David Hasselhoff is Superman. Chelsea Wolfe is Wonder Woman. Andy Biersack from Black Veil Brides? Yeah, he is Batman, of course. Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull is the villainous Lex Luther. Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains is Captain Cold, while Maria Brink is the otherworldly HAND, and rapper Denzel Curry is Darkseid Batman.
And that’s just the beginning. This is the Sonic Metalverse. There is a multiverse, and different versions of Batman; one of them is a dinosaur (Batmansaurus Rex obviously), another is a baby, and one version of Batman is a cybernetic vehicle.
If none of that makes sense, then that’s okay and, frankly, understandable, but there is maybe some reading to be done. Luckily, you don’t need all that information to enjoy this soundtrack.
The ‘Dark Nights: Death Metal’ soundtrack features contributions from Mastodon, Rise Against, HEALTH, Soccer Mommy, and IDLES with some tracks including appearances from Chino Moreno, Dave Lombardo from Slayer and Greg Puciato of Dillinger Escape Plan. This is a Justice League level of collaborations that the world has never seen before to accompany the ‘Dark Nights: Death Metal’ comic series.
And the man behind it all is Swamp Thing, voiced by Tyler Bates.
Tyler has scored films like Guardians of the Galaxy, John Wick and Watchmen while working on The Punisher and Californication series and was Marilyn Manson’s lead guitarist for a few years too.
More importantly for this soundtrack, Tyler Bates is a comic book fan, a self-professed “Comic-Con veteran” and he couldn’t stress enough that ‘Dark Nights: Death Metal’ is a project for DC fans with authenticity and integrity at the core of its making.
“Nobody was well compensated for their work on this; it was literally all about loving the material,” Tyler begins, Zoom-ing in from his studio in Los Angeles. Referencing both Andy Biersack and Denzel Curry’s “encyclopaedic” knowledge of the DC Universe, it’s clear this was a project he didn’t need to pitch very hard to those involved. At the end of the day, who wouldn’t want to be a superhero?
The soundtrack was also helped by the pandemic; for many of those involved, it was “this cool distraction or respite from the severity of COVID,” Tyler reasons before adding the situation also meant a lot more artists were available to participate, sit with material, and then even voice a few characters for the motion comic series alongside The Hoff and Charles Fleischer (aka Roger Rabbit) who voices The Joker.
With the luxury of time last year, the process of bringing together artists for the soundtrack became an organic process. Tyler and Chelsea Wolfe had been working on some film scores together, and through a couple of conversations, she ended up voicing Wonder Woman and wrote and recorded the moody and tense ‘Diana’ about her character’s alter-ego.
With HEALTH in the studio, the discussion of singers who could complement the song ‘ANTI-LIFE’ was had and the dream pick would be Chino Moreno, who just so happened to be an acquaintance of Tyler’s and, before you know it, the Deftones singer turned around his typically dreamy vocal performance.
A similar situation occurred with synthwave band Gunship. Tyler explains how they reached out to remix for on track of theirs, and suddenly they’re writing the track ‘Berserker’, and the former Fightstar singer Alex Westaway has agreed to voice Batman’s right-hand man Alfred Pennyworth. While writing the track, Gunship repeatedly referenced a drum beat reminiscent of Slayer’s Dave Lombardo who, unbeknownst to them, was a good friend of Tyler’s and had already been working on some of the earlier Sonic Metalverse series score. So he Dave and Gunship joined forces for one of the most unlikely alliances on the soundtrack.
Call it luck. Call it great timing. Call it who you know, not what you know but a lot of stars aligned on this soundtrack. “It was such a joy on so many levels because one thing I really love to do is to introduce people so that may form substantive connections on their own,” Tyler beams, never one to take too much credit for his role in the project.
Even the inclusion of Dutch symphonic black metal duo Carach Angren was a recommendation by Tyler’s long time friend and collaborator Robert Carranza who mixed the soundtrack, and they went on to become a recurring part of the Sonic Metalverse audio.
And, when Tom Whalley, President of Loma Vista Recordings, phoned to tell Tyler they had the track’s from Chester Bennington’s first band, it was too good an offer to pass up.
“I’d really love to put this song out. I think the emotion of his vocal performance is really aligned with what we’re doing, and the desperation of his lyrics of the song factors into the emotional aspect of this comic series,” Tom Whalley suggested, according to Tyler.
It was one of the very rare times Tyler had to leave the house in the last 18 months, but he joined with the remaining members of Grey Daze to re-record their parts for ‘Anything, Anything’.
“Everybody has such a really positive attitude about what we were doing,” he explains. “I think we’re able to further imbue Chester’s performance with the context of this particular comic book.’
“And then, I have to say, it’s really unusual to make executive decisions with a deceased artist’s vocal performance. It’s one thing to go back and listen to archived sessions because I have many archived Pro Tools sessions and songs from the past, and I can go in and isolate tracks and listen to exactly what was happening on that channel. So that, in its own right, had a very emotional quality when I experienced that, but this was more of a sense of channelling this person to the best of my capacity, because I never knew Chester, to bring him into the room with us.
“Yeah, that was a challenge, but it was still really cool, and I thought that because of the process we went through to make that song that it earned its right onto the record and definitely made its own unique statement.”
That “unique statement” is important when coming into this soundtrack. With the exception of ‘Diana’, there isn’t a Superman song or a Batman song, but instead, a lot of tracks were created as an emotional response to the source material. In a way, it’s an album with 15 unique statements on the same source material. It’s a soundtrack that covers the expansive storyline with vast, sweeping brushstrokes. And, it’s ‘Death Metal’ by name but certainly not by nature either. Mastodon do the job perfectly, but this soundtrack evolves with the punchy punk revolution called by Rise Against’s ‘Broken Dreams, Inc.’, the frenzied, stabbing, ‘Bad Luck’ by Denzel Curry and dramatic power of Maria Brink and Andy Biersack on ‘Meet Me In The Fire’ all finding different ways to set the atmosphere in this apocalyptic superhero story.
If you take the soundtrack’s finale, the delicate ‘Kissing In The Rain’, it still draws from the same art that every musician had to work with.
“She [Sophia Regina Allison] was able to take something, some seeds of inspiration from this series. She wasn’t into writing perhaps about fist fighting or blowing up the world, but there was something emotionally somewhat bereft in ‘Kissing In The Rain’ that I think evokes an emotional element that I think is inherent in these comics,’ Tyler starts.
“There’s this longing and a sense of isolation and the desperation to connect to people that is congruence throughout all of these events that are taking place; all these threats to humanity and all the violence.’
‘So I thought that was very interesting, that’s more how I looked at comics, I always felt that they were an impression of reality and from what I see in ‘Dark Nights: Death Metal’ that’s still very much the case regardless of how you look at the world.”
The songs are truly a testament to the great work by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, who created to DC Comic Book series from which the songs took inspiration. But, for the freedom afforded to him by DC and Loma Vista, the magic of the soundtrack as a whole is thanks to Tyler Bates.
If you could imagine his job of sprinkling magic on other people’s work, executing their vision, day in and day out, the freedom to curate your own soundtrack and source material must have been liberating. The record label were happy for there to be no radio-friendly single to maintain the integrity of this as a fan-made project (“it’s definitely not a corporate widget” being one of Tyler’s favourite phrases) and as a result: “This is probably the most latitude besides making my own album that I have ever, ever experienced,” he says, proudly.
With such a star-studded masterpiece, a brilliant, inventive collection of songs worked on by a lot of friends with a shared passion for the comics, it’s difficult to find any fault; especially when the heart and soul of such a big project is still intact at the end. But, is there anyone Tyler wished he had got on the soundtrack?
“I love this record the way it turned out,” he begins, then hesitates.
“There are a few of my friends who were busy during this time, but I think if we do another record that’s of this ilk, I have to have Tobias Forge and Ghost join us. Tobias is a friend of mine, he’s an excellent artist and just a really excellent person, so I would love to have had him / to have them on this record, but hopefully, if we do another project of this ilk, he’ll join us on it.”
It’s good to know the door is open for a sequel, but in the meantime, the way to listen to the soundtrack is, ideally, with a comic book in hand. Tyler recommends treating the physical comic in the same manner as liner notes to a vinyl “almost as you would like back in the analogue days when I was a kid,” he reminisces.
“If you listen, that way to the music, thinking about when the artists created this track or at least wrote the lyrics and recorded, all that they were relating to is this material directly,” he suggests.
So whether it’s the record and comic book together or separately, ‘Dark Nights: Death Metal’ is rife with world-saving superheroes and heinous villains to serve as a distraction, escapism, from our own impending doom. And in a timeline full with superhero films, TV shows, video games, this spin-off is a deeply immersive, expertly executed, diligently assembled masterclass in soundtracks with, refreshingly, fans of the original comic books still central to the work.
Andy Biersack is the voice of Batman for ‘Dark Nights: Death Metal’ and features on the track ‘Meet Me In The Fire’ with Maria Brink. The Black Veil Brides frontman is an expert on comic books with his band’s upcoming album ‘The Phantom Tomorrow’ set to include its own comic too. Andy let us know what is was like to live out his dreams of being The Caped Crusader.
“Being Batman, on any level, was one of my greatest dreams as a little kid. I’ve talked about this before, but I used to dress up nearly every day and walk around my neighbourhood and try to imagine pretend crimes.
I watched an animated series every single day, I would tape it on VHS as a kid, and I watched all the movies, and at one point, I think I started calling my mum “Alfred” for a time, and I would call my dog, my dog’s name was Copper, but I would call my dog Ace because Ace was the Bat-Hound.
I just always thought in my head as a kid that it seemed like a reasonable career path to be able to be Batman. Obviously, as you get older, you realise that you can’t necessarily be a vigilante superhero.
But, you know, in my own way of being on stage and the aesthetics of the band and everything, I’ve always tried to incorporate this character into the way that I present myself. To have the opportunity to play Batman in any capacity is a dream, but to be doing it in a medium where it’s so heavily based on rock and roll and the musical style that I associate with and made a life out of, it’s kind of the best of both worlds. To get to be heavy metal Batman is [the best], and I can’t imagine anything better than that.”
Because of your knowledge of the DC Universe, you might be the best person to explain the world of Dark Nights: Death Metal as it isn’t your typical good versus evil story.
“One of the things that I believe is a difficult entry point for people who don’t necessarily understand but this multiverse concept has existed for so long when you go back to the original ‘Crisis’ comics, [you realise] how many different offshoots of these characters there are.’
“For me, I’ve been either exactly in line with where the comics are or following since I was a little kid and, if I’m not reading the current stories, I tend to catch up, so I was familiar with everything.
“I would say that to understand this story, you’ve got to understand that there is many different timelines, many different ideas, and there are many different versions of the character. This is an opportunity to see many different iterations of how the character could be, and you’ve got all these different versions of Batman and all these different personality traits that are being shown.
“And I think, in my opinion, it’s one of the best stories if you’re a fan of this character because you’ve got so many different iterations and styles just within this world of how this character operates, and the motivation behind this character is different for every different iteration. So, I really love it.
“You know I’m really into the kind of deconstructionist superhero stories. I’m a huge fan of Alan Moore and all of his works, so I would always recommend them. I kind of like these, what you might call big hero stories, the anti-hero stories as to whether good versus evil, as you say, is truly what it is when you look at something like V for Vendetta or Watchmen or The Killing Joke. I’ve always been a big fan of that kind of deconstructionist look at these heroes.”
In This Moment singer Maria Brink wrote and performed the track ‘Meet Me In The Fire’ for the Dark Nights: Death Metal soundtrack and voices the super-celestial being HAND in the motion comic too. She let us know about her relationship with comic books and how the pandemic helped her involvement in this project.
“All kids fall in love with comic books at some point, and I’ve definitely loved the idea of bringing fantasy to life in all forms: books, comic books, TV, music. I mean, just imagination in general. People exploring those parts of themselves is so beautiful.
“In This Moment is in the process of releasing our first comic book in a few months that we’re very excited for. It was supposed to come out over a year and a half ago, but when COVID hit, it really slowed us down, so we’re so excited for people to see ‘The In-Between’ comic book coming out by In This Moment soon.”
How did she find working with Tyler and Andy for this track?
“I love to collaborate. I love to create music and art on all platforms; it’s something that just brings me great joy. I had the honour of working with Tyler once before this song and loved my experience, and so when he came to me about this new track, I was so excited about it.
“It was really an amazing experience to collaborate. Honestly, I needed this because it was in the middle of COVID and I was feeling kinda lost. To have this project come to me with Tyler and knowing that Andy is just so talented and to collaborate with both of these stars, honestly, to create something was an honour, and it gave me something to be excited about in a hard time that I was going through.”
Taken from the August issue of Upset. Dark Nights: Death Metal Soundtrack is out now.