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Sephiroth Katana's MOD Archive

A MOD refers to a group of file formats used to store digital music. MODs are created by sequencing samples of instruments and effects in certain patterns; this process is completely computer-based, and requires no actual knowledge of instruments, just a good ear for hooks and melodies. In the nineties, there was a burgeoning "MOD scene" on the Internet, when various talented amateurs came together in various chat channels and the like. The results mainly stayed within the realm of techno and trance, but the best artists managed to incorporate many other styles into the mix. The best MODs were those that successfully synthesized different styles and wrangled all sorts of interesting effects from the somewhat limited format. This scene may or may not still be around, but most of the best trackers have long left it.

I would be very interested to learn what became of some of these people. Many if not most of them are doomed to obscurity, to rot in a mediocre programming job somewhere; some may manage to make music their profession, but still shall be limited, whether by circumstance or by their own free will, to making irrelevant sample CDs to function as sound tests for new computers. After all, "demostyle," a name that was thrown around quite often in the heyday of the MOD scene, is derived from exactly that practice. It is my sincerest hope that the best trackers will go on to open studios and become producers, and hopefully record albums themselves. Some of the MODs on this very page, had they professional production and some decent lyrics written to them, would be more than capable of storming the pop charts.

I don't listen to the MODs I do have very much anymore, but they are very listenable and very interesting, and definitely worth your attention. This page, therefore, acts as a tribute to MODs, presenting what I consider to be the twenty best ones. Each is available for download with some commentary by me.

Note: You need a special player for these. It's at http://www.modplug.com. You can also download a tracker there and attempt to make some yourself. Try it; after all, what have you to lose?

#20

Capslock Mick Rippon
This is a four-channel MOD, probably the most primitive kind. Given this, it's impressive that such a good tune could be wrangled from it. Simple though the hooks are, they're certainly catchy, and enough variety is provided by the various synths to always keep it interesting. Airy, melodic synth pop at its best.

#19

Battle beta demko
This was recorded in 1992, when people were just beginning to take interest in MODs. Like Capslock, it only has four channels. It is, however, simpler than Capslock, as it doesn't even have a defined end; the creators meant it to be looped. This belies its catchiness - there's a guitar sample here that makes a great hook. Not much texture or variety here, obviously, but definitely a good groove.

#18

Love Hurts X-Con
It starts out slow, but speeds up soon enough when the pulsing beat comes in. A slower melody is laid over the rushing rhythm section, and some lovely synths come to back it up about mid-song, then take the lead for most of the second half. The melancholy of the lead actually works very well with the fast, danceable beats.

#17

Fallen Hero Dark Knight
So far, this is the first MOD that cannot be categorized as simply hooky pop. In fact, it's very difficult to categorize it at all. The song is built around one dirgelike electronic pattern, with sparse percussion and few atmospherics. It proceeds slowly, and another pattern develops just before the song is over. A lament in a minor key, put together and carried out well.

#16

Ice Frontier skaven
Thundering bass and some shimmering effects provide the immediate backdrop to this excellent song, and make the synth leads that much better. Few MODs really used bass as anything more than backup, making this one stand out quite a bit. There are only two problems with it: it's too short and the ending is too abrupt, as if the song is unfinished in some way. Looking at the notes, that may indeed have been the case.

#15

Between Reason and Rage Gargoyle
Another melancholy melody set to a fast dance beat, and one that works even better. There's a nice piano intro in the beginning, then the electronics take the lead. The piano does return mid-song to function as backup for it, and there's some great interplay between the two.

#14

Crystal Dragon skaven
This song is carried by the booming percussion and bass effects, which make the higher leads much more effective. What seems like a vocal sample is used to good effect too, as is the blowing wind in the intro. Not, perhaps, an achievement of colossal magnitude, but definitely a good song with some good melodies and dynamics.

#13

12th Warrior Remix Jacko
Impossibly infectious, danceable electronica, executed at an enormously fast pace. The opening sample is ridiculously cheeky, but this becomes a forgivable fault when the rush of the song itself comes in. The numerous hooks instantly stick in the mind, and the overall invigorating, energetic, wild rush is impossible to resist. Interestingly enough, this is apparently a remix of some other song; I have never heard the original.

#12

Love Awesome
Most MODs were dance-influenced and utilized elements of techno. This one is not and does not. Slow and atmospheric all throughout, the samples are of high quality (note the echoing percussion) and the melodies excellent. Good use of echo provides a very expansive effect, and the strings just sound gorgeous.

#11

Astraying Voyages Purple Motion
An interesting electronic effect opens this song and sets the mood. The backbone of the song is created by a droning synth line, some drums and some hushed pianos, occasionally interrupted by some longer atmospherics, before the real instrumental lead comes in at the two minute mark. Overall, it's a fine song, even if the backup is a bit too repetitive for its own good, and shows Purple Motion's talent for evocative melodies.

#10

Aryx Karsten Koch
Of course, being influenced by dance and electronica doesn't have to be bad. Aryx is a perfect bit of techno set to a breakneck dance beat with an absolutely wonderful synth hook that dominates the song. There's little texture here, but as an airy, fast and fun slice of electronica, there's nothing better.

#9

Hyperion Omicron
The opening doesn't sound too dissimilar to most extremely bad jungle techno. From there, however, the song wildly shifts gears, abruptly changes tempos, flies through all sorts of instruments and effects and generally becomes a bizarre but extremely fascinating mess. Of particular note is the extremely weird sample (what is that? it sounds like an animal crying) used at about the minute mark, the gentle melody that is laid over the jackhammer beat at the two thirty mark, and the ending. Definitely unique, for lack of a better word.

#8

Ascent of the Cloud Eagle Necros
There is probably no other MOD that sounds anything at all like this. In a different context, the beat could fit some dance song, but here it sounds like a tribal rhythm, which was indeed most likely its intended purpose. The wind instruments and vocal effects are sequenced masterfully, and the guitar line is spectacular. It is songs like this that prove just how much talent could be found in the MOD scene.

#7

Vision From Paradise LioZ
An eerie piano intro opens this memorable song, then the drums and strings crash in. Watch for the sudden break at just before the one minute mark. Even if the song takes perhaps a bit too long to build back up after it, the ending makes up for it. An attempt to use the medium for something unconventional (in this case, a more symphonic piece) that works.

#6

Point of Departure Necros
This is much more electronic than Ascent of the Cloud Eagle, but the slower synths in the opening are reminiscent of the wind instruments in that particular song. Here, fast and slow leads alternate - the fast ones are marvelously catchy, the slow ones marvelously atmospheric - to create what is possibly the best dance MOD ever tracked. Hats off to you, Necros.

#5

7th Heaven DJ Joge
Given how good this song is, it's difficult to believe this is a "primitive" four-channel MOD. It only accentuates the immense skill and musicality that had to go into making something of this magnitude. This gorgeous trance song goes well beyond the ten minute mark but never drags, as effect after new effect is layered on the instruments. The catchy melodies are almost too numerous to count, and the overall effect is pure elation, appropriately enough given the title. The only problem is the abrupt ending: a look at the notes will ascertain that Joge apparently didn't finish the song and intended to - alas, the date he wrote down was in 1994, so he probably never will.

#4

94956 (not sure)
One of the most unique MODs ever tracked. Even the most innovative and original ones generally used some conventional elements of electronica; 94956 uses none. Here, strings of all kinds, pianos, horns, bells, martial drums and eerie choral effects create an almost operatic song, one that depends entirely on classical instruments. There are fast and slow parts that sound like a battle and its aftermath, respectively. Lest anyone forgets, I reiterate: this was made by some unknown amateur in his or her spare time. What a shame I've no idea who it was, eh? None of the samples are titled and there are no notes of any kind.

#3

Chapter 2 Blackstar
Although rock is perhaps the most dominant genre of music today, on the MOD scene this was far from the case. In fact, there were almost no straight-ahead rock songs, mainly because of the difficulty involved in sampling and sequencing guitars. This fellow Blackstar, however, did it successfully. Like any good rock song, it has an excellent bass line and a great solo (two of them, in fact), and the smooth way the song comes back to the main bass line after each one is done very well. There are couple of pretty good distorted riffs here, too.

#2

The Night Awesome
In a way, this sounds similar to Love - the same expansive atmospherics, strings and slow pace - but much more fully realized. The piano is beautiful, and the arranging done perfectly. Electronic effects show up in places, but rather than take the lead, they serve mostly as unintrusive backup to the lovely piano melody, which is Really Rather Good.

#1

When The Heavens Fall Purple Motion
Nowhere was Purple Motion's grasp of texture, ear for finely woven melodies and skill with evocative soundscapes more evident than here. The song unwinds slowly, building up with various sparse keyboard lines and snatches of vocal samples, until the lead comes in at about a minute and a half (and again at three minutes and forty-five seconds) into the song with a melody that may well be the best one anyone who ever tracked a MOD ever wrote. From there the song winds down just as slowly as it built up, taking a minute and a half to dissipate and fade out. I've heard it many times and I still don't know how to categorize it - it doesn't belong with "rock" or "classical" or "techno" or "dance" or "trance" or anything at all.

Feedback: sephkatana@yahoo.com

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