'Bat' In Black

Virgin's release this week of Meat Loaf's "Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose" adds a new chapter to the biggest and best-known album serial in rock'n'roll history.

Virgin's release this week of Meat Loaf's "Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose" adds a new chapter to the biggest and best-known album serial in rock'n'roll history. Its two predecessors -- 1977's "Bat Out of Hell" and 1993's "Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell" -- have sold nearly 50 million copies combined, and Meat Loaf is well aware that the anticipation for the threequel is as much, if not more, about the "Bat" than it is about him.

"Bat III" went through a little hell before it became a reality. Meat Loaf and longtime songwriting partner Jim Steinman started working on it in late 2001, but the composer suffered some health setbacks, including a heart attack, forcing Meat Loaf to make the difficult decision to move forward without him. "The decision not to use Steinman has taken its toll on me," he says. "It was not easy, because I am a really loyal person. But I had to make the decision that was right. I couldn't sit around and wait."

Instead he turned to producer Desmond Child, who began recording sessions by playing Slipknot CDs to get the assembled musicians in the mood. Todd Rundgren returned to help arrange backing vocals. Motley Crue's Nikki Sixx, former Marilyn Manson and current Rob Zombie guitarist John5, Steve Vai and James Michael contributed to the songwriting, while Vai, John5, Grammy-winning producer of the year John Shanks and Queen's Brian May were part of the album's guitar army. "I didn't just want to bring in rock players -- I wanted to go to extreme rock people," Meat Loaf says. The result, he adds, is an album that "has all the touches of the other two 'Bats,' but it's much more of a rock album."

Nevertheless, the album's first single, a duet with Marion Raven on "It's All Coming Back to Me Now," falls decidedly on the pop and even AC side of the spectrum. The song, a Steinman-penned hit for Celine Dion in 1996, was originally slated for "Bat II," and Meat Loaf is still disappointed ("I'd use a stronger adjective," he says with a laugh) that he didn't get first crack at it. "That was my song," Meat Loaf says. "I wanted to record it for 'Bat II,' and Jim said, 'Let's wait for 'Bat III,' and so I took him at his word. The next thing you know, Celine Dion is recording it."