At the time of Cranberries singer Dolores O'Riordan's death earlier this week, she was set to revisit her band's poignant 1994 hit, "Zombie," with a heavy-metal band. Bad Wolves, a new group consisting of former members of DevilDriver, In This Moment and God Forbid, had recorded a version of the song a few months ago for their upcoming debut album, and Dan Waite, a friend of O'Riordan's who works at the band's label, sent it to her to get her take on it. "Dan sent me a message like, 'She loved it, and she wants to sing on it,'" Bad Wolves frontman Tommy Vext tells Rolling Stone. "It made my year just to have that kind of validation."
They set up a session in London not knowing what O'Riordan would record – whether recutting the lead vocals or adding backups to Vext's recording – and ultimately the band never found out what her intention would be. News broke Monday that the singer had died "suddenly"; no cause of death has been released, though authorities said they weren't treating it as suspicious.
Now Bad Wolves are releasing their "Zombie" cover – the version O'Riordan approved of – as a tribute to the late singer. All profits from the track will benefit O'Riordan's three children. "You never know if that's going to help," Vext says. "But hopefully it does some good."
Bad Wolves' interpretation of "Zombie" is moody like the Cranberries', though the instrumentation sounds clearer and more cutting. Vext alternates between crooning and howling the song's lyrics, which O'Riordan wrote in response to an Irish Republican Army attack that killed two children in 1993. He updated some of the lyrics to include a mention of drones and to make them more current: Instead of "It's the same old theme since 1916," a reference to the Easter Rising insurrection in Ireland that year, he sings, "It's the same old theme in 2018." ("That's because we're still dealing with a lot of these issues," Vext says.) As the song progresses, Bad Wolves lay into their instruments more and more.
"Her lyrics in that song still reflect social unrest, political turmoil and humanity's persistence in modern struggles," Vext says. "The reasons might change, but there's still collateral damage with people's struggle for power and freedom." Moreover, Vext says what O'Riordan did transcends genre because of the message. "When you watch her perform live or listen to her recordings, there's so much honesty, transparency and vulnerability," he says. "That's something every artist should strive for."
When Bad Wolves recorded their version of "Zombie," they weren't sure if it would even make the record but by Vext's estimation, "It came out very, very powerful," which is why they decided to see what O'Riordan thought of it. It was something Vext was hoping to hear in person – or at least over the phone at some point. "I was really hoping to meet her, say thank you for everything – for her music and her willingness to contribute and her approval," he says. "It was unfortunately something that I didn't get to experience."
What he has heard are the voice messages O'Riordan left with Waite. "She just seemed exuberant and super excited and full of life," he says. "It just doesn't make sense."
Vext woke up Monday to texts telling him the news of her death. "I thought it was a joke," he said. "I didn't think it was real. It's surreal and it's been overwhelming and sad. Regardless of the collaboration, the most important thing to me is that here are three kids who don't have a mom. And it's heartbreaking."
Vext now hopes that Bad Wolves' cover serves as a tribute to O'Riordan. "We could have shelved it, but I don't think it would have done justice to what we were trying to accomplish," he says. "Now the song has a weight and a depth to it that no one outside of being this close to it could possibly imagine. It almost feels like we had to do it. It feels like we're compelled to have her work continue on through us."