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Under The Rose: Goth in the 1990s
Under The Rose – Goth in the 1990s
Under The Rose [ from the Latin Sub Rosa]: in secret; privately; in a manner that forbids disclosure; — the rose being among the ancients the symbol of secrecy, and hung up at entertainments as a token that nothing there said was to be divulged.
With a recent reawakening of the mainstream’s interest in all things dark, a new generation of music fans are discovering classic 80’s Goth. What is less well documented for those to that have started to develop their interest in music in the last 10 years is what came after. Was Goth a musical dead end that stopped in its tracks in 1991 (as the NME have often proclaimed)? Of course not.
Those that grew up with Gothic music throughout the 80’s and 90’s will inevitably find the contents of this article to be at best old news and at worst, hopelessly romanticised. But the fact remains that unless you were around at the time, it’s unlikely that a music fan in this day and age is going to be exposed to the musical wealth of the 90’s underground in anything like the same volumes as that of the 80’s.
Many of the “great” Goth bands of the 80’s resented the tag that was placed upon them and it’s arguable that the early 90s was the first time that a whole generation of bands actually took up the mantle of being “Gothic” willingly. Even at the time, there were many that saw these bands as being derivative and lacking the integrity of their predecessors, but with hindsight it’s plain to see that the era had a unique sound and charm of its very own.
The list includes an element of personal bias (for example I personally have hero worshiped Rosetta Stone from about age 16) but what follows are a few of the key bands and albums of the time, as well as some recommendations for both beginners and collectors. The order is chronological, not most to least significant.
1. The Marionettes – Ave Dementia (1990)
The Marionettes created a sound that fell somewhere between Gothic Rock and New Wave Of British Heavy Metal which, on paper, would justifiably fill any self respecting music fan with dread. Against all odds they pulled it off extraordinarily and to this day are thought of as one of the greatest Gothic bands of their time.
This incredible debut LP will knock your socks off just as thoroughly as anything by Lemmy Kilmister and at the same time fill you with a burning desire to do those ridiculous dance moves seen at Goth shows the world over.
Also check out: The Kisses EP, their next release. In equal parts incredibly silly and shatteringly powerful.
2. Rosetta Stone – An Eye For The Main Chance (1991)
Rosetta Stone emerged at the end of 1980s as one of the first of a new generation of Goth Rock bands. With a huge, overblown sound riddled with clichés (12 string guitar, drum machine, lyrics about heartbreak and speed etc.), what they lacked in originality they made up for with sheer musicianship, winning themselves an incredibly loyal following (the most dedicated known as “Quarriers”).
An Eye For The Main Chance is agreed by most to be their seminal work, in many ways setting the standard for Goth in years to come. The album is relentlessly quick paced, unbelievably melodramatic and has a much more acute sense of melody than many Goth albums. It could well be described as the First And Last And Always of its generation; although its depths aren’t quite as deep, it’s highs are even higher.
Note: Be wary of their output post 1995. They had a serious change of direction, incorporating a very obvious Industrial component and loosing much of the grandiosity of their early sound.
Also check out: Their early back catalogue of cassette only releases. Including their enchanting early demo tapes and the incredible live album “Under The Rose”.
3. Dream Disciples – Veil Of Tears (1991)
Veil Of Tears is another album that wonderfully bridges the gap between the Goth in the 80s and 90s. Like The Mission and The Cult before them, the Dream Disciples made quality Gothic music that never forgot its Rock heritage; Colin’s powerful vocal delivery being a particular selling point.
Although they produced several quality records throughout their career, which saw multiple lineup changes (including dropping the drummer for a drum machine) Veil Of Tears is of particular relevance to this list because although it sounds completely of its time it doesn’t yet suffer for it; even twenty years later.
Also check out: Asphyxia – their final studio album. Despite being heavier than Veil of Tears and with more electronic elements it still carries the immense energy that made the Dreamies such an exciting band in the first place.
4. James Rays Gangwar – Dios Está De Nuestro Lado (1992)
It’s a shame that James Ray is best known for his work with Andrew Eldritch on The Sisterhood project, because Gangwar produced such a wonderfully ugly, amphetamine fuelled noise that they really deserve more recognition for what they achieved in their own right. Gangwar’s early sound featured programmed rhythms that sound like an approaching Panzer division, intimidating vocals and layers of noisy guitars and feedback.
Although they always had some dirty techno elements Gangwar, like much of the Goth scene, became overtly dance orientated towards the end of the 90s.
Also check out: There is an excellent bootleg floating about recorded at Leeds Duchess in 1993. This insanely powerful performance actually wipes the floor with any of their studio output – if you can find it make it your starting point.
5. London After Midnight – Selected Scenes From The End Of The World (1992)
Of all the bands on this list, the popularity of London After Midnight has probably been the most enduring. Like many types of music, Goth had its genesis in the UK and thus the UK is (or at least was) the largest exporter of Goth bands. None-the-less London After Midnight (as well as their contemporaries Faith And The Muse) held the flag firmly aloft for America during the early 90s.
Although their 1995 LP “Psycho Magnet” could well be said to be the peak of the band’s career, it doesn’t detract from this excellent debut. The overall sound of Selected Scenes has a noticeably more lo-fi edge than their later releases and doesn’t have the same reliance on programming and production. This is in no way a bad thing; in fact it gives this excellent record a charm that their later works don’t have.
There’s also something a tad less masculine about London After Midnight, especially when compared to what was going on in the UK at the time. The imagery and, to a certain extent the music itself, is more flowery than the no-nonsense drum machines and dry ice trend prevalent at the time.
Also check out: The Kiss EP, which features the lead single from Psycho Magnet as well as a few excellent B sides which don’t appear anywhere else.
6. Children On Stun – Tourniquets Of Love’s Desire (1994)
Most of the best Gothic music has a decent sense of irony and wit, that’s part of its appeal. Children On Stun had a huge sense of fun that still managed to stay firmly on the “serious” side of the musical fence (never quite stepping over to the “silly” category populated by bands like Nosferatu). Their records were upbeat and maintained a lively, almost punk like energy, but were still inarguably Gothic Rock in the truest sense of the term. Many bands that wrote music in a very similar vein wound up accused of being both boring and derivative, yet the Stun are remembered as being uniquely exciting.
Produced by Rosetta Stone’s Porl Young, every noise on the album epitomises the 1990s UK Goth sound. The winning combination of Pete and Simon’s twin guitar assault and Neil’s witty and well delivered vocals make sure that every song on this record is a joy to listen to. On a personal note, after An Eye For The Main chance this is probably my favourite album of the entire 1990s.
Also Check Out: Overland; a decent progression from Tourniquets, not quite as atmospheric but with a noticeably bigger sound. The early demo tapes are excellent as well.
7. Vendemmian – Through The Depths Of Innocence (1994)
Vendemmian went through numerous phases during their career. Innocence marks an approximate midpoint and, probably, their most musically balanced. The record features a much more interesting vocal performance than their earlier output and a much more organic sound than their later ones (which saw the band change from a fully live 4 piece to a drum machine backed 2 piece).
Drawing heavily from Play Dead and The Chameleons, Vendemmian’s sound had a more introspective and emotive edge than many of their more Sisters influenced contemporaries. The band were fairly central to the UK scene in the 90s, especially in their native London (most notably organising and headlining Sacrosanct Festival at The Astoria) and, like Children On Stun, represent an exciting take on the classic Gothic sound.
Also check out: Transition, their next album which saw a dramatic change of line up, (including a change of vocalist and addition of a drum machine) as well as a shift in production style.
8. Die Laughing – Glamour And Suicide (1995)
It would be fair to argue that Die Laughing make a pretty decent third member of the trinity next to Vendemmian and Children On Stun. All three bands toured heavily together at about the same time period and musically represent three nice variations on a similar theme.
Die Laughing are set apart partly because of the way they combined driving female vocals with hard edged Goth Rock, a style typically dominated by male vocalists. Glamour And Suicide is an excellent mini album that provides a neat introduction to the band.
Also check out: Queen Of Swords 7″: the only vinyl release by the band and limited to 500 copies. Certainly worth tracking down if you can find it though.
9. This Burning Effigy – To Bestial Gods (1996)
This Burning Effigy are included partly because of Stephen Carey’s current success with The Eden House and Adoration. It will therefore be exciting to some to understand a little better the place from which he came, musically speaking. As it happens, To Bestial Gods is a marvellous sounding album, possibly one of the darkest on the entire list. Every sound seems to be drowning in a sea of reverb and the vocals are, at times, so sinister that it beggars belief.
Although the songs don’t have the same driving force or pop sensibility as those by some of their contemporaries, what they do have is an immense knack for creating ambience. The entire record carries an atmosphere so shadowy that you can practically feel the room getting darker as soon as you put it on, which in a Goth record can only be a good thing.
Also check out: Some of their collaborations with Julianne Regan of All About Eve on their later album “Decent”; a precursor to Stephen’s work with her as The Eden House.
10. Suspiria – Drama (1997)
Vocalist Matthew Carl Lucian’s tendency to sound like he’s singing past a firmly secured ball gag is something that people often immediately notice about Suspiria – but listening deeper is certainly rewarding. Plenty of bands in the 90s went down the path of electronica, especially in Goth scene, but none did it quite like Suspiria. Built on a backbone of lusciously layered synth and awash with heavily effected guitars they sound a bit like a combination of early Clan Of Xymox and Depeche Mode. Drama is certainly worth a listen for fans of Gothic Rock and Darkwave alike.
The lyrics are extraordinarily flowery and pretentious sounding and for those that like to indulge in that sort of thing Suspiria are an absolute goldmine. The album itself works nicely as one long piece; each dance-floor orientated song emerges from a backdrop of fairly experimental sounds and samples, creating a brooding sense of atmosphere not usual in albums of this kind.
Also check out: Their most well known track, Allegedly, Dancefloor Tragedy, which features on the compilation album “Primitive Attentions”.