CD Review

V/A - Ghostriders Of German Gothic Vol 1 - "The Godfathers Return"

By Haydn Black

Various Artists
Schwarzrock/SPV (1998)

I'm an unabashed fan of the three volume series 'Godfathers Of German Gothic' released by Subterranean/SPV between 1994 and 1997.

Compiled by one Josef K (aka Jay Kay), the series charted what I assume to be some of the pivotal bands to rise in the German states in the early days.

The music in that series was refreshing, a different expression of the modern gothic aesthetic between 1979 and the late 80s.

What this compilation does is return to some of the bands in that series, although it does appear to be a partially self-serving exercise as fully six of the 16 tracks here feature Josef K, whom I would assume was the compiler of this series.

Thankfully, each of his solo works and tracks with 80s project Circle of Stig-Tu manage to stand on their own merits.

Opening with the very boppy 'Apologies' by They Fade In Silence, the compilation moves into less polished territory with Moloko and the very Germanic droning of Geisterfahrer.

Slick production returns with a slab of 80s gothic rock from Marquee Moon. Why this band are not adored the world over continues to astound me. Imagine grumpy Danse Society without the swirly new-age music and you'll be part of the way there.

'Prince Of Darkness' is an absolute corker of a song, and I never get tired of hearing it. If you haven't discovered Marquee Moon yet, you must have done something to piss God off.

The CD gets crackling again with Asmodi Bizarr's 'Raul un Zeit'. By this stage the ennui seems all too much for this band, recording into a walk man by the sounds of things. Perhaps, if someone pumped Anja from X-Mal with valium, this is what they may have sounded like.

Compilation director, and our tour guide through Gruftiland, Jay Kay then greets us with three tracks of his own work, starting off with 'Wherever I Go,' which sounded a little too much like the kind of song Kermit he Frog may have sung in the original Muppet Movie. Still, you can never have enough whistling in a song, especially in the chorus.

His tracks 'In Silent Night' and 'Fuer & Asche' are both rollicking songs. The former resurrects the harpsichord and steals it from the indignities it has faced at the hands of modern Nosferatu, while the latter track digs up David Lee Roth for guest vocals - or so it sounds.

Holy Orange's slice of darkness is whispered suicide in the candlelight music, and easily the sort of stuff anyone should like, the vocals are almost 100% Steve Kilby, because there's almost an Australian accent at work.

Kema's contribution is, sadly, the low point of the disc. Poorly recorded from the original demo, it's a slow, quiet mouse of a song which failed to attract immediate attention, but on repeated listening there's a certain charm about it.

Smalltown Boys' 'Lifetime' sounds like ale reflection of Marquee Moon at first, but once you appreciate the songs punk sensibilities it all seems to make sense. Their song sounds a little too weak for what they were trying to play.

I'm unfamiliar with Tommy Stumpff's back catalog, but the one song I have heard, 'Massaker,' is one of the key songs which changed my opinion of the potential for 90s style electro/industrial/cyber music. 'Niemals Mehr' is a different animal, a slow dirge which echoed across the deserted moorlands of my bedroom and perked up my ears. The song is a death wail, a soul brother of the Cure's 'Faith' period without the Smithian lyrics. Well, they could be, but damn they're all in German and he has such an enthralling voice.

The final trilogy of songs come from Circle of Stig-Tu. The first 'Schwarze Raben' (Aus 98-Remix) is simply a remix of one of Jay Kay's earlier songs, released by his band Aus 98 (The song first appeared on the Godfathers Volume 2).

The Aus98 mix has a big sound, with fake pipe organs providing a massive lead into what is a rough version of the track, which shows its punk ancestry proudly.

The second track is a third re-recording of 'Schwarze Raben,' a much cleaner and faster version of the above, but still an urgent and expectant song - much like early Skeletal Family with masculine vocals.

To finish the band's track 'Dear Lord' is by far the best of their works, once again giving an impressive impression of Skeletal Family, with some fine early 80s guitar work which would not have sounded out of place on a play list lodged between UK Decay and Europe.

It is a damn fine compilation, shining light on what our German cousins were doing before the world discovered them with Project Pitchfork and the like.

There's so much life in these songs, it makes you wonder how they've been overlooked for so long. Concurrent evolution is a wonderful thing.