A period longer than ten moons has passed since I last served up one of my juicy feasts of these forgotten treats. 2016 was a year spent in the deepest recesses of darkness (one could call me a pathetic fool, trapped inside my skull), and although 2017 is shaping up to be even more horrid in much more tangible ways, I’m back with my metaphorical shovel, coming in the dead of night to unearth more ghastly obscurities, many of which have been lost to time as we all will be. Draw your curtains, light a candle, and prepare yourselves for my latest offering. Are you ready to accept the gift of sin? Let’s begin with:
Germany’s Mask For is the perfect deathrock band. Their poisonous potion of a sound is equal parts lamenting and truculent, reminiscent of both Christian Death’s Only Theatre Of Pain and Ausgang’s Manipulate. Much like a locomotive, the powerful, massive-sounding drums propel each of their songs forward while besieged by the tortuous guitarwork, and grounded only by the trudging basslines which all but prevent this death trap from toppling; and somehow rising above all this turmoil are the unsettling vocals, more akin to mournful howling than anything else. Mask For’s eponymous 12” is the quintessential deathrock record, and should be considered essential. After their demise, one of the members went on to play in German post-punk legends Abwärts. And while we’re looking at European groups, let’s hop over a few countries to check out…
In recent years, Iceland has been churning out some fantastic dark punk and post-punk (e.g. Börn, Dauðyflin, ROHT), but I’m sure that unbeknownst to many of you, these bands are just a continuation of what’s been happening there for quite some time. In fact, Börn is a good point of reference, as they draw heavily from Vonbrigði’s material. Vocals half-sung, half-shouted pierce the murky air, clouded by the entwined forces of the sinister bass, plodding drumming, and the dissonant, often harsh guitar; their approach is as catchy as it is punishing. Vonbrigði is an outstanding band, and definitely worth spending some time with – but then again, I’d say the same for all the artists I write about (not to minimize how great this particular one is). But – since I’m already beginning a tangent – another band who really nailed the odd amalgam of aggressive, dark, and bouncy requires another geographical leap, this time to Japan for…
Ah yes, the original pastel pink goth band. Mannequin Neurose would have fit right in with the ADK Records roster, but I guess weren’t a part of that scene. Admittedly, I haven’t found much information on them outside of their releases, but I can tell you that their music is ferocious, disquieting, and dour. The verve which permeates their overall sound feels almost sardonic in its actuality; there is a distinct sense of acerbity and contempt that gets under your skin, almost as if this apparent liveliness is a poignant farce. Despite the scathing dread that Mannequin Neurose inspires through their derisive delivery, the inherent vivacity remains palpable, which makes them a perfect band to play at parties where you hate everyone. Or maybe not, I would probably have a better idea if I actually went to parties. A digression, but if I haven’t convinced you that Mannequin Neurose is a killer band by now, I’m not sure what else I can say. So, it’s time to move onto another Japanese band – who are truly an oddity – called…
Of course a band this amazing has an incredibly limited known output (one flexi, a track on a compilation 7” that’s impossible to find, and an elusive split tape with Criminal Party, a project with shared members). Datsustora is not a band who generally are associated with Japan’s deathrock scene, which I assume is largely due to the fact that two of the four songs on their flexi are industrial in the vein of Grim; and also possibly because it was the project of the singer from ADK Records’ band LSD. But don’t be fooled, this lack of association means nothing. Datsustora is one of the darkest fucking bands you’ll ever hear. Preceding this with Mannequin Neurose felt just right, because of the similarities two seem to have, however Datsustora’s offerings are far more baleful, spine chilling, and melancholy. The skilled use of industrial/electronics – something unfortunately underutilized by contemporary deathrock bands (that should be changing soon; wink, wink) – adds an air of trepidation which has gone unmatched since Datsustora’s demise. Of course, the use of industrial/electronics was present in a band who many consider to be one of the very first deathrock bands, better known as…
THEATRE OF ICE
I love that Theatre Of Ice (reportedly) initially formed in Nevada in the late 1970s to record the soundtrack for a horror film, and then transformed into one of the spookiest, most interesting bands to grace the world with its existence. Their sound can best be described as a goth take on SPK and Chrome’s industrial; or perhaps as a more lofi, psych-leaning Minimal Man, whom they predated. But really, no comparison can do them justice. Even though their output during their original lifespan was limited to poorly circulated tapes, and their following was generally confined to more obscure circles, Theatre Of Ice was – and still is – immensely influential on all forms of dark music; whether it be goth and deathrock, industrial and electronics, dark ambient, or whatever else, one element or another can be traced back to Theatre Of Ice. They may be more well known than the other artists in my Defining Deathrock: Deeper Cuts series, but they often go just as underappreciated.
While you rub your stomachs and wipe the drool from your mouths, let me remind you there is one more course to come in this celebratory feast of the forgotten and the dead. I cannot promise as to when it will come, but I implore you to remain vigilant. Heed my portent, and your desire for deathrock shall be fulfilled…