Friday, June 3, 2016

Deathrock California

The deathrock scene in California in the early '80s produced some of my favorite music ever, in any genre. Even 30 years after first hearing most of this stuff it still gets plenty of spins.

Since i was a little kid, i was always into campy horror movies, EC comics, Black Sabbath... anything on the darker side. When i first got into punk and hardcore in '87, i was obviously infatuated with The Misfits. Then, somewhere around 1989, i finally heard the sounds i'd been waiting for. "Only Theatre Of Pain", "Sleep In Safety" and "Autopsy", the ultimate goth-punk trifecta. I guess i thought this was a doorway to a whole new world of amazing albums, but it turned out there was really only a handful of stuff like this out there, with these 3 records being at the very top.

I'm really looking forward to the upcoming book "Phantoms: The Rise of Deathrock from the LA Punk Scene". It amazes me that this extremely influential sub-genre that gave birth to the entire Goth scene was never properly documented until now. The music itself was never really documented in compilation form either. Outside of a few key punk comps that had some great deathrock tracks scattered throughout, like "Hell Comes to Your House", "Can't Argue With Sucksess" and "American Youth Report", there's really no definitive collection of just deathrock bands. Some labels like Cleopatra Records tried a few times with so-called deathrock comps, but they're pretty badly researched. They all have the same, few, early '80s bands like 45 Grave (always "Evil"), Christian Death (usually not the classic early stuff for copyright reasons), Kommunity FK (always "We Will Not Fall"), and sometimes Super Heroines. From there it always falls apart with late '80s and '90s goth and rockabilly bands that just happen to be from CA. Stuff without the punk edge that takes itself a bit too seriously. Strobelight Records did a little better job with their "Kaliffornian Deathrock" comp, and their"new Dark Age" series is great. Kudos to them. A while back i put together my own compilation of favorite early '80s dark LA punk songs, and i figured i'd share it here.

Deathrock California: The Darker Side of California Punk Rock: 1980-1985

Here's the rundown of the bands/tracks:

Secret Hate were an incredibly talented and diverse punk band from Long Beach. They had killer tracks on following compilation LPs: "Hell Comes to Your House" (1981), "You Can't Argue With Sucksess" (1982), and "When Men Were Men... And Sheep Were Scared" (1985). They also put out the "Vegetables Dancing" 12" on New Alliance Records in 1983. The CD version of "Vegetables Dancing" has the 2 tracks from the "When Men Were Men..." comp LP, and a live set from Bruin's Den, Long Beach in 1982, but the other 4 comp tracks are missing for some reason. I would guess Secret Hate would not be considered a deathrock band, as half their discography is straight punk rippers with the occasional odd influence seeping in, but the other half of their songs has an obvious influence from the dark sounds that were going on around them in LA at the time. Deathrock California tracks: "Charade" is from the "You Can't Argue With Sucksess" comp LP put out on Mystic Records in 1982. This track has a heavy Christian Death vibe, in both the music and the vocals, and shows that the band can write a goth-punk tune on par with the best of them. "Death In the Desert" is from the "When Men Were Men... And Sheep Were Scared" put out on Bremisbrain Records in 1985. This is my favorite Secret Hate song. Just an epic track full of memorable riffs. They were definitely in their prime at this time, and of course this is when they broke up. They got back together in the '90s though, after Sublime covered their song "The Ballad of Johnny Butt", putting them on the mainstream map.

Voodoo Church from Los Angeles released just one (incredible) 4 song 12" EP put out on Second Death Records in 1982. They reformed roughly 20 years later and released the "Unholy Burial" CD in 2004, and the "Eminence of Demons" CD in 2009 (with Rikk Agnew on second guitar), both put out by Strobelight Records. Deathrock California tracks: "Eyes (Second Death)" and "Live With the Dead" are both tracks from the 1982 12" EP. To keep the entire compilation in CD quality, i used mastered versions from CD comps. "Eyes (Second Death" was taken from the Kaliffonian Deathrock" comp CD put out on Strobelight in 2006 and "Live With the Dead" was taken from the "Strobelights Vol. 1" comp CD put out on Strobelight in 2004.

Burning Image from Bakersfield were another band with a very thin '80s output. All that was officially released was the self-released, two-song "Final Conflict" 7" in 1984 and one track on the great "Let's Die" comp LP put out on Mystic in 1985. Fortunately, Alternative Tentacles put out the "1983-1987" CD in 2004, which included the EP and comp tracks along with 10 unreleased songs. Like Voodoo Church, Burning Image reformed over 20 years later. They released the "Fantasma" full length CD on Alternative Tentacles in 2009, the "Orleander" download album on Revelation in 2011, and the "Grand Guignol" CD (what, they never heard Naked City?!) on Mokat Records in 2014. And like Voodoo Church, i've never heard anything they did past the '80s. Deathrock California track: Time Is Running Out was one of the unreleased songs from the "1983-1987" CD. The first song the band ever wrote, and also the best in my opinion.

45 Grave were from Los Angeles. They formed in 1979, playing ripping punk hardcore songs with campy horror themed lyrics, pretty much kick-starting everything. Of course you can argue that singer Dinah Cancer's previous band Castration Squad was the first California deathrock band, but they never released anything, or even recorded anything as far as i know. Plus they were awful. 45 Grave were just amazing on the other hand, with Paul Cutler from The Consumers, Rob Graves from The Bags and Gun Club, and Don Bolles from Germs and Nervous Gender. Most notable in the band's discography is the ripping "Black Cross" 7" put out on Goldar Records in 1981, the incredible "Autopsy" anthology LP put out on Restless Records in 1987 and the "Sleep in Safety" LP put out on Enigma Records in 1983. There also released various 12" EPs and comp tracks throughout the '80s, but all the essential material is on "Autopsy" and "Sleep in Safety". One of my top 10 favorite punk bands of all time. Deathrock California tracks: "Consumers" and "Choices" are both from the "Autopsy" LP, a compilation of material from 1981, half of which were Consumers songs, as well as the 2 tracks from the "Black Cross" 7". "Choices" is one of the 2 tracks that Paul Cutler sings (the other being "Eye"), and is one of my fave punk songs ever written. Just perfect. "Bad Love" is from the "Sleep in Safety" LP.

D.I. from Fullerton released a bunch of records from 1983 to about 1996, and then again from 2002 to present. The best would be the self-titled 12" put out on Revenge Records in 1983 (later released as the "Team Goon" LP in 1986), the "Ancient Artifacts" LP, and the "Horse Bites, Dog Cries" LP, both on Reject Records, both in 1985. Word of warning - stay away from "Richard Hung Himself" comp LP from 2007. I figured this was a collection of remastered tracks, but it's actually a collection of re-recorded tracks, Suicidal style. Deathrock California tracks: The great and probably most well-known D.I. song (thanks to the movie Suburbia), "Richard Hung Himself" from the original 1983 S/T 12" on Revenge Records, and the Sabbath-like "Wounds From Within" from my favorite D.I. record, "Ancient Artifacts", put out on Revenge in '85. You'll recognize some of the songs on that album from Rikk Agnew's 1982 LP "All By Myself".

Red Scare from L.A. were one of the most overlooked yet most talented bands from the early '80s Cali scene. They released the "Then There Were None" LP on Upstart Records in 1984 which included classic dark tracks like "Don't Look In The Basement", "Red Rum" and the incredible "Street Life". They also appeared on various comps throughout the early '80s, most notably the classic "Meathouse" comp cassette from '82. Grand Theft Audio re-released their LP in 1995 on the "As Promised (1982-1988)" CD, which also included demos, unreleased tracks, comp tracks and a live set. Well worth tracking down. Vocalist Bobbi Brat, one of the best female punk singers ever imo, died of cancer in 1988 at age 26. Deathrock California track: "Red Rum", one of my faves from the "Then There Were None" LP. A song about Kubrick's classic giving Bobbi nightmares."The Shining won't let me sleep, it won't let me rest...". That film had the same effect om me as a kid.

T.S.O.L. (True Sounds Of Liberty) formed in the late '70s in Huntington Beach. They put out a few great EPs in the early '80s and 2 classic LPs. The legendary "Dance With Me" LP on Frontier Records in 1981 and the more progressive and keyboard-heavy "Beneath The Remains" LP put out on Alternative Tentacles a year later. They also appeared on more comp than you can imagine. T.S.O.L. kept going, in various forms, for nearly 30 years, churning out slab after slab, including hair-metal albums at one point in the late '80s. All you need is the first 2 LPs and the "Thoughts Of Yesterday: 1981-1982" LP put out by Posh Boy in '87 and you'll pretty much have all their essential material. Deathrock California track: "Sounds Of Laughter", the goth-punk opener of the "Dance With Me" LP, which also appeared on the "American Youth Report" comp LP put out in 1982 on Invasion Records.

Christian Death, another legendary band from Los Angeles, and maybe the most important. Certainly the most influential, to many different genres of music. Along with 45 Grave, Xian Death have always been one of my favorite bands of all time. To me the first 3 albums and the "Deathwish" EP are perfect. But there are lots of great obscure songs scattered throughout the time Rozz was with the band, like the 1985 demo tracks, "Haloes" and "Spectre", which can be found on various collections, including the "Invocations" comp CD put out on Cleopatra in 1993. Anyway, they must have put out well over 20 albums between 1982 and today, but after "Ashes", i couldn't give a shit. Deathrock California tracks: "Deathwish" and "Romeo's Distress", both from the "Deathwish" mini-LP recorded in 1981 (the band's first recordings) and not released until 1984. I like these version better than the ones on the "Only Theatre Of Pain" LP. Actually my fave version of "Romeo's Distress" is the 1981 demo version which you can hear on the "Six Six Sixth Communion" rarities CD. Rozz's vocals sound so great on that recording, much less dramatic than i've ever heard from him. He kinda sounds like a young Robert Smith. It rules. The only reason i didn't include it on the comp is the sound. Not that it's terrible, but it wouldn't have matched the rest of the quality of the comp. The live version of "Theatre Of Pain" is from "The Decomposition Of Violets", originally released on cassette on Roir in 1985. The LP and CD versions came out in 1990 on Contempo Records. I like this live version much better than the studio version from the first LP, where it's titled "Mysterium Iniquitatis". This version is an almost completely different arrangement. They should have recorded it like this on the debut. It would have even fit perfectly on the second LP.

Conservatives were a killer Long Beach band who unfortunately released a total of 6 tracks between 1981 and 1982 and are today a total mystery. They released 3 tracks on the "Hell Comes To Your House" comp LP in 1981 ("Suburban Bitch", "Just Cuz" and "Nervous"), and 3 tracks on the You Can't Argue With Sucksesss" comp LP in 1982 ("Confusion", "Nuclear Madness" and "Beaver Cleaver"). And that's it. I've never seen any further info on this band, except that one of the band members went by the name Butthole. If ever i wished a band from the early '80s had released more material, this would be the one. Deathrock California tracks: "Nuclear Madness" is a nice life-affirming number about slowly dying of radiation. Slow, doomy stuff with almost spoken lyrics. "Nervous" is pretty much the polar opposite musically. It's a quick hardcore ripper that clocks in at maybe a minute or so. Lyrically, however, it's just as nihilistic and negative as "Nuclear Madness". All there songs are worth hearing, and they're all in this post.

Legal Weapon were yet another super talented female-fronted punk band from Los Angeles. What was in the water down there? Between 1981 and 2002 they released 7 LPs and 8 EPs. All you really need is the first 2 LPs and the first 7" EP. Their early comp tracks kicked ass too. The 5-song "No Sorrow" 7" EP was released in 1981 on Arsenal Records and is a killer debut. The "Death Of Innocence" LP (my fave) was released in 1982 and the "Your Weapon" LP in 1983, both on Arsenal. Frank Agnew of The Adolescents and D.I. played guitar on "Death Of Innocence". Such an underrated '80s punk album. To me it's as classic as pretty much anything else released at the time. Deathrock California track: "Daddy's Gone Mad" from the "Hell Comes To Your House" comp. Easily my favorite recording the band ever did, and maybe even my favorite song on the comp, which says a lot. Such a great chorus. They re-recorded this track for their first album, but they over-did it with all kinds of back ups and overdubs. This stripped-down version is far superior, and really the only time the band sounded exactly this way. They actually sound a hell of a lot like 45 Grave ("Autopsy-era) on this recording, so much so that i would have bet anything that Paul Cutler was playing guitar on it the first time i heard it. Even vocalist Kat sounds a lot like Dinah Cancer here. If they would have recorded an entire album with this exact sound (and superior songwriting), it probably would have been my fave '80s female-fronted punk LP, right  up there with "Sleep In Safety". Oh well, at least i have this one track. And as much as i love their other stuff, i almost always come back to this song when i'm in the mood for a little Weapon.

Adolescents were a Fullerton favorite, even though they really only released one good LP and one good EP. I guess it helped that they had killer tracks on key comps like "Rodney On The Roq" (1980 Posh Boy), "American Youth Report" (1982 Invasion), and "Someone Got There Head Kicked In!" (1982 Better Youth Organization). It also didn't hurt that they knew how to write excellent and memorable hardcore songs with pop sensibilities. Rikk Agnew's guitar playing cemented the deal with his Greg Sage style (pretty sure they started around the same time, so i'm not sure if one was actually influenced by the other, but the similarities are undeniable). You could feel that Christian Death style starting to creep in on certain tracks (like "Kids Of The Black Hole"), pretty much laying the groundwork for the goth style that would take shape years later. The self-titled "Blue Album", released on Frontier in '81 was great, but my fave was always the follow-up "Welcome To Reality" EP, released on Frontier that same year. Rikk Agnew was gone at this point, just leaving his brother Frank on guitar duties, but for me they just fucking nailed it with those 3 tracks. Deathrock California track: "Losing Battle" from the "Welcome To Reality" 7". First song i ever heard by Adolescents, and still my fave. I heard it on the "American Youth Report" comp LP and it blew me away. It just sounded so much heavier and angrier than anything on the debut LP. And the vocals never sounded better. "Now suicidal, caught in a trap. Can't get out don't want to fight back. Now the firing squad is set. To give me the bullet to help me forget...". Love that shit. If only they made a second full length at that time, it would have been a monster.

Rikk Agnew! Since the Adolescents track was from the EP that Rikk didn't play on, i figured a good following track would be from Rikk Agnew's 1982 solo LP "All By Myself", put out on Frontier Records. An absolute punk classic, with Rikk writing all the music and playing all the instruments. I think it kicks the Adolescents album's ass. Deathrock California track: "Yur 2 Late". I was tough picking one track off that album, every song is great, but the riffs on "Yur 2 Late" are just so damn perfect. A perfect song from one of the originators of the entire goth scene. It doesn't get much better. I never heard the second album "Turtle" from '92, or anything from Rikk Agnew's Yard Sale.

Super Heroines from L.A. were a great (mostly) female deathrock band that had a sinister punk vibe similar to early Christian Death. Part of that inspiration could have been from Eva-O being in the band, who played with Christian Death for a while. The first 2 albums are great. "Cry For Help" from 1982 and "Souls That Save" from 1983, both released on Bemisbrain Records. They also had 2 killer tracks on the "Hell Comes To Your House" comp, and even put out a third LP in '93. In 2006 Cleopatra Records put out 2 separate Super Heroines anthologies. Both are great, but the "Anthology 1982-1985" is essential. It has all 3 albums, so i'm assuming that 3rd LP was recorded much earlier than 1993. The other anthology is more of a "best-of" type collection, which i usually find pretty useless. Deathrock California tracks: "The Beast" is the massive opener from the first LP and "Embalmed Love" is one of the 2 tracks they did for the "Hell Comes To Your House" comp LP. It's a great alternating mix of gloomy dirge and thrashy punk. I can't make out most of the lyrics, but i'm guessing it's a necrophiliac love song.

Lost Cause from Orange put out a killer 7" called "Born Dead" in 1981, even more impressive because of how young they were at the time, with half the band being around 14 years old. In '82 they put out the "Forgotten Corners" LP with a different vocalist. Both records were released on High Velocity Records. They also have some other recordings that i'm not sure ever made it to vinyl, as they recorded 6 tracks for the debut 7" and only 4 were used. They called it quits shortly after the LP came out. It would be great if someone reissued all this stuff. Grand Theft Audio used one of the EP tracks on their "High Road To Obscurity" comp back in 2000, so i was hoping maybe they would do it. Wishful thinking. Deathrock California track: "Lost Cause". The title track from the '81 7" EP which i actually first heard on the "American Youth Report" comp. It came right after the Adolescents "Losing Battle", and it always seemed like the perfect one-two punch for me. Those song seemed as connected to me as "Heartbreaker/Living Loving Maid". Even 30 years later, when i hear "Losing Battle" on the Adolescents CD, i expect to hear that echo-like guitar kick in. Whatever, i'm rambling like Lenny Bruce all of a sudden... anyway, dig, "Born Dead" was really the only creepy track on the record. A haunting galloping melody with lyrics about a still-birth. The other 3 tracks were pretty straight-forward punk rippers, but every track is good.

Peace Corpse from Pomona put out the classic "Quincy's Lament" 7" in 1983 on Toxic Shock Records, which seemed more of a parody of the deathrock genre than being influenced by it. With songs like "Dead In A Pile Of Chairs", "Small Talk Death" and "JockoMacho", you could tell they didn't take themselves very seriously. But spoof or not, fuck if they didn't pull off the sound perfectly. The Pushead cover of Jack Klugman from the TV show Quincy is absolutely amazing. Such a great record that Toxic Shock even reissued it in 2010 as an LP re-titled "Terror Of Quincy". This version included 3 bonus tracks. The A-side of their 1986 12" "The Terror Of History", which was less punk and less satirical than the EP, and more doomy sounding. They never should have changed their sound. These recordings feature future maniac of Man Is The Bastard, Eric Wood on bass.  Peace Corpse also released some comp tracks, including the great "Breach Birth Generation" on the "Barricaded Suspects" comp LP released on Toxic Shock in 1983. They also had 2 tracks on the "Budget Ranch Box" 3x7" box set put out on Budget Ranch in 1986. One was a ZZ Top cover called "TV Dinners" and the other was a kick ass cover of Neil Young's "L.A.". Toxic Shock should have just released everything on CD in 2010. Anyway, it's possible someone else did. Deathrock California track: "Breach Birth Generation", the great opener of the "Barricaded Suspects" comp.

Kommunity FK, another classic L.A. band, seemed to be more influenced by the post-punk and new wave sounds of Bowie and Joy Division, as well as more experimental stuff, like maybe Nurse With Wound or something. Their debut 1983 album, "The Vision And The Voice", put out on Independent Project Records, went back and forth from dark punk songs to damaged art dirges. Excellent album if you can get through all of it. They put out one more album in the '80s called "Close One Sad Eye", and then took a little 25 year break before recording again. Deathrock California tracks: "Anti-Pop" and "We Will Not Fall" from "The Vision And The Voice" LP. "Anti-Pop" is one of the most perfectly crafted and unique punk songs i've ever heard. I never get sick of hearing it, it's just flawless. "We Will Not Fall" is the Kommunity FK track that seems to make it to all the goth comps, and with good reason. It rules. I couldn't resist.

The Flesh Eaters from Hollywood put out a lot a good records during the '80s, but it was their second LP "A Minute To Pray, A Second To Die" (1981 Ruby Records), that it all came together perfectly. One of the most unique, unsettling and bizarre records in the history of punk. The music is kind of a weirdo mutation of punk, jazz and blues, with marimbas, xylophone and sax expertly weaved into their instrumentation, topped off with demented lyrics sang by what sounds like a satanic psycho-ward patient trying to keep it together for the album before they have to throw him back into his padded room. "Roots rock voodoo blues" is how their sound has been self-described. "See You In The Boneyard" is my favorite track from the album, just total madness, with xylophone playing that reminds me of the skeleton fighting scene in The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad. Awesome and original as hell. Deathrock California track: "Pony Dress" from the "American Youth Report" comp. A great dark punk track that simply fit this comp more than anything from the superior LP.

U.X.A. were originally from San Francisco, but moved to L.A. early on in their inception. They recorded their great "Illusions Of Grandeur" LP in the late '70s, and put out a pre-release of the album in 1980 on Posh Boy, housed in a cardboard sleeve with the title stamped on it. The official album with artwork and lyric sheet came out in '81. Not a deathrock album, but this record definitely had dark tinges of what would become the Cali sound. I would imagine "Illusions Of Grandeur" had a pretty big influence over many of the bands mentioned in this post. Vocalist De De Troit looks like a starlet right out of a 1930s movie on the LP cover. They reformed in the early '90s and put out a bunch of new material which i never checked out. The debut LP was re-released in 1990 and again in 2004 on Get Back Records. The also had 2 tracks on the "Tooth And Nail" comp LP (Upsetter Records 1979) including one track exclusive to the comp called "Social Circle". This early California punk comp also had tracks by Controllers, Flesh Eaters, Negative Trend, Middle Class and Germs. Deathrock California track: "U.X.A." from the "Illusions Of Grandeur" LP. My fave U.X.A. track. This one's taken from the newly remastered version that can be downloaded on sites like Amazon. The remastered LP sounds great, and has a bunch of bonus tracks. Not sure why they changed the title and artwork though. I would think it would just make it harder for people searching for the record online. But whatever, i'm just glad it's available.

That's it for this time. Enjoy!