Everything old is new again. Or maybe things just stay old.
Like punk itself, deathrock just doesn’t want to die, and depending on who you ask, that can be a good thing or a bad thing. Deathrock is now undergoing its second revival, with bands like Salome’s Dance, Anasazi, Cemetery, Fangs on Fur, Crimson Scarlet and Christ vs Warhol leading the way (Or, as I wrote three years ago in 2012, that year  might have been called “The Year Goth-Punk Broke.” In October, 2012, I also sketched out a new canon of these bands and that does seem to have exerted some influence). Deathrock is the intersection between punk and gothic rock. This gothy, dark side of the punk music experience – deathrock – has been a part of punk at least as long as hardcore has.
Newer deathrock-esque bands are hesitant to use the label “deathrock” because of the unwanted cultural baggage of what became of the goth scene after the 1990s, when so-called “industrial” rock (think Stabbing Westward and related “dark” 90s bands) crept in, and the DIY punk aspect was resolutely discarded, and soi-disant “goth DJs” – who were playing at clubs whose clientele was attracted by the newfound success of Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails in that period– began playing a club-remix style of industrial dance music, and started calling that stuff “goth,” confusing would-be fans of gothic rock into thinking that slick electronic club/dance music was what gothic rock was, and still is. The Metropolis Records catalog, in short. Truth be told, that 90s-derived stuff is and never will be gothic rock. Much less deathrock, which is a form of punk. That side of the “goth” spectrum went further and further afield into things called “terrorstomp” and “aggrotech,” and even worse (“Hellektro,” for one).
According to Martin Oldgoth Coles, writing in 2011 at Louder Than War, gothic “music in the nineties was largely dire, possibly due to the scene’s popularity at the end of the eighties bringing in a lot of people without those punk roots” that had originally invigorated the music. “It’s high time the scene looked back and reinvented itself again,” Coles concluded. Well, “those punk roots” have firmly been reestablished for several years now, thankfully, after bands like Deathcharge, the Spectres, Arctic Flowers, Rule of Thirds, Crimson Scarlet and Blue Cross have paved the way. The much-lamented punk roots are back in gothic rock. So that means that all the old school goths that always lament that things aren’t like they were in the old days are embracing wholeheartedly this new development, right? Oh, of course they all are! 😉
Anyway, the punk scene has indeed successfully reclaimed its gothic rock offshoots. Bands like Blue Cross, Dekoder, Arctic Flowers and Lost Tribe, as well as legacy bands like the still-continuing Killing Joke and The Damned, who have all had strong releases since 2008, show this. A new generation of DIY underground bands has made a new style of deathrock with the punk attitude and ethos that the “industrial dance” acts of the 1990s ignored.
As I’ve written elsewhere, in the most pedantic sense “deathrock” was an outgrowth of the LA punk scene in the early 80s, or was a regional music phenomenon in the US southwest from about 1978 until 1986. Those were the peak years of deathrock’s existence. All of the seminal, foundational deathrock LPs, EPs, etc., came out during that exact time period. Nevada’s Theatre of Ice released early deathrock demos in 1978; in Arizona, bands like Doug Clark’s Mighty Sphincter and Phoenix, AZ’s The Consumers – a punk band who transferred their catalog, along with several members, into 45 Grave’s clutches later – produced material that could be considered among the earliest deathrock made. And of course the big guns of the movement, Christian Death, (Vox Pop/Castration Squad) 45 Grave, Kommunity FK, the Superheroines, and others – were playing out and recording in Los Angeles. In the Central Valley, Burning Image soldiered forth and in Northern California bands like Shadow Image and Altar de Fey (recently reunited) also produced similar music.
Like I wrote in “Deathrock: A Brief History, Part 1”:
The standard-bearer bands were 45 Grave, Christian Death, the Superheroines, Kommunity FK, and, in their most ghoulish phase, TSOL. These groups featured lineups that showed a tight linkage with other California punk bands of the time. It’s only in retrospect that the original lineup of 45 Grave, for example, makes the band appear to be a kind of punk supergroup, with members from The Germs, Vox Pop, Castration Squad, The Screamers, and The Consumers filling the band’s ranks (45 Grave keyboardist Paul Roessler would also play synths with the Dead Kennedys for a bit.) This was the reality of early punk scenes in general; tightly knit DIY communities often featured bands pulling from a limited pool of musicians simply because the early US punk scene was not very large.
Dinah Cancer, the singer of 45 Grave, put it this way: “The first prowlings of deathrock came in the early ’80s before we were labeled as our other counterparts – the gothic movement. There were no Goths. The Deathrockers were splintered off from the punk/hardcore scene that was going on at the time. We played punk rock but we loved Halloween and we looked like vampires. So the phrase ‘deathrock’ was born. […] At the time when I was performing with 45 Grave, we were just playing music and we didn’t consider ourselves a pioneering movement. We were playing with bands like Christian Death, Black Flag, and TSOL, to name a few. And it wasn’t until later that we were named as part of the pioneers of the Deathrock culture.”
What follows are the best deathrock samplers and compilations that were made in deathrock’s classic era, the 1980s, but up until today. Many of these were only coincidentally deathrock samplers: The Hell Comes to Your House compilation was actually meant to be a compilation of Los Angeles punk as a whole, but the early entries by 45 Grave, Christian Death, the Superheroines, and other related bands retrospectively make it an important deathrock compilation, even if only ironically. In fact, that’s the case also with the Return of the Living Dead soundtrack: It was not assembled as an explicitly deathrock compilation, but the inclusion of horror-themed punk bands like the Cramps and TSOL makes it noteworthy in retrospect.
1. THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD SOUNDTRACK (1985)
Whoever got the bands together for this movie’s soundtrack definitely knew what they were doing. Like most of the compilations here, it’s a coincidental deathrock soundtrack. A deathrock sampler by accident, if you will. It includes The Cramps (“Surfin’ Dead”!), The Damned, TSOL, 45 Grave, The Flesheaters, SSQ, The Tall Boys, and an excellent choice in Roky Erickson’s “Burn the Flames.” Keep in mind in the late 1970s, Texas pysch legend Roky Erickson and the Aliens were doing a type of punk-influenced horror rock that no one outside the Cramps, Alice Cooper, and the Misfits were doing at that time. So his inclusion here is especially prescient. And there is a track by the Jet Black Berries, another gothy rock and roll band much in the vein of artists of like Echo and the Bunnymen. Good, dark stuff all around, assembled by someone who absolutely knew what they were doing.
The movie is an excellent dark horror comedy in and of itself. The soundtrack makes it an over the top, classic deathrock film. Enjoy.
01. T.S.O.L. — Nothing For You
02. Film Dialogue — “They Don’t Leak”
03. Francis Haines — The Trioxin Theme [Main Titles] (Instrumental)
04. Film Dialogue — “Hideous Ugly Place”
05. Luigi Boccherini — String Quintet In E Major, Op.13, No.5 — Minuet (Instrumental)
06. Film Dialogue — “Watch Your Tongue”
07. Beethoven — Bagatelle In A Minor, WoO 59 — Für Elise (Instrumental)
08. Film Dialogue — “It Worked In The Movie”
09. The Damned — Deadbeat Dance
10. Film Dialogue — “This Is A Way Of Life”
11. The Flesheaters — Eyes Without A Face
12. Film Dialogue — “You’re Not Alive”
13. SSQ — Trash’s Theme (Instrumental)
14. Film Dialogue — Trash’s Fantasy
15. SSQ (aka Stacey Swain) — Tonight (We’ll Make Love Until We Die)
16. Film Dialogue — “Rabid Weasels”
17. 45 Grave — Partytime (Zombie Version)
18. Film Dialogue — Rigor Mortis
19. Norbert Schultze — Panzer rollen in Afrika vor
20. Film Dialogue — “Send More Paramedics”
21. The Jet Black Berries — Love Under Will
22. Film Dialogue — “Swallowed Up”
23. Francis Haines — Acid Rain (Instrumental)
24. Film Dialogue — “The Pain Of Being Dead”
25. Tall Boys — Take A Walk
26. Film Dialogue — “Let Me Eat Your Brains”
27. Francis Haines — Looking For Freddie (Instrumental)
28. Film Dialogue — “Don’t Go In There!”
29. The Cramps — Surfin’ Dead
30. Film Dialogue — “The Eggs Have Hatched”
31. Rocky Erickson — Burn The Flames
32. Film Dialogue — Contingency Plan
33. DjfunkmasterG — Trioxin Remix (Instrumental Bonus)
34. DjfunkmasterG — The Longer Trioxin Remix (Instrumental Bonus)
35. DjfunkmasterG — The Ultimare Trioxin Remix (Instrumental Bonus)
36. 45 Grave — Partytime (Album Version) (Bonus)
2. HELL COMES TO YOUR HOUSE (1981)
“Hell Comes to Your House” was meant as a sampler of the L.A. punk scene generally. It’s telling that in retrospect it’s become an important deathrock sampler due to the inclusion of 45 Grave, Christian Death, the Superheroines, and others. The album artwork featured all the bands dressed up like Halloween trick or treaters. Social Distortion, of course, had links with the Adolescents, who had members with Christian Death…. It’s all a very insular look at the state of Los Angeles in the early 80s and the dark turn the punk scene there had taken. Much the way that DC punk bands on the Flex Your Head comp would come to coincidentally be the foreunners of other styles (Iron Cross as the first US Oi! band; the Untouchables going on to become proto-emo band Faith, etc.) –so the Superheroines, here on Hell Comes to Your House, would share members with Christian Death and create Shadow Project and also unintentionally create new avenues of dark postpunk music that would become known as “deathrock.” Eva O, Rozz Williams, Dinah Cancer, Rikk Agnew – all the formative SoCal deathrock figures are on this comp. Get it!
1. Lude Boy – Social Distortion
2. Telling Them – Social Distortion
3. Daddy’s Gone Mad – Legal Weapon
4. Puss ‘N’ Boots – Red Cross
5. Out Of My Head – Modern Warfare
6. Street Fightin’ Man – Modern Warfare
7. Deception – Secret Hate
8. New Routine/Suicide – Secret Hate
9. Suburban Bitch – Conservatives
10. Just Cuz/Nervous – Conservatives
11. 45 Grave – Evil
12. 45 Grave – Concerned Citizen
13. 45 Grave – 45 Grave
14. Dogs – Christian Death
15. Reject Yourself – 100 Flowers
16. Marry It – Rhino 39
17. Death On The Elevator – Super Heroines
18. Embalmed Love – Super Heroines
3. LET’S DIE (1985)
This “dark punk” Mystic Records sampler is named after the title track of the same name. It’s a track by Patrick Mata of early deathrock band Kommunity FK going solo here. “‘Let’s Die’ was never an official solo release,” Patrik explained. “Mystic Records released the song using my song as the title for a compilation lp. Then they also released it as a solo track, which I hadn’t planned on.”
In fact, this Mystic Records comp includes a lot of goth-punk numbers from bands that maybe otherwise didn’t always sound like deathrock bands, but here decided to play it up for the compilation. But there are also some definite deathrock die hards in here, too: Burning Image from the Central Valley town of Bakersfield, a dyed-in-the-wool deathrock band; Silver Chalice, containing ex-members of 45 Grave; False Confession’s lead off track could definitely give Christian Death a run for their money, and more.
1. False Confession – Inside 0:00
2. Subterfuge – The Noose 3:24
3. AWOL – Hellhouse 6:33
4. Patrick Mata – Let’s Die 9:00
5. Thieves Cross – Slaughter Hotel 12:20
6. Party Doll – Darkest Dream 14:30
7. White Pigs – When Bobby Comes Back From the Grave 16:37
8. The Mess – Innocent Me 20:10
9. Ill Repute – In the Night 23:37
10. Slaughterhouse 5 – Kill the Dead 25:22
11. Burning Image – Hives 28:46
12. The Drab – Bad Brains 32:02
13. Silver Chalice – Suicide 34:55
14. Samson’s Army – The Edge 38:54
15. The Stain – Day of the Jackal 41:43
16. Flower Leperds – Necrology 45:49
More next week!