Revolver has two exclusive, limited-edition vinyl variants of the Dark Nights: Death Metal Soundtrack — order yours before they're gone!
Tyler Bates is the pied piper of heavy music. Between his decades playing in rock bands and his prodigious film-scoring career (Guardians of the Galaxy, John Wick), the dude knows everyone — few people in the industry can boast collaborations with Rob Zombie and Zack Snyder — and he knows how to lure them into a creative project. So, when DC decided to create a soundtrack album to pair with its innovative Dark Nights: Death Metal crossover mini-series (the sequel to Dark Nights: Metal), Bates was the ideal curator. It was an opportunity to recruit some of his favorite bands across the grand spectrum of heaviness, but perhaps more importantly, a chance to offer some invigorating work to musicians sidelined by the pandemic.
Much like what COVID-19 has done to the world for the last year and a half, the Death Metal series plunges the Justice League mainstays into a living hell — a realm where Batman brandishes a Grim Reaper scythe and a super-powered Joker controls the universe — so Bates had a lot to live up to when it came to a soundtrack. The stakes are high when the multiverse is on the brink. But he more than delivered.
The Dark Nights: Death Metal soundtrack, which Bates executive-produced, features 15 tracks, and it runs the gamut of genre and vibe. HEALTH and Mastodon are both here, while Chelsea Wolfe and Soccer Mommy fill out the edges. The one binding quality of all the featured players is a spiritual sense of heaviness. From the neon synths to the drop-D bass, this is music for the end of the world. We talked to Bates talked about that, as well as what it was like to convince those artists to voice the superhero cast in the project's tie-in series of animated shorts, and how much he enjoyed giving his friends good, fun work in the middle of the COVID lockdown.
SO HOW DID YOU LINK UP WITH DC FOR A PROJECT AS HIGH CONCEPT AS A COMIC-BOOK SOUNDTRACK?
TYLER BATES There was an initial soundtrack made to the first series, Dark Nights: Metal. Mike Elizondo and I just wrote six songs for it, and there was no real, long-term view of it. We kind of took a mulligan on that one, even though we really love the music that was created. When DC came back to me for Dark Nights: Death Metal, I discussed it with DC's Executive Director Matt Keller, and he told me that this was my project and that he wanted me to make a great record. It was about writing songs inspired by this comic series and engaging artists who are into comics. With COVID unfolding, I thought this would be a great opportunity to instill some camaraderie among artists who are in a very uncertain time, many of whom are very frustrated and hurting. It could be a great outlet for everyone just to enjoy stepping out of their normal mind state and to get involved in something. So we started there. And then we had a few labels that we talked to that were interested in working with us on it. I have a longstanding friendship with the people at Loma Vista. I told Matt that I'd like to talk to them, and they were down, and they came in as a great partner for the project. We've been collaborating the whole way.
THE CAST IS DIVERSE. YOU HAVE EVERYONE FROM DENZEL CURRY TO CHELSEA WOLFE ON THE TRACK LIST? HOW MUCH IMPACT DID YOU HAVE ON RECRUITING THE DIFFERENT ARTISTS WHO APPEAR?
Before we even locked down a label, I called Chelsea Wolfe. I was taken by her music a few years ago. I thought, Man, I'd love to do something with her. She was down before we got rolling. Greg Puciato and Gil Sharone [both formerly of the Dillinger Escape Plan] are good friends of mine. We were talking right before COVID about doing some fun post-punk/metal stuff for shits and giggles. The three of us can do that on a weekend. So when this opportunity came along, we wrote a song called "Now You've Really Done it." Starcrawler is a band I found through my daughter. She saw them in Nashville a few years ago. They're great people and very talented. HEALTH is a Loma Vista artist, and we're also friends. Mastodon is on this soundtrack, and Brann [Dailor, Mastodon drummer-vocalist] was cool enough to voice Darkseid for us as well. There's connective tissue everywhere.
A U.K. electronic group, Gunship, contacted me about doing a remix. We got in contact about an original song and they kept referencing Dave Lombardo [Slayer, Suicidal Tendencies, Fantômas, etc.]. And I was like, "Why don't we just ask Dave to play on it?" It took a second for it to register. But I was like, "He'd probably love to do it." It was way outside his wheelhouse, doing this Eighties electronic thing. Lombardo is a very positive, spirited person, and that was a cool way to connect my friends during the circumstances of the pandemic.
Even with HEALTH. When we finished writing the track we sent it to the label, and they said, "Man, that's killer. What do you think about a guest vocalist?" I talked to the guys and I knew their favorite singer was Chino [Moreno, of the Deftones]. They kinda scoffed like, "Yeah, you're really gonna get Chino?" I called him up, and he knocked out a track pretty quick. We glued that whole song together.
IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU'RE MAKING DREAMS COME TRUE.
When Jake [Duzsik, of HEALTH] first heard the track with Chino's voice, he was like, "Fuck dude, that's so crazy." Same with the guys from Gunship with Dave Lombardo. That's such a weird connection that they probably never thought they were going to make.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE WRANGLING THOSE ARTISTS INTO THE MOTION COMIC?
It was about creating this central point where all of our artists on the soundtrack can meet at some point, and connect with the creators of the comic. It was to show the fans of the comic themselves that all of the artists are into the scene. Many of these artists might not be familiar to hardcore DC fans, but they might take another look at them now. It was awesome how interested they all were. Denzel Curry has an encyclopedic knowledge of DC comics. He knows everything. Andy Biersack, of Black Veil Brides, is the biggest Batman fan on the planet. He voiced Batman for us, and he was great. Just great to work with. Total positive energy. Then, of course, everyone loves David Hasslehoff voicing Superman. David has become a good friend of mine from Guardians of the Galaxy 2. He's great. His performances are awesome. It was a fun way to be musical, to be creative, and to offer people an opportunity to step outside of what they normally do and apply themselves to something just for fun.
WERE ANY OF THOSE ARTISTS NERVOUS TO STEP BEHIND THE VOICE OF AN ICONIC CHARACTER IN THE DC UNIVERSE? CHELSEA WOLFE HAS SAID SHE WAS A LITTLE HESITANT TO PLAY WONDER WOMAN.
Chelsea is actually already a big DC comics fan. I didn't know that when I asked her to do this. When I came up with the idea for the motion comic, the DC executives were cool enough to give me the license to do it, and at the beginning Chelsea was the only female artist we had on the roster. So I said, "How do you feel about playing Wonder Woman?" And she said, "I don't know, would I be right for that?" And I said, "You're the Wonder Woman who's seen every horrible thing in the world, and you're still holding out hope. You don't have to be rah-rah." She gave her performance and it was pretty deadpan. Once the first episode came out, people loved her. They had to digest it for a second, and then they realized she was restrained in a really cool way.
DID YOU GUYS FEEL THE NEED TO WRITE SONGS THAT WERE DIRECTLY INSPIRED BY DC LORE? OR SONGS THAT JUST CARRIED SOME SORT OF THEMATIC SIMILARITY WITH THE COMIC STORY ARC?
With Sophia Allison from Soccer Mommy, I sent her the comic and said, "Even if you just take an impression from it, that's cool." Some are more literal. The song we did with Chelsea Wolfe is called "Diana." We're literally writing from Wonder Woman's perspective. It depends on the artist. The Mastodon song is called "Forged By Neuron," which is right out of the comics. [Neron is a green-eyed demon lord in Dark Nights: Death Metal.] I didn't want anyone to feel hamstrung at the beginning of the writing process. Some are going to grab the literal material more comfortably than others. We wanted to give people the freedom to write a great song that they'd put on their own record.
ONE OF THE THINGS WE TALK ABOUT A LOT AT REVOLVER IS HOW THE DEFINITION OF "HEAVINESS" IS EVOLVING. WHEN I LOOK AT THE TRACK LISTING HERE, YOU CAN FIND A TON OF ARTISTS THAT DON'T FIT INTO AN ORTHODOX DEFINITION OF HEAVY MUSIC. WHAT DOES HEAVINESS MEAN TO YOU?
I think heaviness is substance, soul, and honesty. You could argue that Steely Dan is heavy. You're talking about super incredible composers and musicians, with awesome taste. When I find that people are just repeating themselves, I get less interested. All you need to do is go on TikTok for a few minutes in order to see impression after impression. I'm hoping that after COVID, people really show their need for substantive art. I've toured a bunch throughout the last decade, and I've seen a lot of screaming bands. But they aren't heavy. They're embodying a rehashed idea. I'm down with artists who are constantly challenging themselves, and who aren't afraid of stepping into new territory. If they do that with me, hopefully that gives them fuel for their next creative chapter.