March 29th, 1994, Atlantic Records released The Crow: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. Music is often a potent reminder of a time and place. Sensing this, film producers and directors had long sought to marry the songs of a particular time to their movies, hoping to add emotional clout and, in some cases, credibility.

The early ’90s saw a plethora of great soundtracks, each catering to a specific demographic that clung to the film it was associated with. These soundtracks often outstripped their related movies when it came to a lasting emotional impact on the audience. The Crow is one occasion where the film and its soundtrack succeed in being perfectly complementary while also capturing the zeitgeist of the time.

The Crow: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, like the movie that inspired it, drips with a moody, eye-liner smeared darkness. It’s as rich and foreboding as a trip through the mean streets of Detroit on Devil’s Night. It’s an expertly curated catalogue of a time in rock history that was far more diverse and open-minded than hindsight might suggest.

By 1994, alternative rock was mainstream. The landscape was littered with musicians whose tastes and backgrounds encompassed punk, metal, classical rock, rap, goth, industrial, and everything in between. Fans, too, were vividly open-minded to the sounds being produced. Tours like Lollapalooza blended rock, rap, industrial, grunge, spoken word and the kitchen sink to devastating effect. At the same time, bands like Rage Against The Machine, Primus, Tool, Rollins Band, and Sonic Youth took a sledgehammer to the idea of sticking within your chosen genre.

What The Crow Soundtrack manages to do so well is tie those influences and sounds together in one era-defining collection that can proudly sit alongside other soundtracks like “Singles” as one of the great musical heirlooms of the ’90s. Both soundtracks deeply resonated with the alt-rock generation at the time of their release and still hold a visceral emotional grip today.

While Singles encapsulated the rise of the grunge scene in 1992, the Crow was the place where the misfits, weirdos and outcasts who didn’t fit on the grunge bandwagon went to play. Listening to The Crow now is a reminder that ’90s rock wasn’t all about “The Seattle Sound.”

Where Singles was a superficial love story, The Crow was a gritty R-rated comic book movie at a time when superheroes weren’t flooding the theatres. Singles was a must-have for discerning rock fans, while The Crow was an assortment of various bands who, with a few exceptions, were less fashionable or even that well known.

Singles’ strength lay in the fact that the bands involved were at the coalface of the most dramatic usurping of the rock mainstream in music history, rendering the soundtrack full of soon-to-be platinum-selling behemoths. Singles felt vital, exciting and potent. The Crow’s strengths lay in its pitch-perfect pacing and atmosphere. Considering the disparate nature of the bands involved, the amalgam of dark, sinister, yet hopeful moods that stretch across its fourteen tracks is extraordinary. The Crow caught the mood of the time in a way few albums did.

It’s worth pointing out that The Crow went triple-platinum, while Singles went double-platinum despite its “lesser-known” bands. But considering The Crow soundtrack was linked to a movie that grossed in the region of 100 million dollars compared to the paltry 18.5 million the Singles movie raked in, The Crow had the upper hand in diverting earholes toward its soundtrack.

The album opens with the highly evocative “Burn” by The Cure, immediately setting the tone of what’s to come. It’s a brooding masterpiece from a band that has straddled decades and influenced numerous alternative rock bands of every persuasion. Robert Smith’s penchant for makeup, black clothes, and dramatic hair was mirrored in the look of Eric Draven, the dead musician in James O’Barr’s original Crow comic and star of the movie. “Burn” is an absolute triumph of cinematic goth rock.

“Golgotha Tenement Blues” by Arizona band Machines Of Loving Graces picks up the considerable mantle set by The Cure. The song’s claustrophobic atmosphere descends like a blanket of smoke. Frontman Scott Benzel’s whispered threats seeth through a fog of lightly industrial soundscapes, hooky, upper-register bass licks, and sinister guitar chugs. “Give me your tired and your wicked/Give me your dollar whores/Down on the boulevard children are sold/To pave the way.
For your streets of gold.”

The Crow’s big radio hit was a then-new Stone Temple Pilots song called Big Empty. STP’s second album, Purple, would appear in June 1994, and this was the first taste of new material for fans post-Core. Big Empty is a perfect time capsule, with massive guitars, infinite hooks and high emotions; the Crow wouldn’t be complete without it.

“Big Empty” opens with a gorgeous jazzy acoustic slide guitar, shuffling drums and graceful, walking bass. Scott Weiland’s voice is hushed and gossamer thin, sounding resigned as he delivers the lines, “Driving faster in my car/Falling farther from just what we are/Smoke a cigarette and lie some more/These conversations kill/Falling faster in my car.”

Drummer Eric Kretz’s gunshot snare introduces a huge chorus as guitarist Dean DeLeo’s saturated electric guitar chords make a colourful bed for Weiland’s powerful tenor. The song transitions back to hushed acoustic jazz for verse two, creating an intoxicating push-pull dynamic. Its middle eight is a beautiful, hazy swirl of atmosphere that intensifies before the closing chorus shoots skyward.

The record does a beautiful job of joining the dots between the post-punk and goth bands of the 1980s and the alternative rock and industrial bands that followed in the 1990s. Case in point: Nine Inch Nails’ masterful reading of the Joy Division track “Dead Souls”

There’s something profoundly satisfying about Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails’ nerve-shredding industrial sound being applied to a classic Joy Division song. Both bands personified hedonistic despair in very different eras. Reznor is astute enough to realise that sending this stunning track through an industrial meat grinder would be pointless. Instead, he soaks the song in a foreboding atmosphere, complimenting the original mood by ratcheting the intensity.

Rage Against The Machine’s “Darkness” is a re-recording of a track called “Darkness Of Greed,” which was written for the band’s debut album but somehow didn’t make the final cut. The sheer quality of this song proves that it was no mere castaway. A slinky jazz intro opens up to a ferociously tight, swinging groove. Zack De La Rocha’s delivery is rattlesnake potent.
Tom Morrello effortlessly spits out liquid jazz leads and machine gun flurry riffs while Brad Wilk and Tim Commerford nimbly swing between tranquillity and vociferously powerful attack.

Tracks by punk veterans Violent Femmes and Henry Rollins sit side-by-side with Pantera, who pays tribute to Oregon punk legends’ Poison Idea. Violent Femmes “Color Me Once” is a typically moody, spacious affair. The band’s quirky nature sits perfectly; singer Gordon Gano’s delivery resembles David Byrnes’s off-kilter spookiness. Rollins Band offers a blistering cover of “Ghostrider” by synth-punk pioneers Suicide. Adding a more organic Black Sabbath meets Black Flag feel than the original’s cold synth beat, the band revels in the intensity.

Helmet drops the incendiary “Milquetoast.” This groove-laden romp is typically angular, melodic, propulsive and wickedly heavy. Few bands in the ’90s crossed musical boundaries like Helmet, who hovered up adoring fans across vastly different genres. Pantera lay down a stunningly visceral salute to Pacific Northwest punk legends Poison Idea with a venomous hardcore take on “The Badge” from their 1990 album Feel The Darkness.

“Slip Slide Melting” by Oklahoma’s For Love Not Lisa is a perfect piece of ’90s rock. Its towering chord sequences and muted chugs swirl around a locked, tight rhythm section. This song exemplifies the hidden gems scattered throughout this album.

Industrial’s jagged, glitchy esthetic looms large over the entire soundtrack, particularly on “After The Flesh” by My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, which features the kind of machine-noise blasts Ministery’s Al Jourgensen eats for breakfast.

Scottish alternative rock legends The Jesus And Mary Chain’s Snakedriver oozes a kaleidoscopic, Stonesy swagger. LA noise-pop band Medicine gives us the beguilingly beautiful “Time Baby III.” The band had a cameo in the movie performing “Time Baby II,” but the soundtrack features a different version titled “Time Baby III.”

Closing out the album is “It Can’t Rain All The Time” by Canadian singer Jane Siberry. The song takes lyrical cues from some of the film’s dialogue. Graeme Revell, who composed the score, wrote the song’s music. Siberry’s haunting voice sings, “We walked the narrow path/Beneath the smoking skies/Sometimes you can barely tell the difference/Between darkness and light/Do you have faith/In what we believe?/The truest test is when we cannot/When we cannot see.”

Like Singles, Judgement Night, and others of the era, The Crow presents a snapshot of a time when soundtracks were curated and compiled with similar considerations for story arc, emotional impact and pacing as their accompanying movies. But, the truth was that producers and record company executives had a deep ocean of once-in-a-generation talent to choose from.

Ultimately, the soundtrack achieves its goal; it’s vitally important to the film’s beautifully unnerving, riveting mood. Listening to the album quickly returns you to the dark, dangerous underworld of “The Crow,” but it will also quickly transport you to another time and place.