Hideo Kojima Talks Soundtrack and the Meaning of 'Death Stranding'

With Icelandic band Low Roar, the 'Metal Gear' creator found the perfect sound for his next project

Credit: Kojima Productions

The first two trailers for Death Stranding, the upcoming open-world action horror game from Metal Gear visionary Hideo Kojima, are each packed with disturbingly memorable moments. Whether it's a nude Norman Reedus clutching a baby while up to his ankles in dead fish, Guillermo del Toro running through puddles holding a fetus in a flask or Mads Mikkelsen oozing black goop from his face, it's the haunting soundtrack courtesy of Icelandic indie band Low Roar that binds them together. We spoke to Kojima about how he came to use their music, and learned a few things about Death Stranding along the way.

Kojima discovered the band by accident in Iceland
In the summer of 2014, while visiting a record store in Reykjavík, Hideo Kojima heard Low Roar's music as he was making his way to pay. "Something just clicked for me, so I went to ask about it," he says. "It turned out to be a song from Low Roar’s 2014 album 0, and they told me it was an American band that was based in Iceland. Needless to say, I bought it. Once I was back in Japan, I was listening to it almost daily."

Two years – and a nasty split from Metal Gear publisher Konami – later Kojima got his wish when he began working on the first teaser for Death Stranding. "The meaning of the lyrics and the sound of the track 'I’ll Keep Coming' was a perfect fit for the world of the game, " he says.

Low Roar's lead singer Ryan Karazija said he doesn't play video games, and didn't know what the song would be used for
Sony approached Karazija about using the track earlier this year saying only that it would be used as part of a "mystery project." He agreed to it not really knowing how it would be used simply because he needed to cover his costs for the album.

"Everything had to be kept a secret until the announcement was made at E3 2016," explains Kojima. "This included the title of the project and the fact that it would be my new game. When we were trying to get Low Roar’s permission to use the song we couldn't inform him what it was actually for, or where his song would be used, and the approach was made via an intermediary. Still, he immediately accepted."

The response to E3 opened Karazija's eyes to the world of games, and now he's planning to start exploring it with a little help from his new contacts. "I’m going to tell Sony since they got the songs for so cheap they can hook me up with a PlayStation."

Kojima and the Low Roar frontman met for the first time at E3 2016 in Los Angeles
"When you meet someone for the first time, you can immediately tell whether you’ll hit it off," says Kojima. "It couldn't have been more than 10 minutes before me and Ryan were getting along like friends."

The feeling was mutual. Karazija says Kojima is a "sweet guy" and plans to meet up, maybe even stay with him, when the band tours Japan with its new album. "It was like me and him in shitty t-shirts eating at Soho House with a bunch of overdressed people around us," he says. "Russell Simmons was sitting next to us – and I was telling [Kojima] how uncomfortable I felt there and he was kind of the same, you know? He was really down to earth and really nice."

People have got some crazy theories about Low Roar thanks to Death Stranding
"It’s funny, people are creating these – and I’m not going to see whether they’re true or not – but creating these theories about some of our songs and how they connect with the game," says Karazija. "Like playing our songs backwards, or both of them together, and hearing stuff go back and forth. Or certain things on the second album cover that they think ties in with Norman Reedus and how it kind of looks similar to the game. They found things in my hair, little symbols."

The new vinyl gives us a clue to the meaning of Death Stranding
Low Roar and Kojima Productions have teamed up for a special Death Stranding vinyl edition which is available for pre-order now and will be out in February. "One thing people were pointing out after the first teaser was released, was how the cover of the album 0 has string-like objects that seem to be hanging from top to bottom," says Kojima. "They say these are the same mysterious strings as in the teaser. In Death Stranding, ‘strand’ stands for strings and connections, and I felt a mysterious connection to that song that I found in that CD shop in Reykjavík two years ago."

The band and Kojima have also uploaded 'Easy Way Out' to music sharing and collaboration platform Splice, where you can see annotations and comments from both on parts of the song. "Ryan’s songs are sensual and the sounds he creates are unique," says Kojima. "His goal isn’t to make money; he is about the art and shows a very original taste even in things like his album covers."

"The lyrics and the sound blend together and through that, what couldn’t be seen becomes visible. He reminds you that this is what music is all about. Words are intended to specify and clarify the world, but the more you listen to his sounds and lyrics, the more they dilute the outline of the world, and expand it."