You don’t have to be a fan of wrestling to know each wrestler has a theme song that announces his or her walk up to the ring to start a match. They represent a wrestler’s personality, whether they’re faces (good) or heels (bad). One second into the theme song and people are supposed to immediately know who’s coming out and what to expect.
Vice’s docuseries Dark Side of the Ring—which just recently ended it’s 10-episode long second season—knows this all too well, which is why its soundtrack is basically a collection of dark and unsettlingly nostalgic theme songs for the legends, tragedies, and controversies surrounding the world of wrestling.
With social media showing a growing demand for the series’ soundtrack, Waxwork Records and Vice Music Publishing have decided to release the show’s original score, composed by Wade MacNeil and Andrew Gordon Macpherson. It’s available right now in digital format with a double LP version in the works for release in summer 2020. Those with Amazon Unlimited or Spotify can stream the album right now.
Upon listening to the McNeil and Macpherson score there’s really no way anyone can argue the two composers aren’t part of the core storytelling process. It comes down to the way episodes unravel and how the score adjusts to the particular darkness harnessed in each one of them. It’s like a calculated descent into testimony with music informing the seriousness or severity of new developments. On top of that, the soundtrack also tries to reflect the sounds of the era each episode takes place in.
Take Dino Bravo’s episode, which looks at the wrestler’s unfortunate run with the Canadian Mafia. The episode begins with Bravo’s rise to prominence before his time with the WWE. One of my favorite tracks is featured throughout this sequence, called “Bravo Main Event,” an energetic and heavy synth composition that starts with a catchy beat line only to quickly transition into a low but still intense tone that evokes a sense of coming danger.
It’s a great example of how the music takes every opportunity to give the narrative some much needed context while also setting up the overall franticness of life as a wrestler. Another great example of this lies in the Macho Man Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth episode, titled “The Match Made in Heaven.”
For many, Macho Man and Miss Elizabeth are one half of 80s wrestling, with Hulk Hogan being the second. McNeil and Macpherson take these wrestling icons and make them sound like the 80s followed them around with or without their consent. Like it was impossible to not think about the legends without their decade. A track called “Liz New Haircut” captures this perfectly, setting up a change in the physical look of Miss Elizabeth as something that could only have happened with 80s magic, deceitful though it may be.
The Bruiser Brody episode, where we get a detailed account with actual witnesses about the murder of Brody by the hands of wrestler José Gonzalez in Puerto Rico, carries some of the most tense and downright scary tracks in the series. These tracks evoke a sound that is more 80’s slasher film than wrestling, but it still feels like an organic part of the story. In this case, the sharp sounds heard in “They’re all gone” to the feel of impending doom and violence in “Brody’s Title Theme” are downright haunting and leave more than a mark once some of the darkest things are revealed.
The soundtrack also excels at feeding into the series’ stylized and exaggerated reenactments. These bits of story act as a kind of spectral memory, more interested in capturing the aura of a particular moment or a particular wrestler.
These sequences are drenched in mist and shadows, with neon reds and solid blues coloring the scenario just enough to keep its characters’ presences from crossing over to reality. It’s like they created a new type of ghost just for these scenes, allowing the spirit of wrestling itself to tell its side of the story. The effect is eerie but magnetic and it’s nothing short of impressive.
The soundtrack comes with 31 tracks encompassing seasons 1 & 2, all of which tell a part of the story. That each track captures these moments so well means those who watched the docuseries will get flashes of darkness per listen. You won’t be able to imagine wrestling without it.