CD Review

V/A - Gothic Rock 2 - "Darkend"

By Haydn Black

Various Artists
(Darkened c/o Plastic Head Music)

The legacy of Rosetta Stone and their forefathers (The Mission, The Sisters) shines strong from the first guitar lines of Dead Souls Rising to the final strains of Passion Play on this two CD set released by a previously unknown (to me) UK label known as Darkend.

To be honest Dead Souls Rising, crap name not withstanding, are a dark version of Faithful Dawn, or a well executed version of Athamay without the shite vocals, or Switchblade Symphony with meaty guitar and without the fairy tale lyrics.

The second track is by a band known as Complicity, and if I'm not mistaken the person belting out the lyrics to 'Intensity' is Dave, formerly of one of the early 90s B-grade goths greatest hopes, the terminally unlucky Vendemmian. So, this is Vendemmian Mark 3 (or something). There's still hope for them to crawl into the A-grade, and if you missed Vendemmian since the break-up, this will appeal. Then again, if you always hated them, you'll hate this.

Inkubbus Sukkubus' 'Vampire Erotica' assails our ears next. I know it isn't just me, but there's something delightfully kitsch and loveable about Candida's vocals and the IK sound, even though they've basically just got the two song topics - paganism (and the persecution of said cults) and vampires, and how these two topics relate to sex.

The late lamented and explosive Children On Stun were lucky enough to go out with a bang instead of a whimper, and 'Style Police' taken from the vastly underrated 'Mondo Weird' album sees their tongues firmly in cheek as they mambo their way into the history books with a delightful swipe at the fashion gestapo. They should never have been allowed to go so soon.

The Tortured are yet another of the Children of Rosetta, sounding like two guys (or actually a girl and a guy) and their drum machine. Thankfully they can carry a tune and they may well prove to have what it takes if they can only learn to sound like they aren't trying too hard.

Our next stop on the merry-go-round of love is Libitina, a band I'm an unabashed fan of. 'Fagility Of Self' is one of my favorite tracks from their debut album, and includes the pastiche 90s keyboards with some good of fashioned guitar (and a drum machine) to good effect.

Unfortunately they're followed by Fields ^H^H^H 'This Burning Effigy.' They sound considerably less like McCoy and Co here, than they have in the past but there's not much in it. Some fairly standard guitars and some less than enthralling vocals make for a sterile track.

Unusual then that they should be followed by Germany's Still Patient?, whose track 'Shadows Of The Empire' manages to inject some life into bleeps and bloops, although for all intents and purposes it is a Sisters track with some keyboard lines which evoke memories of an updated Halloween theme by John Carpenter.

Suspiria, for my money the band on the 90s who so consistently fell short of greatness, continue to do what they do so well, melodic yet droll dance floor tunes which both conform and exceed a goth-by-numbers approach. So close, and yet so far. This is probably one of their better moments.

America's Stone 588 have the benefit of Terri Kenndey as an aural footprint - her voice is un-duplicable. 'For Madmen Only' is a new song, which continues along in the vein of their Door In The Dragons Mouth album. It may be nothing new, but at least it's well presented.

The same can be said from the heavy rock Marionettes. Their finest days are well and truly over, but still 'Carousel' exhibits clear signs that all is not completely lost for this band. It's probably their best work since 'Rise.'

Thankfully, disc one closes with the sweet but plastic Mantra, which offers a variation on the style presented by Dead Soul's Rising at the other bookend. In fact, it could almost be the same band. Imagine Cocteau Twins, with Terri Kennedy on vocals, in a foul mood.

DISC TWO

Disc Two opens with the French band Corpus Delecti, from the Obsessions album. 'Broken' has appeared on other compilations before, but it is an enigma as it's a purely unremarkable slice of Corpus Delecti, which is shamed by what they've recorded in the past - love them or hate them. This isn't their brightest moment.

So we come to Emma Conquest - a band beloved of many UPG posters, who in the past sounded like a watered down mix of Rosetta and All Living Fear. Back then (and I'm basing this on Nightbreed's New Alternatives III disc) they were trying too hard. Thankfully they've jettisoned that, picked up a few lessons from the perky Stun/Nekromantic axis, and have ejected a textured and wry song which goes bang in almost all the right places. It's still a little sterile for my tastes, but I'm willing to give these guys a little time.

Die Laughing's 'Cascades' follows, lifted from their Heaven In Decline album. Rachel's voice is in full flight over synth-violins, big powerful and bombastic, in the great old traditions of the Mission's overblown production. Still, I like the fact this song stands up and demands attention. There should be more of this stuff about.

Surprise was in store with Manuskript's 'Knives,' because based on previous compilation appearances they were the seminal perkygoffpop band with a smile and not afraid to use it. But they lost it. 'Knives' is darker and harder than some encounters in the past, but is raised up to the heavens by the line 'A prisoner of the cheap champaign.' It has convinced me they are a band capable of sustaining a musical erection across the course of 10 tracks, and thus I shall buy their album.

While about as far from the galactic center of goth's musical ancestry as you can get, the Spice Goths (aka Faithful Dawn) still manage to hold up their end of the bargain by producing highly commercial slices of darkness. This isn't as instantly likable as their Nephilim cover, and it lacks a soybean organic flavor like most of their stuff, and it commits the "do doo de doo doo de do dah" lyrical sin, but it is passable - but the song lacks denouement, completion.

Of course Sweden's Funhouse have more than enough for all of us - channeling the spirits of Messieurs Hussey and Adams with The Mission (90s style). This is from their Never Again album, and it is a slice of easily digestible powerful pop that try as you might, you can't ignore.

Funhouse is followed by Excession - a variant (perhaps) on Vendemmian. They're hardly the most original band in the world, relying on electronic instrumentation, but they still do a fine job at presenting 'Years To Come' as a song which doesn't send me to the floors in epileptic fits.

Still, it pales into comparison behind the epic production of Judith's 'Sahara Seas.' These guys take a big sound, and make it even bigger. This is from their Saharan Seas EP, and it drop kicks the (Rozz) Christian Death comparisons out the window with a bigger and badder sound. If you like the guitar, you'll love Judith.

Sensorium - My Life. This band was The Nefilim, without McCoy. I like it not, but that's my taste. So unless someone can tell me the connection between this band and Perth, WA, I shall leave them alone. Type O fans will love.

Next comes the recently reformatted All Living Fear, and what a difference a change of vocalist makes. It's a definite improvement, as the band's taken a more melodic slant, in the process they've shed a lot of the hallmarks of cliche-goth. Just listening to the two versions of 'Stranger To None' (here, and on What Sweet Music... Vol 3) was an incredible transformation.

Unfortunately they're followed by Spear Of Destiny, whom I assumed have reformed - but the question needs to be asked: why bother? Kirk Brandon & Co did their best work with Theatre Of Hate, and 'Prison Planet' is just embarrassing to suffer through - vocally and lyrically. Musically the song's a lot heavier than TOH or what I've been familiar with from SOD in the past.

Another unimaginative band brings us to the penultimate movement. Saints Of Eden aren't able to effect any startling changes on any musical genre - aside from mixing cookie monster vocals with a techno big beat. The vocalist is possibly familiar - and I'd be indebted if anyone can tell me where from.

Remaining in the realm of pseudo-metal, we have Passion Play who strike me as unremarkable. There's not much here to recommend them.