In trying to convey the dark majesty of goth to a novice in 10 minutes or less, a person could do far worse than just putting the debut single from Bauhaus, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” on the stereo and leaning back to let the agitated guitar, prowling rhythm and narcoleptic horror host vocals do the job. When the band released full-length In the Flat Field about a year later, it ratified everything their first track (and the singles in between) promised. Produced by the band themselves since they insisted they were the only ones who truly understood how the album should sound, their debut is a collection of sharp, intensely focused elements that draws on the raw insurgency of punk but tugs it into a miasma of spooky wonders. It’s pressing out against the world, daring it to pass judgment and reveling in an arch, angry subculture that it’s creating, seemingly from scratch. – Dan Seeger
Of all the albums on this list, none are more fragile or beautiful than Black Tape for a Blue Girl’s Remnants of a Deeper Purity. Fronted by Sam Rosenthal, the record is home to a host of long, challenging songs, including 26 minute centerpiece “For You Will Burn Your Wings upon the Sun.” Blending synths with Vicki Richards’ violin and Mera Roberts’ cello, Rosenthal has created something more than rock music. If ethereal had a sound, Remnants would be it. Featuring Oscar Herrera and Lucian Casselman on vocals, these nine songs are goth to the core: they are darkly beautiful, aching and melancholy. By the time album closer “I Have No More Answers” comes to an end, you feel that Rosenthal has taken you on a journey, floating you through a realm of shadowy sadness and an electronic atmosphere that stretches out forever. – David Harris
Give credit to 4AD boss Ivo Watts-Russell for this brilliant idea: construct a supergroup comprised of various members of his label’s roster of talent and give their trademark dark and dreamy sound to a few cover songs and collaborative originals. The project, known as This Mortal Coil, would put out three full-lengths amongst a number of other releases, but the first, It’ll End in Tears, is the standard by which the rest are judged. If songs by Big Star and Tim Buckley don’t exactly strike you as obvious picks for any eyeliner-traced teenager’s mixtape, it only serves to underscore the success of the project. Alex Chilton’s “Kangaroo” and “Holocaust” are given all the respect those emotional heavyweights deserve, but with arrangements that play to the strengths of the label. Meanwhile, the rendition of Buckley’s “Song to the Siren,” here played by Robin Guthrie and Liz Fraser (in a rare intelligible vocal performance), threatens to become the standard, much as the younger Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah” now eclipses even the original. Elsewhere, the album drifts through a collection of ethereal originals, perfect for ending a night at the Batcave alone in bed. – Peter A. Pompa
The Sisters of Mercy’s first album First and Last and Always includes classic goth favorites heard in nightclubs (bat caves?) around the world, such as “Black Planet,” “Marian” and “Walk Away.” It is exemplary of a solid goth rock album. Andrew Eldritch’s deep, baritone vocals are dark and vampiric.
“Black Planet” slowly plods along and features super-dark gothic lyrics “Run around in the radiation/ Run around in the acid rain.” The bass line in “Marian” moves you across the smoke-filled dance floor: the deepest rumble of lyrics creep above this wonderful, driving bass. Acoustic guitars add texture, and in the pre-chorus it seems that a mandolin is used as fairy dust to make the song that much prettier. When the key changes in the chorus, the cape comes off and you’re enveloped in rich, horrific darkness. “Walk Away” employs Arab-scale guitars with grey, wolf-like howling vocals. It drives you through the Carpathians in the back of a horse-drawn carriage. SOM is vampire rock, and it’s goth as all get out. The band employs stacks of instruments to build harmonics and melody. This allows the music to both breathe and be alluring. The lyrics are simple and can generally be sung along to, making SOM that much more club-friendly and anthem-like. Because, what’s better than a song that a Goth can sing and dance to? Not much. – Cedric Justice
Clan of Xymox’s self-titled debut pioneered the darkwave movement, setting the tone for a new genre of music. Xymox leverages the organic textures of acoustic guitars, intersperses synthetic and abstract sound effects and textures, foregoes acoustic drums in lieu of a drum machine and uses synthetic orchestral sounds to give this music a solid grounding in the ethereal/classical overtones of goth music. Even those of us who aren’t huge fans of electronic music can appreciate the synthetic orchestra over melodic and wandering bass and the silky-smooth voice of Ronny Moorings. The difference between goth and darkwave, though? Darkwave is easy to dance to. And Goths love to dance!
Of note, this is produced by 4AD co-founder (and This Mortal Coil’s inventor) Ivo Watts-Russell. 4AD is a record label laden with experimental and ethereal goth. The 4AD label produced Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance and even the Pixies.
John Fryer engineered and remixed some songs; Fryer is famous for numerous bands in the genre, including Fields of the Nephilim, Cocteau Twins, Peter Murphy (of Bauhaus), Love and Rockets and This Mortal Coil. His resume is a litany of darker music and much of what Goths would enjoy. – Cedric Justice