Sunday, February 26, 2017

Penumbral Phosphorescence I

"And Death Scourged Her"

[This is one post in a series about my music mixes.  The series list has links to all posts in the series and also definitions of many of the terms I use.  You may wish to read the introduction for more background.

Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—that is, I don’t guarantee that the next post in the series will be next week.  Just that I will eventually finish it, someday.  Unless I get hit by a bus.]

My mixes get started in various ways.  Often I just hear a song that reminds me of another song, and I start to build a mix around it.  Sometimes I “split” a mix: I realize that several songs that I’ve slotted into one mix actually have a character all their own which is slightly distinct from the original.  And sometimes I just wake up and go “hey! why don’t have a mix for ... ?”  And several months ago I realized I didn’t have a mix of goth music.

Now, I’m not a huge goth fan, but I do enjoy it quite a bit, and I have plenty of goth music lying around ... more than enough to make a mix out of.  In fact, this mix will have no trouble growing to multiple volumes if I want it to.  And yet I’d never sat down and made a goth mix.  Obviously it was time to correct that.

Now, many people have the impression that goth music is slow, and depressing, and perhaps a bit creepy.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Oh, sure: some goth is all that.  The occasional song or three on pretty much every goth album ever made is exactly that.  But an album is generally 8 – 12 songs ... so if no more than 25% or so of goth music is the moody dirges that most people associate with the genre, then what is the other 75%?

It’s surprisingly high-energy, as it turns out.  The first-wave goth bands, like Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Cure, and Bauhaus, came out of the punk movement.  The second-wave goth bands, like Sisters of Mercy, the Mission, and Fields of the Nephilim, eventually led to goth-metal.  Much of modern goth, like Faith and the Muse and the later Clan of Xymox work, has strong ties to industrial.  As a result, goth can be hard-edged, danceable, or simply finger-snapping sing-along.  Now, don’t get me wrong: it still has to drip with atmosphere, have a certain lyrical darkness, play with some discordancy or minor chords.  If it didn’t do that, it wouldn’t be proper goth.  But if you’re looking for slow and foreboding, this is not the mix for that.1  This mix showcases music which is dark, but also has a certain, shimmering light in it, like bioluminescent fungi and insects in a cave ...

Sometimes the lyrics here are stereotypically goth.  They’re about night, and the moon, and madness, and post-nuclear wastelands.  Or they have Wiccan themes: our volume title is from the spoken-word intro to Unto Ash’s “Der Letzte Ritter,”2 which in turn quotes a Wiccan legend called “The Descent of the Goddess”:

And she knelt, and Death scourged her, and she cried: “I feel the pangs of love.”3

Or this passage from Faith and the Muse’s “Sovereign,” which also has a very Wiccan feel to it:

In the presence of a moment divine,
As the shadows gather at the shrine,
We retreat and advance
In the spell of the dance,
Familiars all

At the other end of the spectrum, Fad Gadget’s “Collapsing New People” seems to be a not-so-subtle dig at goth culture:

Exaggerate the scar tissue
Wounds that never heal
Takes hours of preparation
To get that wasted look

But I think the main thing we forget is that “gothic horror” came well after “gothic art,” and in particular “gothic architecture.”  The primary characteristic of anything “goth” must first and foremost be a sense of drama and spectacle.  If that drama and spectacle is obssessed with death, then so much the better, but it’s really the scope and gravitas that is crucial.

For this opening volume, I’ve made some obvious choices, although picking the right song from an obvious artist is often tough.  For Siouxsie, I chose “Cities in Dust,” although of course “Spellbound” would also have been an excellent choice.  But honestly I just like “Cities in Dust” better: it has a shimmery quality that I feel epitomizes the mood of this mix.  For Sisters of Mercy, “This Corrosion” would have been the obvious choice,4 but in the end I went with “Black Planet,” which just seemed to fit better in this set.  For Bauhaus, I suppose most people would have gone with “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” but I’ve always liked “Silent Hedges” better.  The Mission offers lots of great choices, but I stuck with what was probably their biggest hit, “Wasteland,” which opens with Wayne Hussey’s nearly whispered “I still believe in God, but God no longer believes in me” (and if that doesn’t sum up goth in one sentence, I don’t know what would).  Faith and the Muse’s rollicking “Sovereign” was also a no-brainer.  And for the Cure I didn’t even hesitate: it had to be “Three Imaginary Boys.”  Yes, yes: “Fascination Street,” and “One Hundred Years,” and even “A Forest.”5  But “Three Imaginary Boys” has the echoey vocals and creeping menace that project a dark fever-dream, and though the tempo is fairly slow throughout, there’s quite a jarring guitar break that shows that goth isn’t wimpy, which is rather the point of this mix.

Of course, the term “goth” is often used interchangeably with “darkwave,” but I reserve the latter term for the more ethereal, dreampop-influenced bands that we’ve mostly seen so far on Smokelit Flashback and Shadowfall Equinox: Black Tape for a Blue Girl, Falling You, Love Spirals Downwards, and so forth.  Still, darkwave has something to offer here.  Unto Ashes is ostensibly a darkwave band, although “Der Letzte Ritter” is a bit more energetic than their usual fare.  One might describe Candian/American duo Desire as darkwave, I suppose, but I find “Under Your Spell” to be closer to witchhouse.6  That is, it has strong electronica roots, but still retains a nice darkness that makes it work well here.  Cocteau Twins is of course the quintessential dreampop band, but their first album, Garlands, is pretty solidly goth: I consider it evidence that dreampop forked off from goth in the first place, and darkwave is just an attempt to bring dreampop back to its roots.  “Wax and Wane” is not a high-energy song, exactly, but it’s pretty high-energy for the Cocteaus.  Then we have Carol Tatum, the mastermind of Angels of Venice, which is primarily a neoclassical/new age act.  Here she solicits Seraphim Shock’s lead singer Charles Edward7 to produce a strange fusion, of which I think “Primitive Kiss” is the absolute best.  And of course one of the first bands to be called “darkwave” at all was Xymox, who so far we’ve only seen on Shadowfall Equinox.  And, when they go by that name, they are indeed far too mellow for this mix.  But their original moniker was Clan of Xymox, which they returned to after their darkwave phase, also returning to a more proper gothic sound.  “Hail Mary” is a fairly late effort from them, but it’s the sort of tune that builds beautifully and really grows on you: the more I hear it, the more I feel that gothic sense of melodrama.  It’s an excellent closer for this volume.

There’s also some connection between goth and synthpop/new wave.  With Sympathy, the debut from Ministry, who would eventually come to epitomize the sound of goth-adjacent industrial, was a solidly synthpop effort.  Now, Alain Jourgensen has often said that that’s only because the label remixed it into something he now wishes to disavow.  But I’ve listened to this album many times, and I tell you straight: if this album weren’t synthpop, it wouldn’t be industrial—it would be goth.  I mean, come on! it’s got red roses and black-painted fingernails right on the cover.  In terms of early Ministry, some people might prefer “Every Day Is Halloween,” but I think “Effigy” is pretty spot on here.  And of course it’s hard to get synthpoppier than Depeche Mode.  One of the smoothest transitions on this volume8 is from “Wasteland” to “Fly on the Windscreen.”  While Depeche Mode certainly isn’t a goth band, some of their music has goth leanings, and in my opinion they have one album which is pretty solidly goth, back to front: Black Celebration.  “Fly on the Windscreen” is pretty much their all-time gothiest, and I couldn’t resist putting it here.  Plus, like I say: it flows so beautifully off the end of the Mission that often you don’t notice you’ve transitioned from the one song to the next until you hear Dave Gahan’s vocals kick in.

For more proper new wave, it’s tough to beat Fad Gadget.  I loved “Collapsing New People” when I first heard it, back on WHFS while I was living in DC.  But I never knew who sang it.  I recently stumbled upon Fad Gadget completely by accident and rediscovered this lost classic, which I now gift to you.  In more general alt-rock terms, Jesus and Mary Chain isn’t really a goth band, but their excellent album Darklands is pretty goth-inspired, and the title track works nicely here.  And of course Peter Murphy is goth royalty, having fronted Bauhaus for its original, highly influential run, as well as for all its subsequent reunions.  I think the amazing Deep is the closest Murphy gets to recreating Bauhaus, and I went with the unreleased “Seven Veils” as an excellent example of a more powerful track that still oozes goth atmosphere.

Penumbral Phosphorescence I
    [And Death Scourged Her]

        “Der Letzte Ritter” by Unto Ashes, off Moon Oppose Moon
        “Sovereign” by Faith and the Muse, off :ankoku butoh:
        “Primitive Kiss” by Carol Tatum, off Ancient Delirium
        “In the Wake of Adversity” by Dead Can Dance, off Within the Realm of a Dying Sun
        “Black Planet” by The Sisters of Mercy, off First and Last and Always
        “Under Your Spell” by Desire, off II
        “Collapsing New People” by Fad Gadget, off Gag
        “Effigy (I'm Not An)” by Ministry, off With Sympathy
        “Wasteland” by The Mission, off Godʼs Own Medicine
        “Fly on the Windscreen (final)” by Depeche Mode, off Black Celebration
        “Seven Veils” by Peter Murphy, off Deep
        “Pretty” by The Cranberries, off Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We?
        “Three Imaginary Boys” by The Cure, off Boys Don't Cry
        “Silent Hedges” by Bauhaus, off The Sky's Gone Out
        “Wax and Wane” by Cocteau Twins, off Garlands
        “Darklands” by The Jesus and Mary Chain, off Darklands
        “Cities in Dust” by Siouxsie and the Banshees, off Tinderbox
        “Hail Mary” by Clan of Xymox, off In Love We Trust
Total:  18 tracks,  79:17

In the “unlikely candidates” category, there’s really only one real stretch here: “Pretty” by the Cranberries.  It’s not really a goth tune, but it has a certain darkness that I find irresistible, as well that shimmering quality I’ve been trying to capture here, so it ended up on this mix quite early, even though I kept looking at as if I were playing a game of “one of these things is not like the others.”

And, finally, I don’t think you can put together a list of songs anywhere near the category of goth without featuring at least one tune from Dead Can Dance.  That band is not goth at all: it’s primarly a dreampop-worldmusic fusion.  And yet there is an undeniable goth energy in many of DCD’s albums, as evidenced by the fact that every Dead Can Dance tribute album9 is full of darkwave and goth-metal artists.  Of course, as a proper dreampop band, much of DCD’s output is far too mellow for this mix.  But they do have a song every now and again which pulses with a dark energy that makes it perfect for this mix.  “In the Wake of Adversity,” which sees Brendan Perry sing:

Hey, Patrice, don’t cry;
They’ve no reason to harm you at all.
They don’t realize
That the angels surround you with light.

was too good not to include here.

Next time, we’ll return once more to the halls of Morpheus.


1 There certainly are mixes for that, of course, some of which we’ve already seen and some which we shall come to in the fullness of time.

2 Which is German for “The Last Knight.”  Most of the song is in German, but the intro is in English.

3 As with all sacred texts, the exact wording of this passage varies depending on the source.  Most versions I’ve read phrase it as “Death scourged her tenderly.”

4 And it will definitely show up on volume II, unless I steal it for another mix first.

5 The last of which will almost certainly be featured on volume II.

6 A subgenre we’ll no doubt hear more from on volume II.

7 I’m not a huge fan of Seraphim Shock, but there’s a decent chance we’ll see them on future volumes.

8 And probably in the top 10 for any volume on any of my mixes, really.

9 Such as The Lotus Eaters or The Carnival Within.

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