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).