“I have Ludwig’s Holy Blade right here,” our guest shares, lifting his sleeve to show off the tattoo adorning his right bicep. Dialing into the Kill Screen arcade is Infernal Moonlight Apparition, née John Hayes, guitarist for Philly blackened punks Devil Master. “And then this one’s a little bit more of a deep cut,” he continues, flipping his arm over. “I really like it. It’s the Lothric Knight from [Dark Souls] 3. It’s from the Basin of Vows. So, right in that moment—I think it’s right after you fight the Dancer—you put the cup in and then he cuts his head off into the cup. And I was just like, That is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” Though the co-nerds at Kill Screen are happy to verify how cool that scene is (that is to say very cool), we can’t help but gush about the fact that today’s player character spent over an hour of his day talking with us about video games all while wearing a shirt for the cult Gamecube horror title Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. Apart from a now infamous Resident Evil 2 shirt, it really doesn’t get much cooler than that.
Apparition’s worship of the now legendary FromSoft series, and gaming in general, goes further than skin deep. A Genesis kid who grew into a horror and RPG fanatic—often padding out the runtime of already time-intensive games to ensure maximum satisfaction—the guitarist eventually found an outlet to channel his love of media into the theatrical and extravagant presence that compliments the grimy and infectious sound of his fast-rising band. Though his obsession with titles such as Bloodborne and Castlevania may not exactly be all that surprising, his varied palate shows a much deeper appreciation of what the medium has to offer. “I left a lot of space because eventually I want to get a bunch of different video game-related tattoos,” explains Apparition. “If I just get an entire sleeve of Soulsborne stuff, it’ll be kind of hard at that point. ” While the quartet gears up for their upcoming run on the Decibel Magazine Tour 2024 with Hulder, Worm and Necrofier, enjoy our conversation with the Apparition’s human form. We certainly could have spent a never ending night plumbing the depths of gaming’s greatness.
What was your first gaming experience?
My mom and uncle rented a Sega Saturn from Hollywood Video and played Resident Evil 1, and that changed my life. Obviously, I’d played games growing up. I was a Genesis kid. I love Genesis. I’d never seen something like that. It just changed everything, honestly.
At what point when you’re watching that game did it really click with you?
It’s the scene—the classic scene—when you walk around that corner and the zombie’s eating [S.T.A.R.S. member Kenneth J. Sullivan]. He does a slow turn, the pan in and I was like, This is the scariest shit I’ve ever seen in my life. Oh my god. How is this real? That was the moment that really just grabbed me. I was like, Oh my god, video games are awesome! [Laughs] Prior to that, I was playing Vectorman and Comix Zone and Golden Axe and stuff like that on Genesis. Then you see a game like Resident Evil getting played through Sega Saturn, it’s like, Oh my god, this is something entirely different. It just felt like we shot into the future all of a sudden with the 3D game platforms.
What have you been playing lately and what are the games that you typically prefer to play?
I’m a Souls guy—no surprises there. [Laughs] Still, it’s funny. I know everyone’s on their 25th run through of Elden Ring—I’m still playing my first one. I’m really just savoring it. I wanted to take my time and play through it. The more recent Dragon Quest game, I really like that, a lot of fun. It’s like a nice counterbalance to Elden Ring, since it’s a little bit of a softer game to play. It’s a little more guided, honestly.
Certainly a different art style to break it up.
I’m a big [Akira] Toriyama fan, so I love the art style. It’s a really fun game. The story is surprising, really compelling. It’s good. And the gameplay is obviously, like I said, a little bit softer, but without being force fed, you know what I mean?
What is it about the RPG genre that holds your attention the most?
I especially love JRPGs. A lot of times, the art style just really drags me in. I’m a big fan of Shin Megami Tensei and all those games. I just love the art style and the way they go about telling the stories. They’re always really compelling and interesting. Gameplay-wise, it can be a slog sometimes, but it feels good. You feel like you’re accomplishing something when you play them. That’s kind of what keeps me going.
Do you have a preference between Shin Megami Tensei and Persona?
I’m an SMT guy. SMT3 is one of my favorite games. I think it’s awesome. I love the storyline, I think it’s ridiculous. I love Persona 5, 4; awesome games. They’re a little bit more, I’d say, bubblegummy in some ways than Shin Megami comparatively. You’re playing the Antichrist, which is obviously going to be very cool. But they’re all awesome games. I really love them.
Since this interview is happening at the end of 2023, what were some of the games that really stuck out to you this year? Were there any games that you really wanted to pick up but you just haven’t had the chance?
Funny enough, I really want to play through RE4 Remake. I haven’t gotten the chance yet. I recently started playing through all the remakes again, just working my way chronologically. I was saving that one for a rainy day. I finally played through 2 Remake, 3 Remake. 1 Remake I played when I was younger and I just replayed through again recently. I had to torment myself by playing 6. 7, obviously, very cool game. But yeah, I’ve been playing through those all again, just re-experiencing that. It’s always been really fun. Obviously, Elden Ring is top for me. I mean, I felt like a kid starting that game and finally making it out into the main world. It was just, like, the coolest experience I can think of.
Between Elden Ring, Persona and Dragon Quest, you’re talking some hefty hour commitments here. Is it difficult for you to cut out time in order to make it through those games?
If I’m playing a game like that, I’ll wake up early on purpose every day, at least try to get an hour in and then go about my day. I think I clocked over 90 to 100 hours in Persona 5. It was a lot of maneuvering my schedule so I could play it. Same thing with Elden Ring. The day it came out—I bought it on pre-order—I think I had work at, like, six in the morning the next day. So, I just booted it up just so I could see the menu and then play for five minutes and then had to go to sleep. I just love it so much, I had to figure out a way to play a little bit. I try to parse it through the day if I can.
We spoke to [guitarist] Payson [Power] from Tomb Mold recently and he said that the first time that he met you, that you were leaning up against the wall playing Castlevania on an old-school gray brick Game Boy.
[Laughs] That sounds about right, yeah. As soon as we met each other, we’re like, Yeah, this was destined to be. That’s my dog, man. He’s the best. It was like we had been friends since we were teenagers or something.
Do you still play the classics when you’re out on the road?
Absolutely. I got the the Castlevania Game Boy Advance Collection recently. Amazing series, probably one of my favorite series of games ever. Awesome collection. A lot of cool stuff on there. I still am excited to get through the stuff that was extra that they added on, like the Japanese releases and stuff like that. I have a Switch. I bring that with me out on the road. I have the original Dragon Quest downloaded on my cell phone. I play that, too. It’s pretty cool.
While you’re out on the road, have you encountered many more people that are interested in gaming or is this much more of a solitary activity for you?
It’s one of those things where you’ll walk up to somebody and they’ll have something Dark Souls-related on or something, and then I’ll just be like, “Hey, man, do you play Dark Souls?” And then it’s, like, hours of talking after that. It’s like finding your people, like [a] certain demographic. We played a fest out in Mexico over the summer and I walked up to a guy and he didn’t really speak much English. He just had a Dark Souls sticker on his cell phone and I just pointed at it. We tried to talk as much as we could in that moment about it. It was really exciting, it was really cool. This guy, he just had a sticker, it said “You Died” on the back of his phone. I’m like, “Ohhh!” We just talked as much as we could in that moment.
We know that you are very big into Castlevania and Bloodborne. Devil Master as a band has a very specific romantic vampiric aesthetic to it. Given your gaming preferences, would you say that gaming has affected those visual aesthetics in any way in the formation of Devil Master?
For sure. A lot of the visual aesthetics and imagery and stuff like that, it’s from anime, from video games, all the things that I loved growing up that I wanted to visually represent in a band finally. Every time I get the chance, I’m sneaking in Dark Souls references or some sort of Soulsborne reference into songs. It has a huge impact on me personally in the band. Some of the other dudes play a little bit. [Vocalist] Max [Hammel, a.k.a. Disembody Through Unparalleled Pleasures] plays for sure. I don’t know if [guitarist] Francis [O’Kane, a.k.a. Darkest Prince] has ever picked up a video game in his life [laughs], but we have the sort of same interests per se in that visual language.
Aside from a visual language, would you say that any of the music from any of these series particularly stuck with you or affected some of the writing or tone of anything that you’ve done?
Oh, absolutely. I mean, a lot of the structures, songs, very Castlevania influenced. The golden era of Japanese video games, they all had killer soundtracks, kind of speed metally-sounding. The way we always described the way G.I.S.M. sounds is like Mega Man. And then we always were like, “We need to write music that sounds like G.I.S.M. that sounds like Mega Man.” That kind of was a driving force for us as a band, starting to make music.
“The way we always described the way G.I.S.M. sounds is like Mega Man. And then we always were like, ‘We need to write music that sounds like G.I.S.M. that sounds like Mega Man.’ That kind of was a driving force for us as a band, starting to make music.
Coming up in February, it’s going to be a decade since we’ve gotten an entry in the mainline Castlevania series. Are you a fan of the series in totality or is there a point at which they kind of lose the formula a little bit?
I feel like it sort of waxes and wanes: Gets really good, gets sort of OK, gets bad, gets good again. I think all their ventures into 3D gaming have been pretty catastrophic. [Laughs] But they just do side-scrollers like no other. It’s the best. Specifically, the Game Boy entries are some of my favorites. I played up until I think Portrait of Ruin—maybe one after that—and then it starts to lose me a little bit. It becomes a bit redundant, but not in a good way. It’s not picking up on the elements from the other games that made it so good. I hope they come out with another banger. That would be awesome. I’m waiting for another really good one. It’s been a very long time.
The environment of Castlevania has always been a major part of the series that stood out, but a gothic environment and dark atmosphere isn’t exactly atypical in the world of video games. Why did Castlevania stick with you so much? What about it in particular really hooked into your brain?
I think it’s just the enemy design. Growing up, I just thought they were just so cool. You got a spinning skeleton on fire floating at you. There’s a boss made of, like, millions of corpses that’s floating at you and you gotta figure that out. I think it kind of created a lot of my interest in that grinding mindset, if you will, because a lot of those games are extremely hard. They have a lot of really cool hidden features and elements. Again, another series that really rewards a lot of replay. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve 100 percented Circle of the Moon just because I needed to find every little nook and cranny of the game. There’s so much really cool stuff and it’s all hidden. They just did such a great job with level design and enemy design and stuff like that.
Let’s say somebody reading this is interested in the Castlevania series and has never played any of them, but would like to jump in. Which title would you say they should hop into?
We were just talking about it, but that Game Boy Advanced Collection, or obviously, you know, Symphony of the Night. That’s such a great place to start. To really start to understand that style of game, I think that’s a perfect place to begin. I think to really appreciate the Game Boy Advanced ones, you’d have to play through a bit of Symphony of the Night. But I love Aria of Sorrow, Harmony of Dissonance, all really awesome games.
Seeing something like Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night—made by [Koji] Igarashi, the director of Symphony of the Night—do you have hope for these kinds of spiritual successors that may not be Castlevania mainline titles or are you really connected to that branding of Castlevania?
I’d say yes and no. I was playing Blasphemous recently. Very cool game. Love it. But to me, it’s almost like sitting down to eat a bowl of cereal and it’s just all marshmallows. It’s just so much of a good thing that it almost becomes too much. It’s like, Wow, it feels like this game was made for me specifically. There’s so much stuff happening in this that I love. But at a point, it almost becomes a little too much. [Laughs] It’s just so much happening at one time. I would like to see more nuanced approaches to that. And I feel like that’s what I really liked about Castlevania—a slow roll into these stories, into these abilities and stuff like that. Blasphemous, I feel has feature creep a little bit. There’s so many different things happening all at once. Different items, collectibles, characters. You’re like, Where’s that guy? What was he doing? I think a lot of things took a lot of notes from Hollow Knight and kind of went with it in a really extreme way. I’m excited for like more games of that style.
I like the Metroidvania stuff, but I’m not a huge fan. I just love old-school Castlevania so much, more of the Advanced and the Game Boy-era Castlevanias, and obviously Symphony of Night. But a lot of games try to do that same formula and style and sometimes it doesn’t really follow through. One of the games that I really enjoyed last year was that Cyber Shadow game. I thought that was done awesome. It’s like a Ninja Gaiden-worship cyber Metroidvania. Very tasteful, very cool, awesome bosses. Very, very cool game. If you haven’t picked that up, definitely recommended. Probably my favorite styles of that game in a long time.
Similarly, 2023 saw the release of Lies of P, which a lot of people have been kind of unofficially calling Bloodborne 2. Have you spent any time with that? Are you on board with this kind of unofficial Bloodborne style or are you just hoping that FromSoft gives us a Bloodborne 2?
Oh, man. Again, it’s one of those like, Is it too much of a good thing? Bloodborne is just a perfect game to me. Every aspect of it is just the best things that I could want from a video game. I’ve just started recently playing through Lies of P. I really enjoy it, I think it’s cool. I’m not a Soulslike hater, per se. I think it’s a cool idea. I think it’s kind of hilarious that these games are so good that it’s created an entire genre of games that are essentially almost a one-to-one copy of them. It just goes to show you they’re doing a good job if that’s something that exists.
I’ve heard—who knows if it will ever happen—they’ll remaster Bloodborne one day. That would be cool because even playing through it again recently, you definitely do start to see the low framerate issues and stuff like that that people start to complain about. When I first played through it, I had rose-tinted glasses on. I didn’t notice. I was like, This is just so awesome. I don’t really care. Now that you’re playing other games and experiencing different things, you’re like, Well, performance-wise, this could do a lot better.
We’re seeing a deluge of remakes and remasters—Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, the Resident Evil series, Alan Wake got a remaster, Dead Space got a remaster. We’re bringing these games that are not terribly old into the current times with these quality of life updates. Are you hopeful that there will be more interest in doing these kinds of remakes and remasters to give new life to some of these older series? Or do you feel that there’s something to be said about experiencing them in their kind of original form?
It’s tough. My general goal a lot of times with media is to share it with as many people as possible, because I think, Holy shit, this is awesome. I want people to see this. So, if that involves a remaster, update or something like that, then I’m all for it. Again, there is something to be said about experiencing those things and getting to play them when they first came out. A lot of the charm of Bloodborne and Dark Souls series is how janky they are. I feel like a lot of people don’t necessarily appreciate that aspect of it. It almost becomes part of the gameplay and the experience, where people are expecting perfect frame rate, hitboxes to be perfect, everything like that. It’s like, No, this is part of the experience, overcoming these shortfalls in a way. I would like to see more stuff like brought back and maybe reimagined or remastered, but also it has to keep the essence. I think the Demon’s Souls remake was a perfect example of that. Even all the bugs in the game were just left completely unadulterated. I just love that idea. It’s essentially just a facelift to a game and they just left it as it was.
That’s the charm of those games in general. It’s the “expect the unexpected” kind of thing. You think you’re trucking along and then a giant boulder comes and just destroys you and you gotta start back really far because you didn’t find the shortcut yet. It’s just so fun. I love it.
Something that we’ve drawn from playing older games could be a part of that. If you look at something like Mega Man: You lose your three lives, go back to the beginning, you’re doing the whole level over. You talked about being a fan of Genesis. A lot of those old Genesis games, you had, what? However many lives and maybe two continues? And that’s it. Start from the beginning.
Yeah. I grew up playing mostly Genesis, which kind of prepared me for the “get good” mentality in a way. Some of those games are so underbaked, you could definitely tell. They’re like, Well, we never finished the ending, so we have to make this excruciatingly hard. I remember just playing games as a kid, I was like, Is this how it’s supposed to be? Why is this so hard? But it really did shape my mentality when it came to playing some of the newer games and stuff like that and understanding, Well, this used to be almost a lot harder in a sense. God forbid you lost that piece of paper where you wrote down your password for a level and then you gotta start over again. I don’t think people even remember that era of video gaming very much where you had a notepad and you hit a certain level and you have to write the password down. And if you don’t have that, you gotta start from square one.
This goes back similarly; you had mentioned being a fan of some RPG franchises. I [James] remember I put down a game and didn’t get back to it for a while and I was like, Oh man, I know I’m not going to remember what I’m supposed to be doing or where I’m going. And then I wrote down a little note for myself, like, You have to go to the bottom of this cavern in blah, blah, blah city, through here, whatever, to fight this person. And I put it in the case of the game because I knew the next time I opened up the game, I’d be like, Where the hell was I going? What was going on?
Yeah, a lot of those games, it feels like you get dropped into another world when you haven’t played them in a long time. You have to try to remember what you were doing and what gear you have, what character, what is going on at all. There’s games I’ve put down for years and then try to like jump back in as if nothing had changed, and it definitely is not the easiest experience.
That’s what was happening a bit with me with Elden Ring. I was like, OK, I don’t want to finish this game. I know the way that FromSoft is. We’re not going to get another game like this for, like, a couple of years. I need to enjoy this as long as I can. I came to some of the Dark Souls and the Soulsborne series a little bit later, so I had all of them to play through. They were sequential. I just played through them all, like bam, bam, bam. And Elden Ring, being one of the newer ones, I was like, OK, well, this could be years before I see another DLC, a new game or anything like that. I’m really going to take my time. And I would take off a week from playing and then I would pick it up and I would start my character and I’m like, The hell was I doing? What is this build? Why am I wearing this gear? What idea did I have before I shut this off? Because there is so much.
It’s a very interesting dynamic in the character creation this time around where you have to almost have a lot of duality in the build. You would just have all these very weird combinations of things, whereas a lot of the older ones are just very straightforward. You’re like, OK, I’m a quality build. I’m going to play exactly this way for the remainder of the game. I think I respeced my character, like, three times playing Elden Ring. And then you pick the game up and you’re like, Why does he have this helmet on? [Laughs] Was it for this specific thing that I was doing? I don’t even remember anymore.
You mentioned that you’re still on your first playthrough of Elden Ring and that other people are doing multiple playthroughs. Is the multiple playthrough route something that doesn’t really appeal to you for the Soulsborne series?
Not necessarily. A lot of them I’ve played through a lot of times. Bloodborne, I’m on New Game++++++ at this point, because it’s just the level of replayability. Even if I know what is going to happen, I just want to keep playing it. And then you’ve got the Chalice Dungeon system, which I think is so ingenious. I think it’s a great idea to keep people interested and replaying. Same thing with Dark Souls 3. I’ve played through multiple times. I think Dark Souls 2, I’ve played once and I don’t think I ever have to play it again [laughs], even though I’ve heard a lot of friends are like, “Hey man, give it another shot. You’re missing out on some stuff.” And I get that for sure and I think there’s some really cool details there. Overall, though, I just think that it’s probably just one of my lesser favorites.
And then Dark Souls 1, I’m currently replaying it again. I have a constant replay of that going with different styles of characters and stuff like that. I think the way that they created their character selection system and creation just makes it seem endless. You can just make so many variations. Elden Ring is the same way with talking about the sort of duality of characters now, where if you go into that game trying to be a strength build, you’re going to have a bad time. Same thing with quality build: You’re going to have a bad time. You gotta mix it now with [dexterity] build, bleed builds, some sort of magic. It really took me out of my comfort zone in a good way. It made me play the game entirely different. That’s why I just really want to take my time with this and explore a lot of different options on my first playthrough. Once I have a better idea, I can kind of go through with goofier builds and stuff like that, which is always a really fun time.
Were there any other games that you remember having a similar sense of, Nearly at the end, stop, don’t finish, go check out everything else?
I’m a big Elder Scrolls fan. I love Oblivion, I love Skyrim. I think that I clocked something close to 200 plus hours in Skyrim and I never really started the game. Friends would come over who weren’t big gamers and they’re like, “Oh man, you’re playing video games. What do you do?” And I’m like, “I’m making jewelry, man. I got to sell this to to buy some arrows and stuff.” And they’re like, “Well, that sounds stupid.” I’m like, “No, man, it’s cool. This is awesome. I’m having a great time.” I’d say that era of Bethesda, that also had a very similar, I don’t want this to end. I’m just going to keep going. And you have the ability to kind of do that.
I [Michael] just love the fact that Skyrim became an Etsy simulator for you. [Laughs]
Yeah. I’m making jewelry. I’m making arrows. I’m just crafting things. That was my Animal Crossing. That’s what I wanted to do.
What are your thoughts on Bethesda these days? Did you put any time into Starfield?
No, I’m not an Xbox guy. I wish I had one, because now we have the Kojima survival horror game [OD, still in development], which I’m really kicking myself in the ass trying to figure out how I’m going to play that.
I don’t know what’s going on with Bethesda these days. After Fallout 76, it just seemed like they kind of lost the plot a bit. Even Fallout 4 was a bit of a letdown because Fallout 3 was one of my favorites. Again, one of those games where I was just circling around. I don’t think I ever even really started the main quest because [there’s] so much to do. And the crafting system is something that keeps you wanting to play and wanting to see everything and do everything. I just thought it was done super well.
We’re seeing more and more bands—underground bands, even—contributing songs to soundtracks like the Cyberpunk  soundtrack. What kind of soundtrack would you like to see Devil Master on for a game?
I feel like our music would make the most sense in a new Castlevania. Hit us up, Konami. We would love to do that. [Laughs] We can make your game cool, please. I will write a cool song and I will make that a good game. Please let me do that. I would obviously want to say a FromSoft game, but that’s so high above everything to me that I’m like, I don’t even deserve… [Laughs] This is such a high piece of art.
We have a song on the new record called “Shrines in Cinder,” which is a very “if you know, you know” obvious nod to Dark Souls 3. I wrote a lot of the pacing of the song to the idea of what it is like to play those games. I think it would make a lot of sense to do a song like that for that game. I think it fits super well. Obviously, thematically it makes sense and sound-wise. But pacing is very important in games. And I think the pacing of our songs, I definitely had that in mind as I wrote the song.
You’ve mentioned some different elements that you praise across different titles. Do you find that any one particular thing [story, level design, gameplay, etc.] is the most important to you? Or is it [that] different games appeal to you for different reasons? Subsequently, are there any deal breakers?
Years back, I was more of a big first-person shooter guy. It doesn’t really appeal to me as much these days. I got so burned out on on the whole genre. So, it’s not something I really go into playing a lot of. I hear great things about the Soulslike shooter game that a lot of people are really into. I think it’s Remnant II, right? A friend of mine was referencing that to me. He was telling me, “It’s like a Soulslike shooting game.” And I was like, “That’s awesome.” I like different stuff for different occasions. I’ll be in the mood for all kinds of different games and experiences. I never want to put off trying any sort of game just because it doesn’t appeal to me. I’d say depth is something that I look for in a game. But again, sometimes you’re like, I just want the stupidest thing ever to play because I need this in my life right now. I think it’s a lot more situational type thing, I’d say. It depends on what I’m into at the moment.
Tickets for the Decibel Magazine Tour 2024 featuring Hulder, Devil Master, Worm and Necrofier are on sale here.
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