Friday, November 26, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sex Gang Children – Song And Legend (Illuminated, 1983)

Oh why Lordy me!
It’s been absolutely years since I last listened to this, and now I can’t stop listening to it. The Song and Legend album stands as an excellent illustration of how listening to the original album is often a much more rewarding experience than best-of compilations. Thumping tribal drumbeats, Andi’s screaming strangled cat vocals, and lyrics that clearly demonstrate how at this stage Goth had so much more to offer artistically than homogenous rock songs titled after girls whose names had an odd tendency to end in an “a”. And yet, in the midst of this off-the-wall aggression lurks the delicate violin-driven “Sebastiane” prophesising the dark-cabaret style that the band and Andi’s solo material would later prove so instrumental in developing. All this and a brilliant album cover and logo to boot. (On later pressings the gold font would be replaced by white which proved substantially easier to read, but also substantially less impressive.)

Sex Gang Children started out life as Panic Button before changing their name to one which Andi’s mate George O’Dowd (later to attain pop fame with Culture Club as Boy George) had previously rejected as having limited commercial potential (One can only speculate at the level of outrage a mainstream pop band called Sex Gang Children with a single entitled “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” might have generated).

As a support band for early scene leaders UK Decay they swiftly climbed the ladder to become one of the movers and shakers of the early scene. The undeniable power and catchiness of their first single Beasts (Illuminated, 1982) seemed to ensure big things were to follow, yet Song And Legend would prove to be their only full length release studio album during their original existence. 

The Beasts 7" providing what would 
later become Sex Gang's defacto logo

Although they would break up the following year, numerous compilations and live albums have since appeared, and following their reformation in 1991 a renewal of studio output, their most recent being the download-only Salamun Child EP (Song & Legend, 2009).

In the meantime, Andi has released a substantial body of solo work, Dave formed the criminally under-rated Carcrash International with former members of Christian Death, and Rob joined the relatively obscure Aemortii Crii who would later provide members to The Sisters of Mercy and All About Eve. In a bizarrely incestuous move, Rob’s replacement on drums was Nigel Preston (Formerly with Theatre of Hate) who quickly moved on to Death Cult only to be replaced by Death Cult (and former Ritual) drummer Ray Mondo. Stranger still, Song and Legend was produced by Tony James (later on guitar with The Sisters of Mercy), featured backing vocals from Neil X and Boy George’s squatting mate around this time was Martin Degville, all of whom would go on to find fame three years down the track as Sigue Sigue Sputnik, all of which serves to underline just how incredibly convoluted kinship relations in the UK 80’s music scene often were.

Track Listing:
  1. The Crack Up
  2. German Nun
  3. (Chant)
    State of Mind
  4. Sebastiane
  5. Draconian Dream
  6. Shout and Scream
  7. Killer ‘K’
  8. Cannibal Queen
  9. (Abyss)
  10. Kill Machine
  11. Song and Legend
  12. (Dream Reprise)

The CD re-release (Cherry Red, 2005) also contains alternate versions of “Shout and Scream”, “Sebastiane” and “Song and Legend” as bonus tracks.

Line Up: Andi Sex Gang (vocals), Dave Roberts (bass, Spanish guitar, backing vocals), Terry MacLeay (guitar, backing vocals), Rob Stroud (drums).

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cold Dance – Medusa 7” (Xcentric Noise Records, 1985)

Easily the best thing about starting a blog project like this one is when I stumble upon something I missed the first time around that despite its obscurity turns out to be brilliant and happily, Cold Dance are one of these, sounding pleasingly like a more laid back English version of X-Mal Deutschland.

 I must admit that my conception of UK geography is not my strongest suite, but I get the impression that Hull, despite having given the world the extremely influential Throbbing Gristle, may not be exactly the hub of the artistic world.

Nevertheless, Cold Dance emerged out of Hull in the early to mid 80s, although one gets the impression they weren’t all that keen on the Goth association.  They released two singles through Xcentric Noise, the first being No Glamour In Industry (1984) and then followed up with Medusa (Xcentric Noise, 1985).

For some reason, a download of Medusa is substantially harder to find on the net than its predecessor and a Google search on “Cold Dance” presently returns an irritating number of links to Katy Perry. But never fear! Let me save you some trouble:

I suggest you download it quick smart before this one too gets taken down – the page also has some very nice Skeletal Family stuff too – now never let it be said I don’t ever do anything nice for you :-P.

Track Listing: Medusa 7”
  1. Medusa
  2. Petrified
Other than that, available information on the enigmatic Cold Dance is rather limited, so I guess I may as well simply pad this post out by including No Glamour in Industry as well.

Track Listing: No Glamour In Industry 7”
  1. Choice
  2. Influence
  3. Then + Now

Indeed, so thoroughly has time forgotten Cold Dance, that I can’t even locate a picture of the band. Their Facebook page does however contain a number of pictures of their fans, most of which appear to have been snapped in the girls’ loos, leaving one to speculate upon whether the photographer may have had an odd proclivity for loitering.

I thought these two had nice hair so in the absence of the 
actual band, I guess they can go here.

Line Up: Diane Dubois (vocals), Stuart Hodgson (bass, synthesizer), Kevin Hunter (drums), Tim Arundell (guitar), Tim Harrison (additional percussion).

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Diamanda Galas – Masque of the Red Death Trilogy (Mute Records, 1986-1988)

I interviewed Diamanda way back in 1992 as part of a two hour documentary spanning her career up to that point during which she vehemently denied having ever had anything to do with the Gothic movement or subculture, claiming that she thought it was something “bored kids do and that gothic had more to do with Edgar Allan Poe or something”.  The obvious contradiction that here we have a trilogy of albums collectively named after Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death” aside, this seems disingenuous at best, her image on album covers and in live performances of this period, her thematic approach to her art during this period and  in some cases the musical direction of certain pieces tells a quite different tale.

There really is no-one quite like Diamanda, an artist who believes her multi-octave voice that ranges from the demonic to the spectral was given to her as a weapon for the destruction of her enemies.
I doubt I can word things any better than Tim Holmes writing in the liner notes for Plague Mass (Mute Records, 1992);

 “Nervous-system shattering, harmonic shards echoing through the vaults, choirs of Diamanda’s blathering demons and madonnas”
Commencing her solo career with the terrifying electronica of Litanies of Satan (Y Records, 1982), The Masque of The Red Death Trilogy would see the conjunction of Diamanda the artist with Diamanda the AIDS activist, a project given added impetus after the disease would claim Diamanda’s brother shortly after recording had commenced.

The trilogy kicks off with the extraordinary and compellingly weird electronic soundscapes of The Divine Punishment (Mute, Records, 1986), for the most part taking its lyrics from Old Testament biblical scripture, specifically Psalms, Lamentations and Leviticus. Skillfully turning these texts on their head, perhaps most dramatically in “This is the Law of the Plague”, Diamanda employs them to become an ironic and damning mockery of those who would insist AIDS to be the wrath of God visited upon homosexuals and drug users.

Let’s begin with this little clip, in which Diamanda ably and conclusively demonstrates that she absolutely never ever had any connection whatsoever to Goth…honest to God, cross my heart etc etc. (I have absolutely no idea why Youtube has this labeled as the non-existent track “Saint of the Pit” since it’s actually “We Shall Not Accept Your Quarantine” from The Divine Punishment.)

Track Listing:
The Divine Punishment
  1. Deliver Me From My Enemies
I.                    This is the Law of the Plague
II.                 Deliver me From my Enemies
III.               We Shall Not Accept Your Quarantine
IV.               EXEAOUME [Deliver me]
V.                 UIATI O QXOS?
VI.              Psalm 22

2. Free Among the Dead
            I. Psalm 88
            II. Lamentations
            III. Sono l’ Antichristo


The electronics are largely abandoned by the second installment of the trilogy, Saint of The Pit (Mute Records, 1986), replaced instead with a lush if extreme operatic style as Diamanda explores the bleak psyche and self-consciousness of the HIV positive through the charnel-house verses of French Symbolist poets Baudelaire, Nerval and Corbiere. A new version of EXEAOUME [Deliver Me] from The Divine Punishment also appears here and would later resurface as “The Ring of Fire” on the soundtrack to Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Columbia, 1992).

Track Listing:
Saint of the Pit
  1. La Treizieme Revient (The Thirteenth Returns)
  2.     EXEAOUME [Deliver me]
  3.      L'Heautonimoroumenos (Self Tormentor)
  4.     Artemis
  5.       Cris D’ Aveugle (Blind Man’s Cry)


The final part of the trilogy You Must be Certain of the Devil (Mute Records, 1988)
returns us to the reality of AIDS in Regan-era America using both contemporary rock and gospel styles to direct scathing criticisms and accusations at the homophobic stance of both conservatives and the religious right. A surprisingly accessible album for Diamanda, including pieces like “Double Barrel Prayer”, “Malediction” and “Birds of Death” that would prove musically far closer to what is generally understood as Gothic Rock than anything she has released before or since.

Track Listing:
You Must Be Certain of the Devil
  1. Swing Low Sweet Chariot
  2. Double Barrel Prayer
  3. Let’s Not Chat About Despair
  4. Birds of Death
  5. You Must Be Certain of The Devil
  6. Let My People Go
  7. Malediction
  8. The Lord is My Shepherd
 Upon the release of You Must Be Certain of The Devil, the entire trilogy was repackaged as the boxed set Masque of the Red Death (Mute Records, 1988) with The Divine Punishment and Saint of the Pit appearing on the same CD. More importantly, the trilogy was reworked into the massive live work known as Plague Mass (Mute Records, 1992), arguably the pinnacle of Diamanda’s career. At once epic, terrifying and compelling, the tremendously powerful Plague Mass would see Diamanda performing stripped to the waist and covered in blood and ultimately denounced by the Italian Government of the day for blasphemy against the Catholic Church.

Diamanda’s works since have generally been far removed from anything resembling Goth, but both awesome and far ranging from pieces for piano (The Singer – Mute Records, 1992, Malediction and Prayer – Mute Records, 1998, Guilty, Guilty, Guilty – Mute Records, 2008) spoken word & experimental (Vena Cava – Mute Records, 1993, Shrei X - Mute Records, 1996) and even alternative rock in collaboration with John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin fame (The Sporting Life - Mute Records, 1994). Although currently having severed ties with Mute Records, Diamanda continues to release new material as MP3s via her official website.

I saw Diamanda perform at the Perth Concert Hall back in 2002 with the cycle of work that would eventually be released as Defixiones – Will and Testament (Mute Records, 2003), an spectacularly awesome performance that I’d just kill to see again.
But you know what? For an artist who swears blind she never had any association with Goth, there was more blue/black hair dye in that audience than I’ve seen anywhere in a very long time.

“Listen, man,
It may soon be time
For you to guard a dying man
Until the angels come
Let’s not chat about despair
If you are a man (and not a coward)
You will grasp the hand of him denied by mercy
Until his breath becomes your own.”

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Burning Image 1983-1987, (Alternative Tentacles 2004)

Of course, the term “Deathrock” for most people most readily conjures up images of outfits like 45 Grave, Christian Death and Kommunity FK.

 Burning Image rarely get a mention, and indeed have been largely lost to memory. It must be admitted that in many ways, the band must bear some responsibility for this by virtue of their sole release when they were originally around being the self-released Final Conflict / Burning Image Burning 7” (1984) of which only 200 copies were pressed. Perhaps not the ideal way to immortalize oneself.

Insert from the Final Conflict / Burning Image Burning 7"

Confinement to the phantom zone of obscurity could easily have resulted, but for the interest of one Mr Jello Biafra Esq. who championed the band, allowed them many opportunities to open for The Dead Kennedys during the 80s and ultimately  released this compilation on Alternative Tentacles with essentially the same cover art as the original 7".

As compilations go, this is something of a strange one, not least because the title is slightly misleading with the last three tracks recorded after Burning Image’s reformation in 2003, but also because the strength of songs like “Prey”, “Time is Running Out” and “Shadows” serve to illustrate how relatively weak the songs on the 1984 single were. Really – why would anyone self-release their weakest songs as a single? Nevertheless, the compilation does make available not only the long lost single, but also all the demo tracks the band recorded over five years of existence.

Liner notes might be useful here – I don’t have a hard copy, and one suspects that the tale may be very revealing –  did they started out as a hard core band before merging into Deathrock? It would certainly explain much if we were to assume this compilation to be chronological. Certainly, hardcore punk origins would go a long way towards explaining both Jello’s interest and the (unusual for Deathrock) socio-political leanings of the lyrics.

Burning Image appear to have broken up or become dormant or some such not too long  after their now highly collectable 7” was released, but their website is a little scant on details. Like so much old that is new again however, they’re back, releasing the reportedly more hardcore Fantasma (Alternative Tentacles, 2009). Considering the almost totally different line-up, attempts to self promote themselves as "the band that wouldn't die" do seem like something of a stretch, but sooner or later, I’ll probably get around to tracking it down.

Track Listing:
  1. Time is Running Out
  2. You’ve Changed
  3. The Lower Walks
  4. The Final Conflict
  5. Burning Image Burning
  6. Love Mask
  7. Hives
  8. Prey
  9. Shadows
  10. The Image
  11. Gargoyle
  12. Anytime, Anywhere
  13. Temptation

Line Up: Joe Sparks (vocals, guitar), Moe Adame (guitar), Tony Bonanno (bass), Paul Burch (drums). Tracks 11-13 were recorded after the 2003 reunion / reboot and feature a different lineup.