Judgement Night vs The Crow - Round 1
Part 1: Helmet (the only band who appear on both Soundtracks)
In my next series of blog posts I’m going to take a deep dive into two movie Soundtracks that defined the mid-nineties. Neither of these movies are Singles (which will get a mention when/if I decide to do a Seattle blog post at some later stage). However, the Singles soundtrack had already become a ‘must have’ album for every young rock fan by the time Judgement Night and The Crow were released. I still haven’t watched Singles ‘the movie’, but I have owned the Singles soundtrack on pirated cassette, then later CD, and now on streaming services.
The early nineties saw every record label looking for the next Nirvana, and bands as diverse sounding as Pearl Jam, and Radiohead were lumped under the grunge umbrella. Formed in 1989 in New York City, Helmet were one of the beneficiaries of the popularity of alt-rock.
Their second album Meantime was successful and the below single ‘Unsung’ was on heavy rotation on MTV. It was just one of a myriad of alt-rock singles that was playable on both Headbangers Ball on MTV, and College Radio stations across the US.
Meantime is as influential an album as Nirvana’s Nevermind. I’m prepared to die on this hill and I’ll even go further to suggest that Meantime influenced the next wave of rock/metal in ways that Nevermind promised but never did.
Judgement Night was a weird movie. It features several actors who were about to become household names and one or two who already were. The plot (for what it’s worth) features a bunch of normal dudes who witness a murder on their way to a sporting event, and are hunted down by the hoods who committed the crime. They fight back (shock horror). It was an early vehicle for the actor/comedian Denis Leary. Denis was becoming a bit of a household name in America at this time. As a standup comic, his ‘No Cure for Cancer’ set was becoming quite famous and had entered into pop culture by way of tiny MTV vignettes he performed which were popular with teenage boys. History has shown that Denis had lifted almost all of his material from the then unknown (but since lauded) comic, Bill Hicks. Nobody outside of the US (Texas really) knew that then, and Denis was hot stuff. Throw in Emilio Estevez (famous for Young Guns etc), Steven Dorff and Cuba Gooding Jr and you had a possible hit in the making. But someone in the production company had obviously seen the dailies and realised that the movie was poor. Poor, is probably a tad unfair. It’s a decent thriller, it’s very well shot, the cast give it their all, but it’s all a bit… meh? Their solution? Better writing? Nope. A RAP-METAL SOUNDTRACK!
Ice-T and Bodycount had debuted a year or two earlier, and the mighty Public Enemy had dueted with Anthrax to stunning effect with ‘Bring the Noise’. (Nobody ever brings up Aerosmith and Run DMC’s ‘Walk this Way’ because it screamed novelty tune).
Even with the apparent successes of Bodycount and the PE/Anthrax combo, precious few acts were experimenting with fusing rap and metal. This was about to change big time over the next few years.
Anyway, the movie would have been forgotten long ago (except perhaps as an artefact of Hollywood’s 90s obsession with inner city violence), but for its associated soundtrack. Various hard rock acts were paired with hip hop acts to give a ‘suburbs meets streets’ vibe to the movie (I guess? In truth I have no idea why they did this). Helmet & House of Pain contributed ‘Just Another Victim’ (below). I had the good fortune to see Helmet perform this track live at a festival in Dublin around the same time as this. They skipped the House of Pain rap bit, which was fine. In a live setting it’s not really needed and Page Hamilton’s shouted spoken word delivery is borderline rap anyway. On the album, the rap bit works. House of Pain were many things, but they definitely sounded street enough for the vibe of the record. Helmet’s delivery is typical Helmet stuff. The riffs are mean and repetitive. They are more proto-industrial-metal sounding than grungey.
In contrast, their contribution to the next big movie soundtrack is an absolute banger of a tune.
The movie The Crow was released in 1994 and was a critical and financial success. This was long before the days when movies based on comic books were seen as viable by studios, and I suspect the movie may have skipped theatres and been a strictly VHS hit if a few things had not happened.
The big thing that happened is that the lead actor, Brandon Lee, was tragically killed during filming. The entire project was almost shelved. Instead, some early CGI and low key marketing enabled the project to conclude. The Crow is a supernatural thriller, who’s protagonist rises from the dead the night before Halloween, to exact revenge on the hoods who murdered him and his fiancé. The mood and visuals of the movie are Goth music influenced. I’ll go into detail about just how Goth they tried to make the movie in next weeks post. The movie is sautéed in Goth. The movie was dipped in dirges, hand rolled with tears and tobacco, and flambéed with bottles of Absinthe (Pernod really, because Absinthe was still seen as naughty back in the 90s). Lee’s character Eric Draven is some kung-fu trained version of The Cure’s Robert Smith or Jim Reid from The Jesus and Mary Chain. Both of these bands feature in the soundtrack. Every teenager who saw the movie instantly became a Goth, though most only in spirit and angst rather than appearance. You weren’t there man. You wouldn’t understand. Eyeliner is a bitch to remove, which is why you’re either full-time or not-at-all when it comes to becoming a Goth.
Milktoast showcases Helmet’s prowess as one of the most talented metal bands of the 90s. The tight riffing and metronomic drums descend into a feedback distorted psychedelic breakdown and guitar solo. It feels like the most 90s metal tune ever and … it is, because Helmet invented this sound.
If you want to be Uber-nerd about the track, keep reading. The version that appears on ‘The Crow’ soundtrack is called ‘Milktoast’ while it’s compatriot that appears on the album Betty is ‘Milquetoast’. The titles are often incorrectly interchanged on YouTube and streaming services. The Crow version has more distortion and ends with shrill feedback. The Betty version is cleaner and fades out, leaving the impression that Helmet are still playing the song in a Goth bar somewhere in Detroit to this day. What happens from the 2:25 mark in the song is one of the greatest distorted feedback breakdowns in Metal ever.
Betty and Meantime are legendary 90s albums. They were influential to tonnes of bands that followed them and have been blamed (unfairly) for the rise of Nu-Metal towards the end of the 90s. Take an hour, no, take two and listen to both records. And when you’re finished listen to these modern bands put their own spin on them with this superb homage tight here.
Oh Wait. Who wins here in the ‘The Crow’ vs ‘Judgement Night’ battle to the death?
Helmet & House of Pain
Helmet on their owneo?
Milktoast for me.
The Crow 1 - Judgement Night 0.
If you agree please leave a comment. If you disagree your name is probably Everlast or Danny Boy.
Next week: Don't look don't look the shadows breathe, Whispering me away from you…