Various Artists: Alone in the Dark: Music From and Inspired By the Motion Picture

Various Artists
Alone in the Dark: Music from and Inspired By the Motion Picture
Nuclear Blast

So you’re probably wondering why a fine website like PopMatters is reviewing the soundtrack for a movie that will undoubtedly rank as one of the year’s very worst. Personally, I haven’t seen it, but by all accounts, from its abysmal scores at both Rotten Tomatoes (1 out of 100 on the Tomatometer) and at Metacritic (nine out of 100), to its weak showing at the box office (making little more than five million dollars before fading into oblivion), most people in North America seems to agree that Alone in the Dark is pure, cinematic crap. Considering that it stars such B-list celebs as Christian Slater, Stephen Dorff, and Tara Reid in a movie adaptation of an old Atari video game, it was pretty much obvious to us all that it would be a straight-to-video stinker. Released smack in the middle of the major studios’ annual January to February trash dump of previously shelved movies, the subsequent commercial failure of Alone in the Dark was a surprise to no one. The accompanying soundtrack album, however, is a completely different story.

Alone in the Dark: Music From and Inspired By the Motion Picture (don’t you just love those titles?) deserves to be seen less as a collection of songs from a cheesy movie, and more of a first-rate collection of the best heavy metal music from the past three years. Quite honestly, you will not find a better introduction to contemporary heavy metal than this album. Compiled with the co-operation of four of the finest metal labels in the world today, Nuclear Blast, Relapse, Century Media, and Roadrunner, this soundtrack is a walloping, two-disc, 36 track, two and a half hour excursion into all facets of the most extreme of musical genres. Seriously, any person who is the least bit curious about new metal artists, but has no idea where to begin looking, would be best to give this CD a few spins. With all its myriad subgenres, metal is very imposing to the first-time listener, and this compilation covers practically every area, running the gamut, ranging from the highly melodic, to the thunderous, the chaotic, the theatrical, to the progressive, showing just how varied the genre has become over the last 20 years.

Symphonic black metal is one of the most fascinating sounds in metal today, and nobody does it as well as Norway’s Dimmu Borgir and England’s Cradle of Filth. Both bands are represented by two outstanding, epic tracks; Dimmu’s “Vredesbyrd” achieves a stunning balance between the ugly and the ornate, the churning guitar riffs offset by orchestral flourishes, as lead growler Shagrath snarls his Norwegian lyrics like a Viking spawn of Satan. Cradle of Filth’s “Mother of Abominations”, meanwhile, employs more ambient keyboards and a simpler guitar arrangement, setting the stage for the unmistakable screech of the always dramatic vocalist Danni Filth. Heading in a completely opposite direction are two of Europe’s most popular metal bands; Italy’s Lacuna Coil and Finland’s Nightwish are the two best female-fronted bands in the genre today, and both combine pop hooks, symphonic influences, and very effective male-female duets, exemplified by Lacuna Coil’s classy “Daylight Dancer” and Nightwish’s intense, yet catchy “Wish I Had an Angel”. While the two styles might seem disparate, one band links the aforementioned bands; Switzerland’s Samael was the first to incorporate orchestral scores, a major influence on both black and gothic metal, and their new track “On Earth” has them moving into more of an electronic realm, to great effect.

And that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Three of America’s brightest metal hopes, Shadows Fall, Chimaira, and Mastodon are present, not to mention plenty of veterans from the States, including Bay Area thrash legends Exodus and Death Angel (both of whom made successful comebacks in 2004), hardcore legends Agnostic Front, and 90s nu-metal leaders Fear Factory and Machine Head. Progressive innovators Meshuggah, Dillinger Escape Plan, and Strapping Young Lad contribute fine examples of their dizzying technical ability, while The Haunted and Arch Enemy, offshoots of two of the most important metal bands of the 1990s, At the Gates and Carcass respectively, show that they’re still capable of producing superb music.

Of course, what would a metal compilation be without some good old, reliable Scandinavian metal, and this album is brimming with Swedes, highlighted by innovators In Flames, Dark Tranquillity, and Soilwork, as all three bands continue to evolve (to great controversy among metal obsessives), but all doing so with their integrity intact. Meanwhile, younger bands like Bloodbath, Raunchy, and Denmark’s very promising Mnemic show everyone that there are plenty of newer artists out there ready to take the genre to the next level.

There are simply too many noteworthy tracks to mention in great detail, with only a tiny number of mediocre contributions (the ordinary Diecast being the most noticeable). Alone in the Dark arrives at just the right time, as heavy metal is enjoying a long-overdue surge in popularity, and this album is sure to please discerning fans, and is bound to show new listeners just how exciting metal can be, when performed well. The movie is already on its way to becoming long forgotten, but this superb collection does not deserve a similar fate.

RATING 8 / 10