The original Batman: Arkham Asylum game captured, by most accounts, the eerie feel of Gotham while delivering a superb playing experience. The makers decided to aim for more than just a satisfying follow-up that gamers are anticipating; they orchestrated a relatively high-profile 11-track-long soundtrack to go along with the video game’s release. Enter Batman: Arkham City – The Album, released yesterday, October 4. [This review focuses on the 12-track version of the soundtrack that only comes with the Collector's Edition of the video game, which features an exclusive bonus track by A Place To Bury Strangers]
Not only did Rocksteady Studios go for big acts like Coheed and Cambria and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club on this project, it employed each artist to bring an original track to the album, rather than retread safe, tired songs. It set out, as I’m sure most soundtracks do, to transcend the doldrums of the soundtrack genre, with mixed results.
There is a consistent atmosphere to most of the tracks, although thematically the songs seem to fall short of the uniformity hoped for on the project. Even if all the artists really tried to center their offerings around the Batman universe, an even narrative is absent. This isn’t really a knock, just one of the realities of 99% of soundtracks that couldn’t be overcome here.
There is a nice liveliness in the opening tracks—Panic! At The Disco, Coheed and Cambria, and The Duke Spirit—that gets the ball rolling. After that, the project slips into sleepy, cool rock that fits the Batman feel, with “Shadow on the Run” by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. This is the kind of high quality mood music one would expect from a good movie soundtrack, and it holds the album together with similar tunes like The Boxer Rebellion’s “Losing You.”
The project is not without its rough spots. “Total Parnoia” by Serj Tankian (of System of a Down) is remarkably uninteresting and unlistenable. Blaqk Audio and Crosses throw in some forgettable, confused examples of “dark” electronic sound. Daughtry headlines the album, but is unsurprisingly bland, a more radio-friendly parallel to The Damned Things’ formulaic hard rock that precedes it.
The highlights of the album include the opening burst, a perfect mixture of chaos and rock guitar on A Place to Bury Strangers’ “In the Shadow”—this is when the album is at its Arkham-est—and the standout track “Oh, Stranger” by the Raveonettes. Their clean but unsettled synth sounds build up alongside anxious vocals and a soaring instrumental chorus, which is separated by exciting pauses of anticipation. They definitely lend to the environment gamers will be moving through—a foggy, dark canvas of crime, pavement, and shining skyscrapers.
If you throw together a smattering of contemporary rock groups and merely avoid producing something obnoxious, you have a major accomplishment under your belt. And while the album might not hit its mark of being an unconventional soundtrack that stands on its own legs, it does succeed where it needs to by providing a sturdy, realistic backdrop to the world of the game, with limited obstructions. It also features some great, true-to-Arkham style artwork in the liner notes, which unfold into a nifty poster of the cover image. I give it a 1.5/3 on my truth/goodness/beauty doohickey.