Thursday 21 July 2022

Christian Death - Evil Becomes Rule (2022)

Country: USA
Style: Goth Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 6 May 2022
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I've had a taste for goth since before I found metal, because I was fascinated by the indie charts in Smash Hits when I was listening to bands like Adam and the Ants. However, I didn't have access to a lot of it back then and, by the time I did, I'd moved into much heavier material, so I've kind of stuck around on the fringes of it ever since, bumping into it again and again when other interests have a goth adjacent status, especially steampunk. So I've been aware of Christian Death for a long time without actually hearing more than an odd track here and there. This is my first album of theirs.

I find their sound very interesting, because it's clearly goth rock but with obvious nods to a slew of other genres. The Alpha and the Omega, which opens up the album, is a great example because it plays Valor Kand's deep and rich vocal over a slow and melancholic backdrop of strings, reminding of Nick Cave, back when he was still with the Bad Seeds. It doesn't have the elegant poetry of Cave though, and when it heavies up, it isn't strictly to a noisier emphasis, as Cave did on Loverman; it's almost electro-industrial in a Nine Inch Nails vein.

They stay slow and melancholic, but keep enough of a bounce in their step to avoid getting overtly doomladen. Everything is dark but nothing is suicidal dark. It's characterful dark and it's simple to track the sound back to the beginnings of the genre. And, quite frankly, they were there, in quite a different form to be fair, but Christian Death dates back to 1979 when Rozz Williams founded them as a teenager. It's obvious that they were listening to Bauhaus and Siouxsie and the Banshees but also plenty of the American underground too. I hear the Swans here, not least because Maitri has quite the vocal presence here in addition to her work on bass and keyboards, but I'm sure there's a long list of others that I'm not qualified to recognise.

By the way, Maitri is one of two long term members of Christian Death. Valor Kand is the other, an acquisition in 1983 when Williams ditched his entire line-up and brought in another band, Pompeii 99, which Kand had co-formed, to become the new Christian Death. He took over at the point that Williams left in 1985 and Maitri joined in 1991. I'm not even sure who the drummer is this week but it doesn't seem to be a long term position for anyone. It's worth mentioning that Williams formed a separate version of the band in the early nineties, releasing three albums, before taking his own life. So this may be the seventeenth or twentieth album for Christian Death, I think, depending on how you count.

There's enough here that three listens isn't remotely enough for me to choose a favourite track. I dig most of what they're doing, though the experimental title track gets a little much. There are a few groove-ridden songs like Blood Moon that remind me of the Sisters of Mercy meeting Inkubus Sukkubus. There are quirkier Nick Cave-like songs, The Warning leaping out as a pristine example. Beautiful sounds more like Siouxsie and the Banshees, which may underline why I prefer Maitri's vocals to Kand's, not that I don't appreciate the latter too, especially on more subdued songs like Who am I, a two parter that wraps up the album. Pt. 1 is very Nick Cave, but Pt. 2 is stripped down, wilder and experimental. It captivated me on a first listen and did the same thing with each fresh repeat.

Clearly I should listen to more Christian Death. I know I have a bunch here, so it's just comes down to finding the time. I have no idea if this is representative of what they've done for so long but, if it is, it's easy to see why they're considered the founders of American gothic rock, or deathrock or whatever else they want to call it. It's also easy to see their sound influencing alt rock darlings like Trent Reznor and Marilyn Manson, though I prefer Christian Death's older school sound certainly to Manson, who I've never got into. I think that suggests that this album is a good place to start. I hope so.

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