Composer's music aims to bring the undead to life

Pianist Kim Cousineau (right) and the Zombie Choral Canon at Concordia University provided the music for Kevin Sherwood's lecture on Zombies in Pop Culture May 1.


Pianist Kim Cousineau (right) and the Zombie Choral Canon at Concordia University provided the music for Kevin Sherwood's lecture on Zombies in Pop Culture May 1.

May 18, 2015

The dark and bloody opus of the zombie death metal that scores the wildly popular and violent video game Call of Duty series would not be a likely creation from the mind of a young Catholic.

A zombie-themed conference featuring a choir clad in blood-smeared gowns would not be a likely event on a Christian school campus, either.

Kevin Sherwood, senior sound designer and composer for software developer Treyarch, the company behind the Call of Duty Nazi Zombies game mode, was the keynote speaker at Concordia University of Edmonton's Religion and Pop Culture conference on May 1.

The irony of presenting a lecture on the zombie apocalypse and zombie music at a Christian school was not lost on Sherwood.

Kevin Sherwood

Kevin Sherwood

"I just tried to say what I think and hoped that they would embrace it," he said. "They didn't drive me out with torches."

About 55 people attended the two-day conference, including professional scholars and the general public.

The zombie apocalypse, as Sherwood explains it, is a model about ethics versus survival.

While Sherwood, whose job is to write music that conveys the stories and emotions of the undead, does not consider himself a Christian musician, his compositions often include biblical allusions and scriptural lyrics.

For example, there are the haunting words of a zombie girl in Lullaby For a Dead Man: "Father! Why have you forsaken me?"

The lyrics in the song, sung by Elena Siegman and featured in the Zombies game mode, are part of the story of a girl stuck in zombie limbo between two worlds, forsaken by her own father in an experiment.

"It is definitely a juxtaposition," said Sherwood, who believes biblical allusions and lyrics often make the best metaphors, because they can often tell a story in just a few words.

Sherwood, who studied music production and engineering and music synthesis at Berklee College of Music in Boston, strives to create music that effectively conveys the feelings of zombies in a way applicable to normal people.

From just four chords in a song from the Call of Duty: Black Ops – Zombies soundtrack in which Sherwood borrows from the Lydian musical scale, one fan, in an online posting, drew a full translation of the story:

Bill Anderson

Bill Anderson

"I love the breaking of tension with a sense of false and disappointing security of playfulness as yet to allude to something," the fan wrote.

"Such as the theme and deeper meaning of the zombies storyline. As a little girl who never asked for this has become a goddess of death displaying that she is still just a little girl with a sense of pureness in her heart."

Sherwood's scientific explanation of how music is used to evoke emotions, provided a fascinating revelation for 16-year-old Yanni Karkalemis, a hardcore gamer who attended the conference with his dad, Costa Karkalemis.

A concert, which preceded the event, featured singers Elena Siegman and Malukah performing arrangements from Call of Duty Zombies with Concordia University's Zombie Choral Canon.

"It's a hard thing to explain with words but he did a good job capturing how these different types of sounds affect the mind in certain ways," said Karkalemis, who first heard Siegman's voice as a child in 2008 on The One, a song from the Zombies soundtrack written and performed by Sherwood.


Karkalemis' father, Costa, said he appreciates the music but does not care for the video games because of the violence.

"Kids get involved because they get a little bit calloused. As far as the violence goes, they get immune to it," he said. "Personally I don't like that but I do appreciate the music and creativity."

Zombie culture is dark, negative and pessimistic.

Zombie culture is dark, negative and pessimistic.

Bill Anderson, a professor of religious studies at Concordia and confessed pop culture junkie, invited Sherwood to speak at the conference.

Anderson sent the invitation after being asked by the Canadian Centre for Scholarship and the Christian Faith to address the questions and concerns raised about the zombie culture in general, which he acknowledges can be a dark, negative and pessimistic body of ideas and themes.

He described Sherwood's work as "intellectually and artistically brilliant – musically and lyrically," and called him "the greatest conveyor in music of zombies in pop culture."


Anderson said the current prevalence of zombies in pop culture speaks volumes about the existential angst in society today.

Zombies represent the anxiety-driven questions being asked about many troubling themes in our lives, said Anderson – our ethics, the fear of the breakdown of order into chaos, the meaning of life, where we are going and how do we know?

In analyzing Sherwood's composition of Always Running, Anderson explored the theme that "there must be more to life than this."

Anderson said zombies represent the unrelenting pursuit of evil leading to death.

"There is no gospel of zombies," he said. "Zombies are a dead end."