The vamps vs. werewolves Underworld series has been a bit of a mixed bag entertainment-wise, but as Hollywood high-concept projects go, the producers have been pretty savvy in their musical choices. The main scores from composers Paul Haslinger and Marco Beltrami are often breathtakingly epic, while Haslinger’s style retains a surreal electronic edge (thanks in part to his past work with the legendary Tangerine Dream). On the flipside, the highly-touted contributions from unique artists like David Bowie, Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan and Skinny Puppy were also well-chosen and fit the material like Kate Beckinsale’s signature latex catsuit. Most importantly, the inevitable soundtrack CD releases mostly steered clear of the loathsome “music inspired by the motion picture” marketing approach that you’ve probably hear me bitching about in these pages, choosing instead to musically recapture the mood of the film so you can keep your cinematic memories alive until the DVD hits the shelves.
Since the producers of prequel Rise of the Lycans largely ditched the previous installments’ sci-fi trappings in favor of a massive sword-and-sorcery spectacle with Romeo & Juliet-derived romance, I was wondering if the musical selections might be a bit less daring this time around. Fortunately, most of the offerings here are suitably unique and diverse, largely in part to the oversight provided by Danny “Renholder” Lohner – formerly of Nine Inch Nails and a frequent collaborator with Keenan. The end result may be marred just slightly by the occasional emo pity-fest, but overall it’s a veritable dark paradise for Gothic-industrial fiends, and many of the tracks are no doubt already in heavy club rotation.
As on the previous Underworld CD installments, remixes abound – with nearly every track on the album representing a new interpretation of its source. Maynard is back again with his oddball side-project Puscifer (their version of “The Undertaker” on the Underworld: Evolution soundtrack was superb) and has a hand in some of the new mixes as well. Puscifer’s “Lighten Up Francis” kicks off the album with a nasty, dub-tastic groove that sets an aggressive and slightly sleazy tone, but one of the strongest tracks on this album is Maynard’s beautifully bizarre remix of The Cure’s excellent “Underneath the Stars” (from the recent 4:13 Dream). Not only does he repaint the original with additional vocals and a more detailed sonic palette, but additional vocals are provided by none other than Resident Evil’s Milla Jovovich (who also contributed to the first film’s soundtrack). It’s a haunting track that builds well on Robert Smith’s dreamy imagery.
Wes Borland’s Black Light Burns impressed me all to hell with their old-school instrumentals on the album Cover Your Heart, and his one-time group The Damning Well was featured on the original Underworld, so I was excited to see Wes return here, with the Black Light cut “I Want You To.” It’s not quite up to the audacity of the songs on the last album, but it does showcase Borland’s mad garage skills and sardonic, lounge-lizard vocal style. Andy LaPlegua’s dark techno outfit Combichrist, who scored big-time with this year’s release Today We Are All Demons, supply a reworking of that album’s title track – originally that album’s most subdued cut, but with the intensity ratcheted up. The black-eyeliner set won’t be left out here either, as gloomy favorite AFI contributes a bouncy, bloopy ‘80s club remix of “Miss Murder,” courtesy of electronic legends VNV Nation.
Lohner puts his stamp on the Deftones’ expansive single “Hole in the Earth” (subbing piano for the band’s typical wall-of-sound guitars) and cyber-metal outfit Genghis Tron’s “Board Up the House,” which sounds particularly evil with the emphasis on Mookie Singerman’s raspy vocals. Lohner also teams up with Wes Borland for an remix of Aiden spinoff band William Control; their ‘80s Goth ditty “Deathclub” features guest vocals by Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba. The Trio also contributes their own piece in the form of lush and silky (and very un Trio-like) “Over and Out.” Also remixed by Lohner is “Nasty Little Perv” by Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Ferrell – whose latest dance-oriented ventures have been bizarre to say the least, but usually a lot of fun, and “Perv” is no exception (just try getting the lyric “I got my dongle back” out of your head).
Rounding out the pack, popular remixers Legion of Doom have a hand in things with their re-spin of Thrice’s “Broken Lungs,” which has a very Deftones-like underwater feel, and AFI offshoot band Blacqk Audio continues the ‘80s vibe with “Stiff Kittens.” Harsh electronics transform the sound of “Two Birds, One Stone” by hardcore band Drop Dead, Gorgeous, emphasizing shrill, manic vocals, and King Black Acid (who were prominently featured on the Mothman Prophecies soundtrack) throw down with grinding, down-tuned rhythm guitar, punchy bass line and smooth, sensual vocals for “Let’s Burn.”
On the downside, we get a small and forgettable dose of the usual MTV-friendly pap, though not as whiny and pop-rigged as some selections from Evolution (Atreyu, I’m looking at you). From First To Last’s “Tick Tock Tomorrow” is all whiny emo-core vocals over ridiculously overdriven analog bass, and Ghosts on the Radio’s “Steal My Romance” comes off generic with bland, romantic rock and a weak chorus that goes nowhere.
Those minor blemishes aside, this collection stands well with its predecessors, continuing the urgent, primal vibe carried off by the first two films, albeit with a few more down-tempo and low-key mood pieces. There’s a few cuts that probably won’t see a lot of iPod rotation, but overall this is a well thought-out compilation that fully captures the dark intensity of Lycans, and it should pique some interest in some artists who deserve more high-profile recognition… combined with the previous two installments, I can imagine a pretty awesome playlist with a consistent fantasy tone, sexy club vibes and a gloom dark enough for the bleakest of shadow-dwelling souls.