Album Spotlight: Gothic Rock [Cleopatra, 1993]

In today’s world where we hate all forms of physical media, it’s easy to forget that 26 years ago, used CD stores were popping up at such an alarming rate, that Garth Brooks took a break from cosplaying as Claire Danes* to complain about it. Some of these places also were dealing in used cassettes, it was a great way for a store to build up an inventory of cheap product while fleecing customers desperate to transition to CDs. We had a place ran by an unruly Hutt. God, I hated him. Later, I learned he made unwanted advances to an employee’s girlfriend, so I’m glad he went out of business.

On Halloween evening in 1994, or maybe the closest Saturday before, a friend of mine arrived at our mutual friend’s Halloween party with some cassettes he bought on the cheap. In those pre-internet days, he was always hoarding as many cassettes as he could to consume the most music. Lots of times, he was the first to get something. I was never quite sure if he found these by reading music magazines, or just randomly buying things based on cover art or weird band names.

Friend-o showed up with this gothic rock collection on Cleopatra Records, aptly titled, Gothic Rock. I guess the title Sad Music For Sad Bastards with Amazing Hair and Crazy Eyeliner was taken. Cleopatra has a bit of a reputation for putting out goth and industrial releases, and then later expanding to hair metal has-beens, and also for releasing a lot of tribute albums of dubious quality.

This was the first time we’d heard any goth music at all. We were familiar with Type O Negative, but goth was just a shade on their doom-metal nihilism. We were also starting to get into industrial like Ministry and Skinny Puppy, and while industrial rock is dark and shares a common ancestor with goth in their post-punk, it’s still not the same. Of course, we had heard The Cult, but we were naturally unaware of their Southern Death Cult roots.

This cassette became the soundtrack to this “party”, which was nothing more than a half dozen nerds sitting in a basement eating cupcakes while dressed as vampires. We were enraptured by the sounds; we had never heard anything like this before. Even though goth was certainly not in vogue at this time, if we had heard it earlier, we may’ve been an entirely different group all together. Well, we were already dressed like vampires, so maybe that’s a stretch… but I guess we’d have been dressing that way daily instead of one weekend a year.

The compilation was originally released in the UK and Germany on Jungle Records in 1992, but Cleopatra got the rights to distribute the compilation in the US, and added five tracks. All of the five new tracks were previously unreleased versions, while the original comp already has some unreleased versions on it.

The album begins with Bauhaus’s “Dark Entries”. I don’t have to tell you about Bauhaus, but they are often considered the grand-daddies of goth rock. Even though Siouxsie’s and Joy Division’s brand of post-punk was already out before “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”, when “goth” was applied to Bauhaus, it’s often considered the first time it was used in a derogatory way. The shrill guitars here, and the moaning vocals were a great mood setter.

I have to admit, I was a little put off by the name Creaming Jesus. I mean, really? The song “Reptile” itself was practically a thrash metal song, but produced in such a low fi way, with more moody digressions that standard guitar shredding.

“We’re So Happy” from Danse Society was another favorite. It has two keyboard parts, one that is all OOOoooOOOO eeeEEEEeee for atmosphere, and then one that sounds like an Atari game. The drums and bass really drive this, while the guitar sounds like some serious The Edge worship (early style), and the singer just kind of bleats out the words. They are apparently still going, releasing something in the Year of our Bacchus 2020.

Southern Death Cult hadn’t become Death Cult yet (a far superior name), or simply The Cult yet. Ian Astbury hadn’t descended into self-parody with his Jim Morrison worship yet either, but he did reference his long-standing obsession with indigenous peoples, by referencing “Indian nation”, “Wounded Knee”, and… Nagasaki?

The ladies were getting in on it too, with (West) Germany’s Xmal Deutschland, which was founded as an all-female group. However, after their first single, their guitarist left and was replaced by a guy named Wolfgang Ellerbrock. I mean, c’mon, that’s a suitable replacement, right? This is the lineup that recorded “Incubus Succubus II”. They had a dream pop accent to them, that got them gigs opening for Cocteau Twins across Europe.

One of the US only bonus tracks is Nosferatu (there’s only 40 bands with this name) from the UK. Why would a UK band be exclusive to the US edition? Because Cleopatra optioned the distribution rights for Possession Records, of course! While they don’t really look like it, the sound of this band has one imagining the group writhing around on stage, covered in the dirt from their caskets, moaning into the void. They don’t really look like that; they look like typical goths. There’s actually a video of the band performing it in February 2020 in Greece. So, they’re still going despite not releasing anything since 2011.

I’m not trying to post the whole thing song by song, but my favorite is from Britain’s Marionettes (sometimes The Marionettes). They have a smattering of releases from 1987 to 1998 (6 singles/EPs, 4 albums), but their releases are rare in the States, so I hadn’t ever been able to get their releases. I love the way the song’s chorus builds to grandiosity, as a good goth track should. They broke up in 1998, and the singer pursued a career as an actor. His credits are things like “Criminal” or “Syndicate Man”, but he’s been in The Mummy, The Phantom Menace, and The World Is Not Enough.

So, enjoy the spooky tunes this Halloween! Thanks for reading!

*This is really just an excuse to relay mine and my friends’ inside joke that Garth Brooks used to hang out backstage and pretend to be Claire Danes, but was so rich and powerful that no one could stop him.

Manager: Garth, it’s time to go on stage!

Garth: I’m not Garth Brooks! I’m Claire Danes! (puts on wig, pulls hair over face)

Manager: Garth…


Manager: … (sighs)

Also, Garth Brooks didn’t put out Chris Gaines until 1999, and he was complaining about used CD stores in 1993, so don’t bother pointing it out.