Review Summary: Bruce Wayne makes a mixtape.
If you were a budding video game developer back in 2009, then Batman: Arkham Asylum
was probably your chief case study on how to successfully port a comic book franchise to the home entertainment console. Developed by Rocksteady Studios and published by Warner Bros., Arkham Asylum
reaped the benefits of charging a veteran Batman writer – five-time Emmy award winner Paul Dini – with the job of creating its storyline. As opposed to most other Batman games, which are adaptations of the character from media distinct from the source material, Dini chose instead to base the game on the long-running comic book mythos, making for a simple yet engaging plot which easily resonated with the legions of Batman purists around the world. Elsewhere, convincing voice acting, innovative game design, and solid marketing sealed the deal, and the game ended up shipping over five million units worldwide while simultaneously earning plaudits as possibly “the greatest comic book video game of all time”.
Trust Warner Bros. to suckle such a golden teat for all it’s worth though; a sequel for Arkham Asylum
– Batman: Arkham City
– was quickly announced that same year, and extra Arkham Asylum
challenge maps turned up with all the regularity of shirtless guys in Twilight: New Moon
. More telling, perhaps, was Warner Bros.’ decision to release Batman: Arkham City
in a multitude of formats (“Standard”, “Robin”, “Steelbook”, and “Collectors”), with each edition being distinguished by the inclusion of various – and often superfluous – forms of added merchandise. Amongst the many, many added appendages to the Collectors’ Edition of the Arkham City
game is none other than Batman: Arkham City – The Album
, a compendium of eleven tracks featuring musical contributions to the franchise by various alt rock and indie artists.
Although at first glance as bewildering and unnecessary an inclusion as those hard-rubber batsuit nipples and oversized codpieces in the 1997 Batman and Robin film, Batman: Arkham City – The Album
quickly proves itself to be a worthwhile companion piece to its parent game. American alt rock group Panic! at the Disco kick off proceedings with “Mercenary”, an infectious pop punk tune with a frantic, vaudeville sheen that would not have seemed entirely out of place on the band’s 2005 debut, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out
. The confident and casual manner in which frontman Brendon Urie slips in a Two-Face dialogue sample behind his trademark lyrical bombast is further proof that the band are still capably trundling on, despite having lost bassist Jon Walker and guitarist-cum-chief-songwriter Ryan Ross for over two years now. Elsewhere, American alt rock band Coheed and Cambria, apparently still enjoying their runaround with making the sort of shorter and more concise efforts like those seen on 2010’s Year of the Black Rainbow
, contribute the pocket-sized “Deranged”. But don’t let the song’s brevity and relatively muted instrumentation fool you, for lead vocalist Claudio Sanchez manages to serve up a piece that perfectly encapsulates the desolate and dismal feel of the streets of Arkham: “While you clean the streets of misfortune/I pick the innocent from my dirty teeth
,” he explains during the song’s chorus. “We’re one and the same – deranged
,” he offers a split second later, effortlessly mimicking the sort of ironic moral juxtaposition that the Batman franchise is so well-known for.
Compilation albums sometimes have the knack of bringing out the best in a band, and Danish indie rock duo The Raveonettes show us as much by treating us to a sultry, distortion-laden number – “Oh, Stranger” – that effortlessly plays to their instrumental strengths while never once eschewing the band’s trademark closely-harmonized vocals. Elsewhere, The Damned Things prove that they haven’t yet lost their hard-edged, pseudo-music-school chops by turning in a blistering, no-holds-barred performance on “Trophy Widow”, and even the otherwise mediocre Daughtry manage to withstand their frontman’s lyrical banality and hold their own with the fist-pumping euphorics of “Drown in You”. Even further down the album, The Boxer Rebellion make themselves a solid case for finally being signed, with the lofty “Losing You” acting as a perfect antithesis to the gritty and much edgier The Cold Still
, which they released earlier this year.
But it is perhaps Serj Tankian’s coda to the album, “Total Paranoia”, that is the hardest track to describe here. In keeping with his constant desire to further distance himself from his halcyon days as one-fourth of System of a Down, Tankian opts to go for a theatrical, embellishing performance – complete with faux choirs, chamber rock arrangements, and dramatic oversinging – ending up with a sound that is unmistakably his own. While this bizarre hybrid of stylistic choices doesn’t exactly make for delectable listening, the number does have a grizzly sense of satisfaction about it, and on a whole manages to fit into the brooding tone of Batman: Arkham City
perfectly. Still, it is Crosses', “The Years”, which wins the title of being the absolute highlight of the entire record. Herein, Deftones singer Chino Moreno channels himself through an ambient filter, slowly creeping towards a climax that is as harsh-sounding and cacophonic as it is pensive, surfacing with a set of predictably thrilling results.
Much like its titular character, Batman: Arkham City – The Album
, is likely to service a world which is painfully unaware of its existence, mainly due to the relatively underwhelming role that it plays both within the overall experience of its parent game and the triviality of compilation albums to the modern day music enthusiasts. Still, we would all do well to attempt to defy the album’s stealth and predator tactics, for herein lies that rare gem: a shameless money-making grab that is actually more than half-decent. In other words: heed the summons of the bat-signal.