenomenal. The old Rayman games or Guardian Heroes on Saturn, it just looks insanely good, it just looks so crisp.

But I guess if I were to say what retro is, I would cut it off at the PS2 mark. I feel like that’s fair. PS3, the jump in graphical fidelity, it went to HD and stuff, but it’s not that big of a leap compared to what we have now, I think. It’s not, like, Holy shit, this looks retro. You can still play one of the Call of Dutys or some shit on a PS3 and it’s still somewhat comparable. Let’s cut it off there, at the Call of Duty mark. How about that? [Laughs]

I think another good cutoff point would be, “Did the console output in HD or SD?” I think if it was still on SD, it’s retro. PS1 was, like, 25 years ago, which is insane to me. But here we are. Still alive.

Are there any games that you’re looking forward to in the near future or beyond?
A lot of people are probably stoked about this one, but Grand Theft Auto VI takes place in Miami where I’m from. Sounds pretty cool, looks very “Florida man” simulator, [laughs] Rock Star Games does no wrong, so I’m looking forward to that. I saw that trailer and I’m on the hype train. I’m ready for this, this looks insane. I can’t wait to see what type of social commentary they put into that fucking game. They’re always amazing also, it’s insane that the last one came out on PS3. GTA V has been on three different consoles and it’s still going. It’s insane. They just have unlimited money to make the best thing they can and they always deliver. I’d say that’s pretty much the top of my list, but I feel like that’s the top of everyone’s list.

You didn’t say Elden Ring DLC, so…
That’s another one I picked up and I put a bunch of hours into it and then I just stopped. I need to get better at not doing that.

Sometimes, even when you have the enthusiasm on something, it just kind of falls off while you’re doing something else and then you don’t jump back to it. When you work from home, the impulse to just abandon things because you feel like you have to get back to work is suffocating.
Yes, I agree. It’s just like, Oh man, I didn’t even really take a lunch today and I just worked ’til 7. Shit. My line of work, it’s very deadline based and there’s times I’m ahead, there’s times I’m not. If I don’t get to it, guess what? I got to get to it tomorrow. It’s not like someone else is gonna pick up the slack for me, you know? The pros and cons. I definitely enjoy what I do for work, but I feel like I am in dire need of a long break. Just go off and ideally go on tour. That’d be kind of neat. I haven’t done that in a few years.

The Dismal Advance is available March 15 via Brutal Panda Records and can be pre-ordered here.
Follow Shock Withdrawal on Bandcamp, Instagram and Facebook.

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