The first 30 years of Goth in 30 records

The Cult - Dreamtime (1984 album)

With a series of name changes matched only by Anthony Wedgewood Benn, Southern Death Cult became Death Cult and then finally The Cult in January, 1984 (“we’re more about life than death,” said Ian Astbury in explanation). Shortened, honed and focussed, Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy pulled off a debut to define a movement - that movement being ‘positive punk’, of course.

Dreamtime was too uplifting, too full of beauty and melody, to be truly ‘gothic’. The first track – a re-record of The Death Cult’s ferocious Horse Nation, the lyrics taken from Native American history book Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee – set the template for their success right up until Electric: Duffy’s swirling guitar lines luring you in before exploding into an infectious and delirious riff, tribal drumming, and Astbury’s unique vocals braying like a warlord over the top of it all.

Spiritwalker sent a 1000 indie discos into chicken-dancing frenzies, while A Flower In The Desert – a brooding, graceful reworking of Southern Death Cult’s art-funk Flower In The Forest – showed the depth under the sturm und drang. Arguably they got better, but The Cult were never as original or important as on Dreamtime

The March Violets - Natural History (1984 album)

Forged in the darkest depths of goth rock Mordor (Leeds), the March Violets’ uniqueness came from the shared male/female vocals of founder Simon Denbigh and Rosie Garland , their aggressive take on ‘drum machine music’ (Denbigh said: “The only other drum machine bands around at the time were things like Blancmange – this grey, dismal nonsense. Even earlier bands like Suicide were quite laid back, whereas what we were trying to do was punk…”), and the warped vision of their leader.

Influenced by The Higsons (fronted by Charlie Higson, later of The Fast Show/Swiss Toni fame), the Violets weren’t afraid of being funky or funny, with bizarre tracks like Bon Bon Babies bubbling away next to the fury of Radiant Boys or the euphoric grandeur of Snake Dance

The success of the latter song – slicker, more commercial, just plain better – ironically brought about the end of the band. A management deal with Simon Napier-Bell fermented ambitions and created the in-fighting which saw Denbigh leave to create surrealist grebos the Batfish Boys and the band try their hand at “being Kim Wilde” (Denbigh’s words). Natural History, put together from singles and Peel sessions at the time, is a fitting epitaph. 

Flesh For Lulu - Subterraneans (1984 single)

Batcave regulars Flesh For Lulu brought a warmer rock sound to goth – more influenced by Alice Cooper and the Rolling Stones than Wagnerian operatics or art noise – and Subterraneans is their overlooked anthem.

Still unavailable on CD, except as a (pretty decent, to be fair) re-record from 2009, it’s a hymn to the new movement: to reinvention (‘I’m set free once again in the city of dreams’), style (‘Subterraneans wear the coolest camouflage’) and the growth of the scene (‘New arrivals, new arrivals, they’re all looking for you/coming in two by two’) as viewed from a bar stool at Goth HQ. 

The Damned - Phantasmagoria (1985 album)

Recorded at Eel Pie Studios in London in the spring of 1985, Phantasmagoria amounted to a wholesale reinvention for punk pioneers The Damned and a last-ditch attempt to keep the whole show on the road after the loss of founder member Captain Sensible and years of record label problems.

Their faith was immediately rewarded when pre-emptive single Grimly Fiendish put Dave Vanian and his cohorts back into the UK Top 40 for the first since 1979. Named after cartoonist Leo Baxendale’s Grimly Feendish character that appeared in 60s comics Wham! and Smash! It offered only a vague hint as to Phantasmagoria’s unexpectedly dark detour.

The album’s second single was the clincher. The Shadow Of Love, a reverb-drenched slab of prime gothabilly topped with Vanian’s booming croon, was another chart triumph and led to a memorable Top Of The Pops appearance for Vanian’s now towering duochrome bouffant.

The majority of the music had been written by Sensible’s replacement, guitarist/keyboard player Roman Jugg, but Phatasmagoria was Vanian’s album through and through. Ushered in by some overwrought saxophone, the opening Street Of Dreams was a sustained rush of vampyric bombast, with Vanian moodily intoning about beauties, beasts and the dead beats and the dispossessed, while the six-and-a-half minute of Sanctum Sanctorum was an indulgent sprawl of ghostly pipe organ, concert hall piano and thunderstorm sound effect that brought Vanian’s grimly poetic tale of doomed love to life.

While most of their punk peers had either given up the ghost or succumbed to the law of diminishing returns, Vanian and co were now authentic pop stars. More than 20 years on, Phantasmagoria remains their gothic masterpiece. 

Killing Joke - Love Like Blood (1985 single)

As rock music power-dressed its way into the arena of the anodyne, and all that Frankie could say was ‘relax’, Killing Joke set about reclaiming the dancefloor for something a little more primal.

Having snatched defeat from victory’s jaws by making for Iceland in order to ride out an apocalypse that never came, KJ vocalist Jaz Coleman reformed the band, replacing bassist Youth with Paul Raven, and tentatively recalibrating the band’s sound for fourth album Fire Dances.

But it wasn’t until Rolling Stones’ producer Chris Kimsey took the band (completed by guitarist Geordie Walker and drummer Paul Ferguson) into Berlin’s Hansa studios that they finally hit their ultimate stride. Zeitgeist-defining lead single Eighties hinted at magic, before fifth album Night Time delivered it with the titanic Love Like Blood.

Love And Rockets - Seventh Dream Of Teenage Heaven (1985 album)

It would have been so easy for Love And Rockets to have been nothing more than a weakened re-tread of Bauhaus. After all, guitarist Daniel Ash, bassist David J and drummer Kevin Haskins had provided all of the spooky musical background to vocalist Peter Murphy’s gothic outpourings in that band.

So when they returned in the mid-80s with Love And Rockets it was odds-on for more glorious gloom. That the band’s debut album, Seventh Dream Of Teenage Heaven, is so incredibly different, yet so incredibly good, is a huge testament to the members’ desire to escape their past and go forward by looking further back.

SDOTH is far more psychedelic than it is goth, referencing Floyd more than anything else and using acoustic guitars, keyboards and even flutes to paint the musical picture. Syd Barrett would have been absolutely thrilled with A Private Future. Roger Waters would surely have loved to sing The Dog-End Of A Day Gone By.

But while the influences are clear, this is far from a pallid copy. Not least when the band stamps their own feel all over an unexpected yet inspired cover of The Temptations’ 1970 hit Ball Of Confusion

Dead Can Dance - De Profundis (Out Of The Depths Of Sorrow) (1985 album track)

From its haunting, Gregorian chant-like opening, De Profundis (Out of the Depths of Sorrow) marked a telling step forward for Dead Can Dance. Gone were the tentative, more conventional gothic forays of their 1984 self-titled debut album. In their stead was the lush, assured sound of 1985’s follow-up Spleen And Ideal.

This new identity was never better exemplified than with the album’s first track, De Profundis, whose title is steeped in a religious and literary past. Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry’s vocals and vision had now clearly distinguished them from their 4AD label mates and the burgeoning goth scene, and created a unique sound that, with the passing of time, has transcended its origins.

The Rose Of Avalanche - L.A. Rain (1985 single)

The ROA brought out two 12” EPs in 1985 before they’d even played a gig – Goddess and their debut, LA Rain, both of which topped the indie charts.

An apocalyptic epic, L.A. Rain itself is 7.45 minutes of plodding drumbeats drenched in reverbed guitar and soggy lyrics (‘She’s in the rain/The acid rain/The skies are black and the sun don’t shine/The LA Rain’) drawled in a Noo Yawk Lou Reed accent (they came from Leeds).

The band themselves referred to L.A. Rain as “the song that Andrew Eldritch never dared to write”, but that honour should really go to B-side Conceal Me, which pairs a brilliantly simple riff with Eldritch-like howls. Have mercy. 

The Mission - God’s Own Medicine (1986 album)

The Sisters Of Mercy may have been the first goth band to truly rock, but The Mission were the genre’s first real rock stars. Formed by ex-Sisters duo Wayne Hussey and Craig Adams after the tribulations of working with Andrew Eldritch became too much, they were content to leave the intellectual grandstanding to their ex-colleague and indulge in the sort of arms-aloft grandstanding that was supposed to have gone out of fashion with quaaludes.

As far as manifestos went, they didn’t come much clearer than God’s Own Medicine. Kicking off with Hussey’s shamelessly OTT intonation of ‘I still believe in God, but God no longer believes in me’, their debut album was goth writ on a mountainous scale, utterly unafraid of pomposity, pretension and its own inherent silliness, and sounding all the better for it.

Their recreational habits – hinted at by the album title, a romantic euphemism for morphine – said as much about their love of the classic rock bands of the 70s as the portentous paisley printed stadium goth of stellar singles Wasteland and Severina.

The Mission’s tongues might have been hovering suspiciously near their cheeks, but their debut album possessed an ambition that went way beyond the confines of their local Batcave. Suddenly, the idea of a being a goth musician and a rock star didn’t seem so silly after all.

Red Lorry Yellow Lorry - Walking On Your Hands (1986 single)

This is the shoulda-been-huge alternative disco anthem that never really was. It’s goth meets Motown, the band’s Northern industrial grimness welded to a bassline stolen from The Supremes.

Phil CollinsYou Can’t Hurry Love had been Number One three years before and this was its dark twin: a frenzied 2.38-minuter that swapped the finger-snapping feelgood swing of Motown for growling bass and bondage metaphors (though almost certainly not sexual – there was little room for sex in main man Chris Reed’s oppressive vision of workers enslaved in a capitalist society). It’s as addictive as the tongue-twister they’re named after. 

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