Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Plunder the Tombs Interview

In which I'm interviewed by Swedish blogger, Invisible Guy about Plunder the Tombs, the arrival of the second wave of Goth in Perth, evolution of the scene, and my warm fuzzy feelings about cybergoth.

Happy reading!

Be warned - I do tend to go on a bit...

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Sisterhood – Gift (Merciful Release, 1986)

Let us now delve into one of the more tempestuous tales in the history of Gothic Rock.

We need to travel back to 1986 when The Sisters of Mercy were riding high on the success of their debut full length release First and Last and Always. Plans for the second album, reportedly to be called “Left on Mission and Revenge”, were underway, but all was not well. Recent gigs had been fraught with tension and guitarist and lead song-writer Gary Marx left the band mid-tour citing “personal differences”, and left The Sisters to complete tour dates of Europe and the US as a three-piece (Thompson, D. The dark reign of gothic rock: In the reptile house with The Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus and The Cure, Helter Skelter (2002)). He’s by no means vanished from history however, and soon turns up in Ghost Dance with Anne-Marie Hurst, former vocalist with fellow Leeds Goth act Skeletal Family, who had regularly served as The Sisters’ support act.
However, we digress.

Rehearsals of the new songs were going no better. As Eldritch would relate the tale later;

“They said, ‘Well okay, what are we going to do for new songs?’ and I said ‘How about this, this, and this’ and unfortunately the first ‘this’ I cited had too many chords per minute and Craig said “If that’s the guitar line, I’m not playing it’ and walked out.”

Wayne Hussey followed suit, exiling himself from The Sisters just one day later. As he would later explain events in contrast to the Eldritch version:

“We got to doing the second album and Andrew said ‘I’m not singing any of your songs’. That’s what it boils down to. Craig walked out of rehearsals and a day later I did. He was listening to things like Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks, Foreigner and there was us listening to Motorhead or whatever. And it showed.”
(Mercer, M. The Gothic Rock Black Book, Omnibus, 1988).

Curiously, Hussey and Eldritch would re-join for just one gig in Hamburg before formally announcing that The Sisters of Mercy had dissolved (Thompson, D., 2002). One would imagine that the backstage vibe at this gig must have been both weird and awkward, but this is where the real fun starts.

And so it begins: Wayne Hussey and Craig Adams regroup.  They’re joined by Mick Brown, previously drummer with fellow Leeds Goth band Red Lorry Yellow Lorry and Simon Hinkler, formerly with Artery. Then they announce that they will call themselves The Sisterhood. By strange err...coincidence, this also happens to be the name of The Sisters of Mercy fanclub.

Sitting on his skull throne, Lord Andrew taps his fingertips in a slow rhthym.
No…. No.”, he thinks.
This simply will not do. This simply will not do. At. All.”

So, what to do? The easiest approach is to launch legal action, easy because Eldritch already owns rights to “The Sisterhood” name.  A much more proactive approach however is to quickly record and release something using “The Sisterhood” name himself, thereby completely asserting rights to the brand.  Eldritch evidently fancies a quickie, and as Liisa Ladouceur observes, in many ways, The Sisterhood is best regarded as a “legal pissing contest disguised as a band” (Encyclopedia Gothica, ECWpress, 2011). Certainly, the “band” never performed live.

This path does pose certain difficulties however, chief among them being that Andrew Eldritch’s contract with Warner prohibits him from personally appearing on the album (drum machine, the indomitable Doktor Avalanche is fortunately not bound by any such odd conventions of meatspace and will be used to great effect) . To get around this, Eldritch ropes in the then largely unknown vocal talents of James Ray, later to become much better known with James Ray and the Performance and James Ray’s Gangwar, who sounds so much like Eldritch, that initially many suspect he may be a fictional entity. Regarding the politics surrounding The Sisterhood, Ray would later observe;

“I really didn’t give two monkey shits what was going on, it was just I went down and sang a song and that was it. I didn’t think anything of all that. Eldritch asked do you want to release a single with me and he asked me to start explaining why he was doing it and I just didn’t care, it was just a chance to make a record y’know?”  

In an interesting aside, James Ray would later go on to release several albums through Eldritch’s label Merciful Release and would eventually note on the subject of Eldritch;

“He’s a liar, he’s a cheat, he’s fucking useless.”
(Mercer, M. Gothic Rock, Pegasus Publishing, 1992)

Again, we digress, but isn’t it interesting to observe how often these very similar descriptions of Andrew Eldritch emerge from those who have had the intriguing experience of working with him?

Next, we require a bass player. In what would later prove an inspired choice, Eldritch enlists Patricia Morisson, formerly with LA punk/death rock group The Bags, then with The Gun Club, and at the time touring as Siouxsie’s support act, Fur Bible. She too will later assert that Andrew Eldritch cheated her out of money, but that’s a story for another time. Original Motorhead drummer Lucas Fox is roped in to co-produce and we are ready to begin.

The result is the “Giving Ground” single (Merciful Release, 1986). Obviously, it’s designed to serve the very pragmatic purpose of rapidly and efficiently fucking over the opposition rather than any pretensions to high art. Accordingly, the cover art is extraordinarily minimalist to say the least.

 Equally minimalist is the track listing – why bother with a “real” B-side when you can just bung on a longer version of the A-side? And so, we are presented with the A-side “Giving Ground (RSV)” and the B-side “Giving Ground  (AV)”, the latter clocking in with a bonus 52 seconds. For the curious, AV and RSV are Biblical references denoting “Authorised Version” and “Revised Standard Version” respectively. So now you know!

His rivals’ guns neatly spiked, they are forced to concede defeat and change their name to The Mission. Eldritch ponders where to go next. He and his new-found playmates begin work on a little something titled “This Corrosion”, but Eldritch wisely decides to keep it under his hat for later, so perhaps a Sisterhood EP is in order?

And so, with no further ado, ladies, gentlemen and unwitting small children lured here by accident or evil design, we bring you the Gift EP.

This one has attracted quite a diabolical reputation over the years, but is it as bad as often supposed?  

Actually, the answer is probably not. Part of the problem almost certainly lies in that the Goth scene had never heard anything quite like this before.  Although it’s certainly true that it doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny, most of the tracks aren’t bad at all, in fact it’s rather more of a fascinating listen to hear in it the germination of ideas that a year later will reach maturity on The Sisters epic and awesome album Floodland (Merciful Release, 1987). Indeed, some CD versions of Floodland will include “Colours” as a bonus track.

The opening track “Jihad” is actually quite strong, it’s opening line of “2-5-0-0-0” commonly rumoured to be a mocking reference to the amount Eldritch was able to sue Hussey & Co for infringement of intellectual property. 

Meanwhile, “Finland Red, Egypt White” continues the, if nothing else, “economical” nature of the project by inventively quoting the specifics of an AK-47 (AKA: a Kalishnikov assault rifle) direct from a weapons and ammunitions catalogue in place of anything resembling real lyrics. “Rain from Heaven” is perhaps less remarkable although remains interesting for featuring the vocals of Suicide’s Alan Vega.

If there is a genuinely weak point here, then it’s ironically the single “Giving Ground” (here a different version from either found on the 7”). James Ray once described this as It’s a terrible track and he’s absolutely correct. On listening to the keyboard line, I can’t help but think it’s what this little guy might sound like on a whole mountain sized heap of Xanax. Never fear however – the song is not without redemption as Christian Dorge’s project Syria would later demonstrate to excellent effect on their album Ozymandias of Egypt (Black October Records, 1993). It doesn’t appear to be on Youtube, but I strongly suggest that you hunt a copy down since it does genuinely demonstrate with convincing power that it is indeed possible to polish a turd.



Giving Ground

Finland Red, Egypt White

Rain From Heaven

And so, gentle readers, there you have the whole sorry tale. We will leave it to the conspiracy theorists among you to muse upon the ever-persistent story that the entire stoush was in fact a totally confected row designed to maximise publicity for both parties.

Track Listing:
I)                    Jihad
II)                  Colours
III)                Giving Ground
IV)               Finland Red, Egypt White
V)                 Rain From Heaven

Line Up: Andrew Eldritch (Writer and Producer), Doktor Avalanche (Drum machine)
Others involved in various uncredited roles: Alan Vega, James Ray, Patricia Morrison, Lucas Fox.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Cocteau Twins – Garlands (4AD, 1982)

Although, much of their material is very beautiful indeed, those only familiar with The Cocteau Twins later work, by which time they’d evolved into what eventually became known as Dream Pop, may well find them difficult to reconcile with anything particularly post-punkish. As with so many other groups, the answer of course requires a trip back to their earlier releases.

Scotland seems not to have produced too many Goth acts back in the day, in fact the only other obvious example that comes to mind is Twisted Nerve with whom Cocteau Twins have approximately nothing in common.

None of this however  would stop Cocteau Twins come swirling out of  Grangemouth in 1979 with a near-ambient sound that was quite new to any territory post-punk had previously ventured into.
It would be a good three years before their debut album, Garlands would emerge, but when it did, what a beast it was.

Dark. Ambient. Trippy. Dominated by Elizabeth’s haunting vocals that would often just go off doing their own thing, often venturing into lands of glossolalia and neologism. Although “Blood Bitch”, “Wax and Wane” and “But I’m Not” all make an immediate impact on the listener, the entire album is universally engaging, so it seems curious that there were no singles released. Never fear though! Although there may be no official video clips, a rather talented Youtube denizen known as Shum65 has put together a large number of very well made amateur clips whose style suits the Cocteaus perfectly and which we present here to all young boys and girls by way of illustration.

Blood Bitch

Wax and Wane

But I’m Not

Blind Dumb Deaf (Live version - John Peel Session)

Shallow Then Halo

Hollow Men


Grail Overfloweth

It’s interesting to reflect on how the Garlands album marked something of a change in direction for album label 4AD which until just a year earlier had been producing quite aggressive post-punk albums like In the Flat Field and Mask by Bauhaus. The also very strong Cocteau Twins’  Lullabies EP followed later that year.

Indeed, Cocteau Twins in their earlier years were actually quite prolific, swiftly rolling out Head Over Heels (4AD, 1983), Sunburst and Snowblind (4AD, 1983), the Peppermint Pig EP (4AD, 1983) which even the band admitted was “shit…a bad mixture, bad song, bad producer, bad band”, Treasure (4AD, 1984) and the immaculate Aikea-Guinea EP (4AD, 1985) as well as a number of singles. For those who just wanted to dip their toes rather than dive right in, much of the best from this early period can be sampled on the extremely fine compilation The Pink Opaque (4AD, 1985).

After this, Cocteau Twins and label 4AD would begin to drift further away from post-punk into ever more ambient territory and more into what would eventually become known as Dream Pop. Along with fellow 4AD label mates Dead Can Dance they would become almost totally responsible for forming the roots of the Goth spin-off genre known as Ethereal Wave.

Throughout the 90’s there were just so many of these type of dark ambient bands; Black Tape For A Blue Girl, Lycia, Love Lies Crushing, et al. more often than not, through the Projekt label. To be quite honest, I never really cared (with the possible exception of Love is Colder Than Death) for this type of Gothic elevator music, but I do love the Cocteaus, and to be fair, when was the last time you released an album that unleashed an entire sub-genre?

I should stop here, but their big indie track “Ice-Blink Luck” from the Heaven or Las Vegas album (4AD, 1990) continues to haunt alternative dance floors every so often, so perhaps we’ll close with the beauty of this.

Ice Blink Luck

1.       Blood Bitch
2.       Wax and Wane
3.       But I’m Not
4.       Blind Dumb Deaf
5.       Shallow Then Halo
6.       Hollow Men
7.       Garlands
8.       Grail Overfloweth

Many later re-issues on CD post 1987 also include tracks from the 1983 John Peel Session including Dear Heart, Hearsay Please, Hazel, Blind Deaf Dumb, Speak No Evil, Perhaps Some Other Aeon.

Line Up: Elizabeth Fraser (vocals), Robin Guthrie (guitar, drum machine), Will Heggie(bass)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Dead Can Dance launch their new album

Ambient / Neo-classical / Ethereal-Wave gods Dead Can Dance today launched Anastasis, their first new studio album in sixteen years.

Following the initial announcement and release of a free download of the song "Amnesia" on Pitchfork media yesterday, the band's homepage was today updated to allow free streaming of the 3complete album and pre-purchase options for the album in a range of formats including digital download and deluxe autographed packages.

The official release date of Anastasis has been set for August 9th.

Go here - you just know you want to:

UPDATE (3rd July 2012)
There's now a purportedly complete track listing for Anastasis floating around out there. No sign of this information on the band's official pages that I can see yet, but let us grant it the benefit of the doubt by assuming it to be accurate. Also some dispute about the actual release date with suggestions that it may in fact be August 13. May well depend upon the country in which you are unlucky enough to reside.

1. Children Of The Sun
2. Anabasis
3. Agape
4. Amnesia
5. Kiko
6. Opium
7. Return Of The She-King
8. All In Good Time

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Widowed Isis – Jim Morrison (I Want to be) (Zed, 1985)

This is where I take my mind back to 1985.

I’m fifteen and by virtue of my parents rather than by anything resembling choice, living in the vaguely unfashionable inner western suburbs of Sydney in what, since the rise of the Hill Song megachurch would come to be known as the Sydney Bible Belt. While I would dearly love to relate to you my decadent tales of sex, drugs and life on the post-punk scene, unfortunately I was a rather nerdy teenager with a proclivity for playing Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. This probably explains why I thought fantasy based metal bands like Manowar were the best thing since sliced cheese while being naively oblivious to the fact that “cheese” was actually the operative word.

Goths were around of course, and I’d see them whenever I went into the inner-city, but it would be at least another year before I heard the term. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that few people in Sydney’s working class west at the time would have had a clue what Goth was, let alone that the subculture existed.

I’m not telling you this for its own sake you’ll be pleased to know, but rather, to outline the context for the rest of this post. At some point during 1985, a graffiti bombing campaign was launched around the inner suburbs of Sydney and there was an explosion of “The Widowed Isis” tags appearing all over suburbs like Newtown. It attracted sufficient attention that the main local rag, the Sydney Morning Herald even ran a brief article demanding to know what it meant. This doesn’t speak well of journalistic standards at the SMH since relatively simple investigation would have revealed The Widowed Isis to have been a local Goth band gigging in Sydney at the time.

I mention all this because 27 years later, that article somehow floated back into my mind today while driving home from work. Was there anything to be found? What could be salvaged?
Although there wasn’t much, I was surprised at what I did find. I say “surprised” because most Australian Goth bands of the period don’t seem to have left much of a legacy, The Birthday Party and Dead Can Dance being the obvious exceptions, both of whom wasted no time in sodding off to the UK, so I certainly didn’t expect to find an actual bone fide video clip.

The Jim Morrison (I Want to Be) 7” seems to have been the band’s first release from back in 1985. Assuming the strength of the video below is indicative of the rest of The Widowed Isis’ output, then it’s a real shame they didn’t become bigger. Possibly if they’d followed The Birthday Party and Dead Can Dance’s example?

Jim Morrison (I Want to Be)

A second offering was to follow, the You Can’t Make Me Burn / Live Your Life 7” in 1986, once again on Zed  about which even less is known, although from the lyric sheet, “Live Your Life” does appear to be a nicely ironic tribute to Australian right wing shock-jocks and the morons who listen to them.

The rear of You Can't Make Me burn 7" God bless you 
John Laws - still spewing right wing populist crap 25 years later.

One more was to come with 1987 bringing us a four track self titled EP, also through Zed Records, containing not only a revived “ Jim Morrison (I Want to be)”, but also “It Only Lasts Forever”, “The Wild Things” and a cover of The Velvet Underground’s “White Light / White Heat”. This is where the level of obscurity The Widowed Isis has fallen to really becomes apparent. Not only is the EP the only Widowed Isis release covered by, but even their tremendous database doesn’t have a copy of the cover art. Indeed, on the entire web, the only place I was able to find an image was on the Post-Punk 80s Underground blog as depicted below .In fact, that blog post also contains a download for the E.P., but sadly, the link is dead. Perhaps if we all diligently click on the link, they’ll get the hint and re-upload it? Perhaps if we all beg them very nicely?

If the band’s moniker of “The Widowed Isis” seems curious, then you obviously aren’t clued up on Egyptian mythology. You should probably investigate. Rather than provide spoilers, I’ll simply say that the tale involves murder, dismemberment, revenge, attempted gay rape, incest, mystical masturbation and a lettuce. If that doesn’t pique your interest, then I’m at a loss to imagine what would.

In closing, let us present to you this very eccentric and unfortunately badly preserved TV interview that appears to be from after the Jim Morrison video clip was released, although by this stage drummer Jeff appears to have been replaced by Rex Mansfield. Although I was actively watching music shows on 80’s TV in Australia in 1985, I honestly have no memory of Radio Vision. If this pilot episode is anything to go by where the rather clueless and dodgy looking host descends into less than insightful questions as to whether any members of The Widowed Isis owns a dog, then it’s not hard to understand why it never made it into regular broadcast TV. Really quite bizarre viewing.

Track Listing:
i.              Jim Morrison (I Want to Be)
ii.            Plastic Babies

Line Up: Bryan Zee (vocals, bass), Mark Rainford (guitar), Marvin Druid (violin) Jeff Ryan (drums).

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Salvation – Clash of Dreams EP (Unreleased, circa 1984/1985)

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away when I was still a poor university student, I actually owned a copy of Salvation’s Diamonds are Forever LP (Ediesta Records, 1987). To say that it did nothing for me would be something of an understatement. The mere fact that I can’t find it in my collection any more strongly suggests that it was one of the many mediocrities that I hocked to afford bus fare to uni back in the day.

Now that I finally get hold of a copy once again it’s a tad disappointing that I still can’t find much good to say about it – it remains, at best a very flaccid beast, hard to listen to without making the “meh” face and it’s easy to see how I was able to sell it with few regrets.

Mercifully, this is not the album this post is about.
What we are talking about is something much earlier, much, much better and sadly unreleased.

Salvation were yet another of the burgeoning Leeds Goth scene in the early 80’s.
Never bearing quite the stature of the early Sisters, MarchViolets or Skeletal Family, yet (initially) working happily alongside them. With their first single, “Girlsoul / Evelyn”  coming out through The Sister’s of Mercy label Merciful Release appearing in 1983 all seemed well.

Things were sufficiently cosy in fact for Andrew Eldritch to take mixing duties of Salvation’s new EP, even lending them The Sisters' trusty drum machine Doktor Avalanche and understanding that the band were a bit skint, to accept payment in magic pixie marching powder in lieu of cash. Everything seemed fine, and yet the Clash of Dreams EP was never to be released.

So what happened?

Well everyone, both bands and commentators, seem to be a little coy about saying outright, but the general gist seems to be that it may have had something to do with the cover art of this little number:

The Sisters of Mercy Body and Soul 12"  
(Merciful Release, 1885). Anyone else feeling a sense of deja vu?

Regardless of who came up with the concept first, a schism does seem to have taken place between Salvation and Merciful Release with the single Jessica’s Crime (a different version from the EP) eventually emerging on Simon D of The March Violets’ label Batfish in 1985 and produced by Wayne Hussey.

The Clash of Dreams EP is clearly a child of the Leeds scene – the drum machine alone is a dead giveaway. Not to mention how much “Burning On” can’t help but invoke thoughts of The March Violets. What sets Salvation apart from their Leeds contemporaries however, is the inclination towards psychedelia, that seems to have become more prominent as their career progressed, perhaps a result of more prominent groups like The Cult and All About Eve giving license to such indulgences.

“Jessica’s Crime” is the obvious single here, but really, the EP as a whole does little to disappoint. You can hear it online here: and I strongly suggest you do. A downloadable version is available at the most excellent (and apparently sadly dormant) Return to the East blog, but sadly both versions seem to have been taken from a damaged cassette that has been shakily repaired. If anyone has access to a more pristine version, please let me know and I’ll be more than happy to arrange to make it more widely available.

Little of the abandoned Clash of Dreams EP remains. Jessica’s crime was released as a 7” (Batfish Incorporated, 1985) and Sea of Dreams would eventually re-emerge in a very different version on Diamonds are Forever. Nothing else remains.

The October Hour / The Return

Jessica's Crime (7" version)

 Meanwhile, Salvation went on to produce two LPs and a surprising number of singles. With that kind of dedication, it almost seems rude to scoff at the undergraduate humour that led them to include a song called  “Pearl Necklace” on the B-side of their Sunshine Superman 12” (Karbon, 1988).

If you did want to chase down Salvation, a compilation called Salvation: The Complete Collection 1985-89 (Cherry Red, 2005) exists, apparently a re-release of the earlier Hunger Days 1985-89 comp (Timeslip, 1997) but with the Girlsoul 7” tacked on. It’s readily available on iTunes.

Good God, they’re still going!” declared an astonished Mick Mercer way back in 1992 (Gothic Rock, Pegasus Publishing). If that amazed him then, he’s probably going to spit his wooden dentures across the room when he discovers that 20 years later, they’re playing the DV8 festival at the end of this month.
Heads up to those of you in York.

Track Listing:
  1. The October Hour
  2. Jessica’s Crime
  3. Burning On
  4. Sea of Dreams
  5. Figurehead
  6. No Return

Line Up: Danny Mass (synths), James Elmore (bass), Mike (guitar – but replaced by Choque Hosein before the Jessica’s Crime 7” was released)

Although the official Salvation site describes this photo as an "early" lineup, the extra head leads me to suspect that is is probably from around 86 when the band decided to replace the drum machine with Paul Maher.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Encyclopedia Gothica – Liisa Ladouceur (ECW Press, 2011)

And now for something completely different as Plunder The Tombs turns its hand to book reviewing.

In Encyclopedia Gothica, what Canadian Goth journalist and poet, Liisa Ladouceur has given us is quite simply delightful. This is not really a book about music as such, and nor thankfully, is it another risible tome about “how to be a Goth”. (Actually, at some point in time, I might get around to starting up a Hall of Shame for those kind of books.)

What we have here is really a vocabulary of the scene, which easily could have been a terribly dry read, but is actually written with refreshing humour and a light-hearted tone that doesn’t try to take itself with Poe-faced seriousness.

The Encyclopedia covers important individuals, bands, festivals, hairstyles, zines, nightclubs, a whole horde of miscellania, and perhaps most usefully the odd terms used in Goth scenes around the world. Even sleepy old Perth got a look-in with the inclusion of POGS (Post Office Goths), although it’s less clear if Ladouceur realises this was a mainly derogatory term used by older Goths to refer to the mostly clueless youngsters who used to gather in Forrest Chase. It’s also somewhat redundant with the POGS having been driven forth some years back from their traditional ground by aggressive hip-hop crews and are now usually to be found loitering by Wesley Church on the corner of William and Hay Streets. Nevertheless, it’s always nice to be included. But I digress.

Perth has a long and undistinguished history of knocking down it's
 historical buildings.The General Post Office was an exception however. 
Little wonder it became a magnet for under-aged Goths. It effectively won by default.

On the whole though , I think the real strength of this beautifully presented volume lies in it’s exploration of terms that differentiate the various strands of the Gothic subculture, whether it be “Trad Goths”, “Mall Goths” “Fairy Goths” or “Cyber Goths”.

It is however, at its weakest when discussing the subculture at its musical level, with band coverage being a little bit hit and miss, and giving Cybergoth far more of a pass and legitimacy than I would ever have credited it. It does get  much love though for introducing me to the brilliant Fever Ray (seriously, I own every album The Knife released - how on earth did this one fly under my radar for so long?).

In the end though, it doesn’t matter – that Mick Mercer chap has already published at least five books detailing bands and Encyclopedia Gothica is both essential, informative, and above all, fun.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Goth Britannia

"We've had Soul Britannia, Prog Britannia and Synth Britannia and others, but surely there is a snakebite & black sized gap in the schedules for the daddy of 'em all... GOTH BRITANNIA."

Wouldn't it be nice just for once, to have a real documentary on Goth that unlike this crud, was actually worth writing home to Mum about?

Why not "like" these kids' Facebook page and see if we can't get BBC 4 to make it happen?
C'mon. It's obvious you're gagging for it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Christian Death – Only Theatre of Pain (Frontier Records, 1982)

Why, I do thank you all for your politely feigned surprise, but I think we all know that just like bands who leave their biggest single for their supposedly “impromptu” third encore, that discussion of this infamous little number was inevitable sooner or later. After all, as Mick Mercer once famously wrote;

 “Christian Death are the ultimate life is art, art is life brigade. To scoff at them is to wear a huge neon sign stating ‘I Am A Retard’ above your head.” (The Gothic Rock Black Book, Omnibus Press, 1988).

This of course leaves us with the interesting problem of what to say about an album so diabolically influential (in both the figurative and literal sense) that hasn’t been said before?

Perhaps we should begin at the beginning as the Red King sagely advised the White Rabbit?

In this particular tale, the beginning lies with a young man named Roger Painter, who perhaps largely through teenage rebellion against his highly religious upbringing became deeply involved in the burgeoning Los Angeles punk scene and began performing in a variety of small bands. Critical mass is reached however in 1979 when young Roger takes the stage name that would make him an alternative icon from a gravestone he found, becomes known as Rozz Williams and forms the original Christian Death. What makes this feat even more extraordinary though, is when you do the math and realise that the visionary Rozz Williams was only 16 at the time.

The original line-up of Christian Death consisted of Rozz, Jay who had worked with Rozz in an earlier project known as Daukus Karota, James McGearty, and George Belanger.

The band name is commonly reported as having been a pun on “Christian Dior”. If this is true however, then it’s neither a very good nor amusing pun and I’ve often speculated that young Rozz may have been pulling legs and that the name was actually a statement of intent. At the very least, if one can lead a good Christian life, then it does logically follow that one can also experience a “Christian Death”.

Those early gigs must really have been something to behold; a heady mix of occultism, bizarre hair, even more bizarre make up, drugs and Rozz wearing what virtually amounted to drag. With the possible exceptions of the transexuality of Wayne/Jayne County & The Electric Chairs or Nervous Gender, American punters at the time can’t really have seen anything quite like it, let alone the Satanic aspects, and hostile audiences were common. It’s a genuine loss to alternative culture that no live footage of early Christian Death performances remain. (That I know of that is – If you’ve got some bootleg footage, no matter how bad, for the love of God Montresor,  post it on YouTube and hear the chants of ten thousand old Death Rockers praising your name).

Nevertheless, things were on the move. The band replaced Jay with former Adolescents’ guitarist Rikk Agnew and managed to get their track “Dogs” included on the compilation Hell Comes to Your House (Bemisbrain Records, 1981). I really must grab a copy of this – apart from the narscent Christian Death, the album also features early contributions from 45 Grave and The Superheroines, whose vocalist Eva O would later contribute backing vocals to the Only Theatre of Pain album and end up married to Rozz. (A warning to the unwary: Don’t confuse this with the later compilation Hell Comes to Your House (Music for Nations, 1984) which is a metal compilation and will grace you with such luminaries as Manowar, Exciter and Anthrax, and likely leave you very confused).

The Bemisbrane Records (1981) compilation - yes, 
you want this version, not the other one

Their appearance on Hell Comes to your House would apparently seal the deal for Christian Death with Frontier Records, but wait – there’s a prequel to all this, known as the Deathwish EP (L’Invitation Au Suicide, 1984). Although it’s commonly accepted as Christian Death’s second release, it was actually recorded first, although not released until several years later. If you happen to own an original release with the enclosed booklet of poetry, it’s probably very collectable and worth something.

On Deathwish we are graced with some fine cover art with “Who Shall Deliver Me?” by Belgian artist Fernand Knopff. I believe I may have mentioned that I have bit of a thing for symbolist art before, but here I find the choice of art interesting, considering that it was released long after the original line up had disbanded for reasons largely associated with drugs. Note the pin-prick pupils. It would seem, Knopff’s model may have drunk a considerable quantity of laudanum or smoked a pipe of poppy prior to posing. Sadly, this was far from the last time that hard drugs and Rozz Williams would cross paths, a situation seemingly exploited by certain record companies in the 90s to release material often of very dubious quality.

The Deathwish EP however,  remains both epic and vital, and not least because it remains the earliest official recording of a hugely influential band who were almost single-handedly responsible for marrying the UK Goth and USA Deathrock scenes. It also contains “Dogs”, one of my all time favourites from the band.


Dogs (Fan Video)

Desperate Hell (Fan Video - I suspect some images in this one are actually of Rozz’s industrial / performance art side project Premature Ejaculation)

This of course brings us to the Only Theatre of Pain LP which although recorded later than the Deathwish EP was nevertheless released first and thus for most of the world would form their first introduction to the band. It’s hard to say anything here that isn’t completely hackneyed or without resorting to outright hyperbole.

The whole album is at once both immaculate and groundbreaking. There has rarely been anything quite like it, and it stands to this day as a towering call to arms of what early Deathrock could have been and a howling mockery of what so many other pretenders failed to achieve.

Only Theatre of Pain remains a bizarre album, not least for Rozz’s highly distinctive and unusual vocals which can’t have sat easily with the LA punk set of the time, but also for its lyrics, heavily steeped in the occult and Satanism while remaining vastly more subtle and introspective than the cartoonish interpretations of other “Satanic” poseurs of the time like, say England’s metal reprobates Venom (Welcome to Hell, Neat Records, 1981).

There really isn’t a dud track on Only Theatre of Pain. Since they’re all there below, there’s not really much point in discussing them at length save to point out the obvious highlights of “Figurative Theatre”, “Spiritual Cramp” and “Romeo’s Distress”, while the atmospherics of side openers “Cavity – First Communion” and “Stairs – Uncertain Journey” ably add to the album’s overall sinister effect. Only Theatre of Pain of course ends with “Resurrection – Sixth Communion”, culminating with Rozz screaming “resurrection!” over and over again like a demented Dalek. Then we close with “Prayer”; it’s a song of sorts, that rather than comment on I think I’ll let readers amuse themselves with finding ways to get it to play backwards, a little game I used to entertain myself with back in the day.

(A second warning to the unwary: Unless you own professional tier turntables, DON’T try to play vinyl backwards – you’ll only end up damaging your album and destroying the needle.)

Cavity First Communion

Figurative Theatre

Burnt Offerings

Mysterium Iniquitatis

Dream for Mother

Stairs Uncertain Journey (Live 1993)

Spiritual Cramp (fan video)

Romeo’s Distress

Resurrection – Sixth Communion


Some words are probably required on the cover art here. The original artwork for Only Theatre of Pain was designed by Rozz himself. You already know that you’re looking at something truly iconic when tattoo pics like this can be found online:

It’s also worth considering the almost equally iconic band photos on the rear of the album. Here we are greeted by the sight of Rozz looking splendidly sinister if  androgenous and bassist James McGearty bearing the kind of distinctive and unique hairstyle and makeup that could only have existed in the early years before the scene developed a more or less standardised look. Most striking of all though has to be the image of guitarist Rikk Agnew managing to look suavely evil while cradling what appears to be a mummified cat.

Quite apart from that, Christian Death are a record collectors’ wet dream, having long form of releasing albums with alternate cover art and album titles. Only extreme Kiss fans I’ve met over the years, desperate to get their mitts on the rare Japanese release can come close to matching the level of collecting fanaticism. Only Theatre of Pain was no exception with multiple variations on the original cover art emerging over the years. Perhaps most interesting of all is the beige version (Frontier Records, 2011), shown below in the lower right which is reportedly Rozz's original concept sketch.

"There's a pale one and a bronze one and a white one and a beige one,
 and they're all based on the same design and they all look much the same."

To further add to the variety, from around 2005 through 2010, Frontier Records began to issue a series of Only Theatre of Pain on coloured vinyl. Orange, clear, purple, red, white, pink and yellow versions are known to exist. Meanwhile, French label L’Invitation Au Suicide apparently didn’t get the cover art memo for their 1983 re-release, and went off doing their own thing using French historical artist Georges Rochegrosse’s “Andromaque” depicting Greek soldiers preparing to throw Hector’s wife from the walls of Troy.

In the end though, it doesn’t really matter if you’re a fanatical record collector, or simply a fan of dark rock. There are certain albums in the genre that should be compulsory to own, and Only Theater of Pain is one of them. It is indisputably one of the most shining jewels in the crown of Goth and Deathrock.

The Deathwish EP and Only Theatre of Pain remain the sole releases by the original lineup of Christian Death (although they would reform for a one-off gig, minus bassist James McGearty, released on CD as Iconologia (Triple X Records, 1993) and on VHS as Christian Death Featuring Rozz Williams Live (Cleopatra Records, 1995)).

Cleopatra video release of the 1993 reunion gig. Rozz's chosen wardrobe
 of suit and tie with flared trousers was apparently not met with audience approval.

After Only Theatre of Pain, the original line up would disintegrate, for reasons usually ascribed to internal feuding and drugs. For most bands, this would have been the end. But oh, no, no. The strange tale of Christian Death has a long way to go yet.
And, children, I will relate it to you. But before I do, remind me to introduce you to some kids called Pompeii 99.

Stay tuned. Same bat time, same bat channel. 

  1. Cavity – First Communion
  2. Figurative Theatre
  3. Burnt Offerings
  4. Mysterium Iniquitatis
  5. Dream For Mother
  6. Stairs – Uncertain Journey
  7. Spiritual Cramp
  8. Romeo’s Distress
  9. Resurrection – Sixth Communion
  10. Prayer
Later re-releases on CD post 1993 commonly also contain the Deathwish EP as bonus tracks:
  1. Deathwish
  2. Romeo’s Distress
  3. Dogs
  4. Desperate Hell
  5. Spiritual Cramp
  6. Cavity
Christian Death  circa 1979

Lineup: Rozz Williams (vocals), Rikk Agnew (guitar), James Mc Gearty (bass), George Belanger (drums), Eva O & Ron (backing vocals on Only Theatre of Pain).

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Twisted Nerve – Séance (+1 Records, 1984)

Unusually coming out of Edinburgh, Twisted Nerve presumably took their name from The Damned song on The Black Album (Chiswick Records, 1980), although it could just have easily come from the British horror flick of the same name (1968). Twisted Nerve had been around for some years before they would record Seance. It had been preceded by the Caught in Session 7” (Playlist Records, 1982), the Five Minutes of Fame 7” and the Eyes You Can Drown In 12” (both on Criminal Damage Records, 1983), the latter featuring some rather pleasing art-decoesque cover art.

The Séance mini-album was the largest project the band would embark on, although its cover art is quite the let-down after Eyes You Can Drown In. I imagine the woman is supposed to be in trance, but what is that stuff around her supposed to be? Ectoplasm? Psychic emanations? The Veil between worlds? The maze puzzle from The Beano #15? Nevermind, let us move on…

From then on, you could count the “Goth” bands on the fingers of one battalion”, commented Mick Mercer in The Gothic Rock Black Book (Omnibus Press, 1988), “and in truth, it became ripe for knocking, what with Twisted Nerve, Seventh Séance and a whole host of bands who got it wrong.

To be honest I, for the most part, really enjoyed the Séance EP and considering Mick doesn’t explain what he meant by “got it wrong”, always thought this a little unfair. Closer inspection of the lyrics may give us some clue though. Some of these really are pretty silly, which is a shame, because musically, the song “Séance” itself is actually quite good.:

Sitting round the table in (unclear)
Spiritual communion for all to see
Force your way through to the other side,
Nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.

Silver candlestick and flickering flame
At least you’re even with the vein (???)
Finger on the glass, hand on the heart
Come in non-believer if you’re so (unclear) and start.


She’ll show you images from your past,
But the wind rushes in and moves the glass,
You don’t have (unclear), ignore the voices,
No alternatives, you’ve got no choices.

Family portrait on the wall,
Showing it all, all way through the hall,
Come in non-believer if you’re so (unclear) and start.


Honestly, if silly, over the top ghost stories are what you want from your music you don’t need Goth; This guy has been at it for the last 30 years. Now he sells merchandise.
Of course, this is not a new problem to artistic genres that naturally lend themselves to excess. Indeed, the Gothic novelists of the 1760s to around the 1890s were dreadfully (often in the most literal sense) familiar with the problem. This is why the more subtle and better written examples of the genre like Frankenstein (Shelly, 1818), Fall of the House of Usher (Poe, 1839) and Dracula (Stoker, 1897) are today remembered as classics, while numerous others like The Castle of Otranto (Walpole, 1764), Mysteries of Udolpho (Radcliffe, 1794) and their even more numerous imitators are remembered if at all, with derision, drowning in their outrageously camp, over the top scenes and purple prose and ultimately satirized by Jane Austin in Northanger Abby (1817). But we digress…

The rather more punky “Yes Man” follows, and for me is the strongest song on the album, with Craig’s vocals alternating somewhere between Peter Murphy and Adam Ant. “Twisted Nervosis” also pleases, even when it does fall into the same trap of lyrical excess as “Séance” – there is definitely such a thing as being too “goth” for your own good, as far too many bands of the second wave in the 90’s would later discover. “Freak of Nature” is probably the weakest song here, not that it’s bad, more that it doesn’t seem to do much. “Scaramouche” is a much stronger creature, even if the chorus does grate and then we finish with the whimsical “It’s all in the Mind”.

But, enough of my waffle. Just listen to the beast:


Yes Man

Twisted Nervosis (Live) 

Freak of Nature


It’s all in the Mind

I personally think that Séance remains a very under-rated and for the most part, enjoyable, album that’s well worth taking the time to listen to. Twisted Nerve are still going (or reformed? It’s not really clear) and evidently still actively gigging:

Twisted Nerve now

Indeed, a gig not two months ago!

Track Listing:
  1. Séance
  2. Yes Man
  3. Twisted Nervosis
  4. Freak of Nature
  5. Scaramouche
  6. It’s all in the Mind

Line Up: Craig Paterson (vocals), Colin Moxey (guitar, backing vocals), Norbert Bassbin (bass), Keith Hamilton (drums).

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Fields of the Nephilim – Burning the Fields EP (Tower Release, 1985)

How could we not talk about Fields of the Nephilim? Indeed, when I first became interested in Gothic Rock which is now literally more than half a life-time ago, even just their name fascinated me.

That they were influenced by the The Sisters of Mercy seems too obvious to say. That eclipsed only by The Sisters, they would become the prime influence on 90’s Goth seems doubly so. That without them the entire subgenre of Gothic Metal from Paradise Lost to Tiamat to Moonspell would never have existed is indisputable.

But all of this comes later, and is a story for another time. What concerns us now is a vastly younger and somewhat softer band with their first release and a saxophonist come keyboard player by the name of Gary Wisker.

Yes, you did read that right – the same harder-than-nails Goth gods that goose-stepped straight out of Ennio Morricone’s fever dreams once possessed a saxophonist. However, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Fields of the Nephilim originally sauntered out of Stevenage in Hertforshire during 1984. At the time they were apparently working under the name of Perfect Disaster, itself a perfect disaster of a name that could easily have belonged to any of the godawful metal cover bands I was subjected to while growing up in the Perth of the late 80s. They very sensibly changed it to The Mission, only to have that idea completely derailed by the massive schism that occurred in The Sisters of Mercy camp.

Clearly, a new name was needed and, likely inspired by their new vocalist and Kaos Magick enthusiast Carl McCoy, began delving into more obscure parts of The Old Testament and Fields of the Nephilim came into being. It’s probably safe(ish) to say that most fans of Fields of the Nephilim are aware that the name derives from a biblical race of giants, but as few people have actually bothered to read the relevant bits and pieces, it’s probably worth taking a look:

“(1)And it came to passe, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were borne vnto them: (2)That the sonnes of God saw the daughters of men, that they were faire, and they took them wiues, all of which they choose…(4) There were Giants in the earth in those daies; and also after that, when the sonnes of God came in vnto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them; the same became mightie men, which were of old, men of renowme.”  Genesis 6:1-4 KJV

This is of course, about as far as most people get, and they understandably come away thinking that the bits about giants were awesome, but still bewildered as to where the band derived their name from. This is an unfortunate effect of later reiterations of The Bible striving to popularize itself by removing all the more esoteric references. To find the actual mention of The Nephilim, we need to look much earlier, and The Torah will do just fine:

“(1) And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, (2) that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives, whomsoever they choose…(4) The Nephilim were in the earth those days, and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bore children to them; the same were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown.” Genesis 6: 1-4 Torah.

Aha! And now we have the name, but we’ve somehow lost all mention of giants. To get that, we need to look a little bit further:

And they spread an evil report of the land which they had spied out unto the children of Israel, saying ‘The land, through which we have passed to spy it out, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof, and all the people that we saw in it are men of great stature. (33) And there we saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak, who come of the Nephilim; and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.’” Numbers 13: 32-33 Torah.

And, Ta-Dah! Imagery no doubt pitching a tent in Carl Mc Coy’s pants rivaled only by the big top it must have pitched in Erik VonDaniken’s. (Serious students of esoterica and apocryphia might care to go here.) 

But enough of this nonsense! You want to hear about the music, yes? And rightly so.

 The year is 1985 and already the effects of The Sisters’ Reptile House EP and the Temple of Love single, released at the absolute peak of the first wave of Goth in ’83 are being felt. Never shrinking violets, those young Turks, The Nephilm picked up the ball and ran with it (three metaphors in one sentence – Go me!). The result musically, was something in the Sister’s pre-Wayne Hussey mold but with harsh vocal stylings previously seen only in proto-black metal bands like Venom or Celtic Frost albeit massively slowed down.

The EP itself is  quite the dynamic little number, commencing with the jaw-dropping “Trees Come Down” which in itself, could have easily become the The Nephilim’s signature tune if they hadn’t gone beyond all expectations of the time and bettered it just a few short years later with “Preacher Man” (Situation Two, 1987) and “Moonchild” (Situation Two, 1988).

Back In Gehenna” follows (More Old Testament references!), but is perhaps overshadowed by some of the other tracks on the EP and it is here that we first encounter the saxophone. Not that it is bad in any way, but despite its compelling self-referential line “we are the Nephilim!”, it does seems a weak and runty beast when compared to the EP’s other offerings. Not that that stopped the band re-recording it for the Returning to Gehenna EP ( Supporti Fonografici, 1986).

Then we hit “Dark Cell”, quiet, laid back and heavy on the saxophone. I think I may have mentioned several times in the past that I’m not keen on the sax, but here it actually does something worthwhile. Nevertheless, after this, the Nephs seem to have woken up to the fact that the post-punk era of sax, as employed by Theatre of Hate, Ritual and Actifed et al. was over and after the Returning to Gehenna EP, the saxophone, and for better or worse, the keyboards were gone forever after.

Last, but far from least, we come to “Laura”. It is without question, one of Fields of the Nephilim’s strongest earlier songs. It’s a more relaxed version we hear here in the original than in later versions, but the fact that Fields of the Nephilim would go back and re-record it not just once but twice speaks volumes in itself. Its first reincarnation appears on the Returning to Gehenna EP (as “Laura (New Version)”), and then again on the B-side of  the Preacher Man single (Situation Two, 1987) as “Laura II” before reappearing yet again as bonus tracks on the various later re-releases of their debut LP Dawn Razor (Situation Two, 1987).

Trees Come Down

Back In Gehenna

Dark Cell


I’ve always been one for album cover art so, despite not particularly liking that which graces Burning the Fields, I can’t help myself but to note that right from the start, Fields of the Nephilim aimed straight for the heart of collectors, and accordingly, there exist a number of variations on the original sleeve, all through Tower Release in 1985.

Speaking of Tower Release, I strongly suspect that this may have been The Neph’s own label; an early Nephilim song bears the title “The Tower” and Burning the Fields and its eventual 1993 re-release on CD are the only goodies that ever came out from said label. Strangely though, it appears to have been a child of Jungle Records. While I can’t claim much expertise in record licensing or distribution, this does seem a very odd arrangement.

Cover art on the rear of Burning the Fields is equally interesting, albeit for quite different reasons, namely the band pictures.

The story told here is quite plain – at the time of releasing Burning the Fields, the band were yet to adopt the post-apocalyptic cowboy pose that would later become their trademark. Equally interesting though is the EP’s central sticker, clearly suggesting that even at this stage, the cowboy concept was already past its initial incubation period.

Given their level of influence on Goth throughout the 90s, I doubt this will be the last we see of Fields of the Nephilim on Plunder the Tombs, but for now, let it be the end.

Track Listing:
  1. Trees Come Down
  2. Back in Gehenna
  3. Dark Cell
  4. Laura

Line Up: Carl McCoy (vocals), Tony Pettit (bass), Gary Wisker (keyboards & saxophone), Nod Wright (percussion), Paul Wright (guitar)