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13 Best Goth Albums of All Time

13 Best Goth Albums of All Time

As the resident lifetime Goth on the panel, I felt I needed to preface this section. What I would like to say is that I feel we captured some of the heart of goth music, but not necessarily all of the canon. Part of this is a function of how we do things at Spectrum.

When we come up with an idea, we assemble a panel of writers who are interested in a concept. For this panel, not necessarily everyone identifies with the community, especially on a daily basis. That sort of perspective means that when they nominate albums, they may nominate music that someone like me will completely miss (like Scott Walker’s The Drift, which I loved). And when it comes to voting, we vote on a one-to-five scale.

If you’ve ever been on a voting panel, you will quickly realize that everyone does things a bit differently. I incorporated a lot of non-musical knowledge (prevalence in the goth scene, frequency I hear at clubs, image and canon—how much I think that this is an important band and influencer on goth music). We fortunately tended to focus on first-wave and second-wave goth acts (1979–1985 and 1985–1995, respectively). Once music makes it to the 2000s, the overarching acceptance of Marilyn Manson into the mainstream confused music and confused American society’s understanding of what goth is (Marilyn Manson and most heavy metal in general is definitely not goth), not to mention the overarching acceptance and mainstreaming into Germany.

I feel that one particular album (which was a part of the rotation, but didn’t make the cut) needs an honorable mention. Christian Death’s Only Theatre of Pain is one of the more influential deathrock albums and practically defines American Goth as it crawls out of its punk roots. Christian Death—while abrasive, lo-fi and sloppy musically—practically shaped the entire image of goth, codifying crosses, lace and fishnets into the wardrobes of the black-clad worldwide. But that doesn’t mean it made the list. Not all on our panel loved it (or even liked it). And if you think about it, this is understandable. Much of goth music is challenging: to the ear, to one’s sense of identity, to one’s faith, to one’s sense of what music is. Goth is a lot of things, but it isn’t always pleasant.

That’s part of why those of us who wear eyeliner daily like the genre. It is challenging to the norm, as we are. It is a dark subculture with many shades of black. So, for those dyed-black Goths, please don’t read this list as the end-all, be-all of goth music or think that we at Spectrum are attempting to assume an authoritative role on what goth is—we’re not. Instead, think of this as an opportunity to hear some different perspectives on what our music sounds like to foreign ears. And for those of you not regularly clad in black, please take this as an opportunity to discover some new music that is near and dear to an entirely subversive, generally misunderstood subculture.

So, with that, here are 13 great goth albums. Enjoy! – Cedric Justice

siouxsie-juju13. Siouxsie and the Banshees – Juju (1981)

Emerging from the primordial punk ooze in 1976 and eventually twisting their way towards their own kind of neo-psychedelia with 1982’s A Kiss in the Dreamhouse, Siouxsie and the Banshees fully embraced their gothic tendencies in 1981 with Juju. They’d always seemed destined for it, between Steve Severin’s prominent bass lines and Siouxsie Sioux’s theatrical wailing (to say nothing of her alluringly demonic makeup). But while “Spellbound” and “Arabian Knights” are dark pop masterpieces, the Banshees push for even bleaker territory on tracks like “Voodoo Dolly” and “Night Shift,” where the entire band descends into extended gothic jams, pushed along by drummer Budgie’s tribal rhythms and given menace by John McGeoch’s splintered guitar lines. “Halloween” seems like a grand slam opportunity for melodramatic cliché, but Sioux instead frames the haunted occasion as a struggle with identity and the loss of innocence. It’s all part of a package that, despite the later creative choices the band would make (a goth band should never cover the Beatles), proved to be an influential cornerstone of the genre. – Peter A. Pompa

lycia12. Lycia – The Burning Circle and Then Dust (1995)

Lycia is mostly a one-man operation, programming the drums and bass and playing an acoustic guitar over the top. It is part ethereal, part darkwave due to this. Much of this work is in 3/4 (waltz) time, which gives it a very flowing cadence. Mike VanPortfleet’s breathy, deep vocals shimmer over the top of prominent bass lines and sweeping keyboards; at times Tara Vanflower’s feminine touch adds vocal harmony and presence to songs. It makes one feel as if in a fairytale forest, with lightning bugs, faeries and luminescent streams. This is music to have as a backdrop to a coffin-warming party, to light candles and then have sex to.

The Burning Circle and Then Dust is my favorite Lycia album and Lycia is my favorite goth band. The texture and mood created in this album is all very soft, mellow and melancholy but pretty. A song not to miss is “Pray,” which is practically a gothic pop song. Other highlights are “Nine Hours Later,” “Surrender” and “Wandering Soul.”

This album could be considered a flagship of Projekt Records, another distinctive label in the gothic genre. Projekt focuses on these more ethereal, calm, soothing soundscapes (and is owned by Black Tape for a Blue Girl’s Sam Rosenthal) and Lycia fits solidly within this cohort. To me, this is what ethereal goth is: palatable to just about anyone, but mostly overlooked because of its “gloom.” And anyone overlooking this is missing out. – Cedric Justice

scott-walker11. Scott Walker – The Drift (2006)

Scott Walker’s pop idol years were long behind him in 2006, buried under a series of increasingly esoteric albums, commercial decline and artistic hermitage. Then, after 11 years of silence, he reemerged with The Drift, his darkest, strangest album yet. It would be the album that put him back on the map as a major songwriter, one that established his credentials as a creator of gothic, elaborate blocks of music that easily transcended any experiments he had yet attempted. The Drift is 10 disturbing tracks of musical force, eschewing traditional song structures and instrumentation; a memorable scene in the documentary 30 Century Man shows Walker instructing a percussionist in how to literally punch a side of pork properly to reach his desired sound. It’s an album that’s gothic in its darkness and inscrutability, married with Walker’s undeniable mastery of destroying pop structure and building it up again in his own image of gloom and foreboding. – Nathan Kamal

nick-cave-tender10. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Tender Prey (1988)

Tender Prey is an album that transcends the goth label and all its trappings. Across the album’s 10 songs, Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds keep matters dark in tone and cobweb-strewn, but build upon and expand elements they dabbled with before, delivering their first cohesive record. Inverted blues, psychobilly rave-ups and genuine piano balladry all have their place. Cave as a songsmith hones his literary aspirations, the lyrics soaked in Southern Gothic tropes born of Faulknerian nightmares. A masterpiece throughout, Tender Prey has one of the greatest opening triages of the last 30 years. The classic “The Mercy Seat” finds Cave in alternating personas, one a condemned death row inmate, the other a brimstone-vomiting preacher man, while “Up Jumped the Devil” is a dead-slow cabaret in hell. The Gun Club-esque “Deanna” follows with a sing-along tale of a sociopathic couple’s murder spree, standing as the middle point between Charles Starkweather’s rampage and Natural Born Killers. Cave tones down his menace elsewhere, using the piano as the primary instrument some tunes are built around, anticipating the forms he’d explore on successor The Good Son and, later, The Boatman’s Call and No More Shall We Part. “Watching Alice” is pathos-evoking despite its melodramatic flare and high creep factor, and Cave goes full-on romantic on “Slowly Goes the Night” and (gasp) optimistic with the gospel waltz of “New Morning.” Cave had been trying to move beyond the goth subgenre’s conventions since his Birthday Party years, but Tender Prey is the record where he reached the plateau on which he was able to spread his leathery wings and show he was a phenomenal songwriter, not just a great gothic performer. – Cole Waterman

som-floodland9. The Sisters of Mercy – Floodland (1987)

Floodland is the Sisters of Mercy’s second album, which builds on the successful elements of First and Last and Always, but diverges a bit in scope and feel. Floodland is more epic and in your face, and it has a now-quaint Cold War overtone (yet it seems that SOM is rooting for the commies). “Lucretia My Reflection” is so inspirational that the song has probably spawned thousands of goth girls’ online handles (I’m looking at you X_lucretia79_X). The memorable bass line and start-stop between the verse and chorus compel everyone onto the parquet. And the nearly-whispered, creepy “Lucretia, my reflection/ Dance the Ghost with me”make this a classic gothic anthem.

My main complaint about SOM is that they tend to drag their songs on too long. “This Corrosion” and “Dominion” especially repeat the choruses way too many times and they rarely introduce anything new as they drone on. “This Corrosion” is 11 minutes long, but the last four are simply a repeat of the chorus. On the other hand, “Flood I” is a perfect, driving goth tune. The keys are sparse and church organ-like. The bass keys are light and sneaky. There is so much right about this. While I miss the bass-as-lead that I expect from so much goth music, the vocals make up for any cred missing here. “In a flood of your tears, in sackcloth/ And ashes and ashes and secondhand passion.” I have to admit, this is goth as fuck. – Cedric Justice

        29 Comments on this Post

        1. it’s a nice general list, maybe it should have been larger or just left to albums that aren’t as obvious to those who might never have listened to a certain scene, subgenre, or band? with certain bands left out this could have been a nice list for those who don’t know to learn from, i can think of lots more that bridged the gap to other genres.

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        2. No Play Dead? No Fields? No Red Lorry? Sorry, this is the Rolling Stones “greatest hits” goth list. Essential albums surely, but blisteringly and painfully obvious. Two SOM mentions, really?

          Kudos to the well-written descriptions all the same.

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        3. where are the fields of the nephilim?
          where is the nephilim? :/

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        4. Jeweliette

          …would have been interesting to see who else would have made it to the list if you’d kept to just one album per artist…

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        5. Muldfeld

          No offense to the people who put together the list, but I’m so sick of people thinking Joy Division is better than The Cure. There’s no way “Closer” beats those other two Cure albums. The best of Interpol is better than Joy Division, too!

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          • Too bad you can’t handle the truth. Joy Division’s ‘Closer’ is a monumental work that the Cure never matched. Deal with it. JD created a new sound that was theirs. The Cure never really did that. Nor did they have lyrics like Curtis came up with.

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            • Monkedelic

              So whose sound, exactly, were The Cure copping on Pornography? Or Disintegration? Or on any of their albums for that matter? The Cure actually created SEVERAL sounds that are all distinctly their own. And you’re right, Robert Smith didn’t write lyrics like the ones Ian Curtis wrote- because he’s not Ian Curtis. They both wrote some incredibly dark and introspective lyrics, but Robert Smith survived his tormented youth to move past his nihilistic, hellish outlook that made Pornography one of the darkest albums ever recorded. I get that you like Joy Division better than The Cure- but that’s just like your opinion, man. Nothing more. Or can’t you handle the truth?

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            • agreed Robert Smith will never match what Ian Curtis did in his short span

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        6. Betelgeuse

          Una classifica dei migliori album gothic che non contenga i Fields of the Nephilim non vale nulla.

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        7. this perhaps would be a nice introduction to those who are new to the goth scene, but it’s not comprehensive enough for the rest of us. i think christian death deserved more than an “honorable mention” and there are loads of other bands that should have been included. i very much agree with Jeweliette that it should have been limited to one album per artist.

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        8. this staff doesn’t know goth music (sigh)

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        9. Chipmonkadidooda

          Oh dear, how disappointed was I by this list. I know these lists are emotive, but there’s so much missing here it’s unreal…Fields of the Nephilim, Siouxsie & The Banshees – Peepshow, The Damned – Phantasmagoria (The best gothic album ever BTW), The Mission, The Jesus & Mary Chain – Darklands or Psycho Candy. I could go on…Hmm oh dear!

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        10. :Leaving off ‘Only Theater of Pain’ is just ridiculous. It’s better than the likes of at least 60% of this list.

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        11. This list is bullocks. “Floodland”?? And why are the Cure on there twice? Medusa is a clearly superior album over the self titled Clan of Xymox. There is 0 love for Deathrock here as well and although it’s arguably not pure Gothic Rock, neither are the Post-Punk albums on this list. All together this is more of a favorites list than a well groomed best of.

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        12. Type o Negative??? How can no one bring this band up??? Or are we are only talking avant garde sounds and noises that sound like a horror movie. I’ve yet to hear a better goth album than October Rust or World Coming Down.

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        13. I agree that Type o Negative must be included in this list, but I have to say that the album “Paris Kill” from the 69 eyes must be included too. Maybe the 69 eyes are not a goth band but that album, I mean “Paris Kill”, has some elements that we can consider as a gothic sound. Another bands that must be included are: the cult, theatre of tragedy, tristania.

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          • the mission, the frozen autumn and fields of the nephilim are also good goth bands. As you can see, I don’t listen gothic music as much as metal music but I like some bands of that kind of music.

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        14. Monkedelic

          Judging by the comments, the goth crowd is almost unanimously unhappy with your list. Congratulations. Looks like you nailed it!

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        15. No Christian Death or 45 Grave?

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        16. exit.shadows

          What of the March Violets?

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        17. cmon!!!! wheres garlands cocteaw twins? viva … xmal deutchland ?

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        18. The Cure is NOT Goth.

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        19. Daniel

          NIN – Pretty Hate Machine / Downword Spiral
          Suspiria – Dancefloor Tragedy
          Leather Strip – Solitary Confinment
          Tones On Tail – Pop
          Love & Rockets – Earth Sun Moon
          March Violets – Electric Shades
          Skinny Puppy – Back and Forth
          Die Form – Vicious Circle

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        20. Carljules

          Siouxsie and The Banshees, last of the your list: you must be kidding, poor writers without no culture. Siouxsie and the Banshees are cited by PJ Harvey, Tricky, Massive Attack, Jeff Buckley. Poor dilettante, get a culture

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        21. I just want to say The sisters of mercy shouldn´t have been included in this list because they are NOT a goth band. I do hate when people think they make that kind of music. I don’t like goth music because is so boring and it has a dead sound, but some of the bands which I listen are considered as a goth bands…. christian death? type o negative? the sisters of mercy? really?? Clearly, you don’t know about rock music, so you think a rock band which has a cold sound must be goth.

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        22. LOVE that so many people hate this list…. almost the sole reason to make one! Of course, there are going to be albums not listed on any given day, but who cares. You’ve got the platform, go ahead and make lists to your black heart’s content.

          Nice little shout out to John Fryer, though. John and Blackwing Studios were really a part of so many seminal goth / new wave / etc albums back in the day. He even put out a few of his own (the recent moniker DarkDriveClinic being one that comes to mind) that aren’t bad.

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        23. Nobody every mentions the 1st 4 albums of Public Image, Ltd – but they frayed the emotions and grimaced many a face in those days. Monumental work.

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