An Immortal perspective on Gothic Music


The inimitable Siouxsie Sioux

The inimitable Siouxsie Sioux

I recently tripped over a You Tube post by a young woman explaining to the universe what Goth is and isn’t. She was a very young woman who stated that it wasn’t really about the ‘aesthetic’ but rather, the ‘music’. I found it cute and amusing, until the little beastie mentioned ‘Metal’—which leads me to assert that I’ve been around a lot longer than she. I won’t reveal how long, but long enough; long enough to know a bit more about the genre . . . as well as its history. The ‘Metal’ thing is a relatively new and mutant absorption aspect—and it is entirely inappropriate. Let me give you a convoluted explanation as to why, using a few historic examples.



Goth roots go back to that first caveperson who picked up a skull and became mesmerized by it and all it represented: death and the suffering that comes before it, and all the ways it is symbolic of our potential for enlightenment. As the fire crackled, and perhaps a prehistoric drumbeat filled the shadowy cavern while massive, hungry beasts lurked in the darkness beyond, she began to sway and wish she had the power of this skull to mesmerize, knowing there was a partial answer in the music. She didn’t want to render her hands or the hunt on the cave wall; she wanted to finger-paint and mouth-spray skeletons and things beyond the ordinary day—things of the darkness and the unknown, imagined world. She did so to the beat of the drums and maybe even became the first shaman.



The ancient Greeks had a very special form of music and lyric known as the Dithyramb. It was poetry, it was rhythmic music, it involved dance and it was initially about the tragedies of our mysterious Gothic hero, Dionysus. This was a divinity who was a God apart from the others.

Dionysus is represented by city religions as the protector of those who do not belong to conventional society and thus symbolizes everything which is chaotic, dangerous and unexpected, everything which escapes human reason and which can only be attributed to the unforeseeable action of the gods.”[1]

 Dionysus didn’t wear black (unless it was a black leopard skin) and I doubt his followers would thrash to Death Metal—or maybe they would, since most things are perverted from their originality. But more likely it would be Death Rock (there is a huge difference!). And today, a respectable Goth respects the right to choose, but the aggressive, violent lyrics of the Metal genre aren’t apropos to the Goth message. True Goths would never subvert romance and dignity (or campy horror fun) in such a way, unless they were in a rare, Dionysian ecstatic, booze or drug-fueled rage (which would generally be precipitated by a broken heart).

The absolute truth behind ‘The Goth manifesto’ is dark, romantic, allegorical tragedy—not slash and burn horror (only the ‘Camp’ camp does the slash and burn, but with humor). I can testify that no Goth of the late ‘70s and ‘80s would be caught dead or alive ( ; }) listening to Black Sabbath or Slayer (no disrespect). But they did occasionally listen to Johnny Cash and The Doors (but only as teens; The Doors lost fatalistic luster when angst matured and the glitter of Joy Division, Siouxie, The Cure, and the ultimate—Depeche Mode, appeared). How do you reconcile the vocal cord-grinding, growl-scream of death metal deep-screeches to the dulcet tones of a sensual baritone or contralto? They are opposites signifying opposite concepts.

Berzerker---Not Goth.

Berzerker—Not Goth.

Don’t get the wrong impression—that I am anti-metal of any sort. I find it an interesting (if sometimes painful) art form that is manifested for a reason. I respect that. But that reason doesn’t square with the Gothic manifesto of romantic tragedy. Goth has roots in history, love, tragedy, romanticism and aestheticism. It is rather feminine in its nature (how many people mistake Depeche Mode to be made up of gay men because their lyrics and music encompass all love beautifully?).

Metal’s roots are superficial dark arts occultism, rage and rock. It is extremely masculine. But here is an interesting comparison. Dave Gahan is fourteen years younger than Ozzy Osbourne. He is a legend among rock royalty as far as his past drinking and drugging, just like Ozzy. Dave is rumoured to have extra lives, like a cat and has even collapsed from a heart attack after a show in, of all places, New Orleans! Ozzy has had his own brushes with the Dark Angel. But I challange: pick up an album by Ozzy when he was in his early 50s, and pick of the most recent Depeche Mode, then tell me whose voice, whose songs transport you. Which still tells truth and does so with incredible artistic acuity? I’m not saying Ozzie hasn’t experienced his own journey; it’s just that Goth tells the tale beautifully and deeply, whereas Metal skims the surface.

LONDON - Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode February 20th, 2010 (Photo by Marc Broussely/Redferns)

LONDON – Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode February 20th, 2010 (Photo by Marc Broussely/Redferns)

Ozzy Osborn 2013 Press Association via AP Images

Ozzy Osborn 2013 Press Association via AP Images

Clearly, I’m a DM fan, but I also love Ozzy as a celebrity.  Yet that special truth in the music is a very deep one, because the call of metal is aggression and mayhem. Kill or be killed. It is about horror. And that is the single word that crosses over, because while Goth caresses horror, it’s really about the exquisite seduction of emotional suffering. It’s about the journey through the darkness, shedding fear, walking in dignity with the things that cause horror and befriending them. It is not about violence, which is ultimately just fear thrown outward. The Goth doesn’t fear the darkness and therefore has no need for anger, rage and aggression. He cries, he loves, he feels compassion and has no need to hide his pain in violence. Both adherents seek catharsis in their music, but one seeks it through adrenalin—the other through depth of emotion. One seeks to become the beast outwardly; the other seeks to confront the beast within.

The Dionysian mystery rites used music and drugged libation to enhance a transformative experience which would leave the initiates wiser. That required a process of travel through real and imagined dark places. The music played a large part in that travel; music which helped induce trance or slowly took one down into the subterranean realms of consciousness. Trance-type music is far more likely to induce this than any sub-genre of Heavy Metal.

So, flying through the ages to the mid-twentieth century, since to create a timeline between the dithyramb and our next subject would fill a book, let us acknowledge the 19th century poets and writers along the way: Poe, Shelley, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Wilde, etc. etc.; because they had a direct influence on the genre. A Gothic lyricist must be a poet, and this cannot be said of all songwriters.

Now don’t let ANYONE tell you that Alice Cooper was the Grandfather of Goth. However entertaining, he didn’t have the slightest relationship with pain and loathing or the desire to plumb the deepest depths of the soul. Looking the part doesn’t make it so. Plus, he’s quite clearly in the Heavy Metal genre.

No, there are some bands that are never associated with Goth, yet they are, quite clearly, its parents. Heavily influenced by bad-boy American blues, two examples would be The Animals and (less dark and more romanticist) The Zombies. From names, to sound, to lyrics, to look, these British ’60s bands are pre-Goth. It’s just that no one seems to ever call them that due to the time period! Forget your preconceptions for a moment. For your consideration:

Soon after ‘Pre’-Goth had gestated in the womb of British psychedelic pop/rock, along came the big Daddy, The Doors.

Goth Poet, Jim Morrison

Goth Poet, Jim Morrison

Rick James (WHOA! WHAT?) has recently (wait—isn’t he dead?) written/published a memoir, and in it recounts a tale about his first meeting with Mr. Mojo Risin’. From the ROLLING STONE article: “While staying at Stephen Stills’ place circa 1966, James woke up to find a young guy sitting cross-legged on the floor, “stoned as a motherfucker,” watching blood drip from his wrist, “saying things like ‘Isn’t the blood beautiful? Isn’t that the deepest red you’ve ever seen?'” Alarmed, James woke up Stills, who said, “Oh, fuck, he’s doing it again,” and bandaged the young man up. Which is how Rick James met Jim Morrison.”[2]

If that behavior isn’t Goth, then I don’t know Goth.

Now I digress: I confess there was a period of time during which I couldn’t listen to The Doors without experiencing a major cringe-factor—brought on by remorseful memories of the emotional, mental, and behavioral journeys I took as a troubled teen with that dark music as my life’s soundtrack. Morrison’s poetry sang to me so deeply that I drowned in it. Densmore, Krieger and Manzarek created music that set that poetry into mesmerizing motion. This was all before the official thing known as ‘Goth’. But by 1980, the full scene was set (happening in Europe, mostly). It simply took time to get to all of those who needed it—we didn’t have the information tsunami of today.

But anyway, I mean, come on: The Lizard King? Regardless, I was in love. “Cancel my subscription to the Resurrection!” & “Break on through to the other side” – the common man would scratch his head and say, “WTF? What does that mean? Other side of what?”

Hello Dionysian incarnation that was Jim Morrison!

Well, those drawn to Goth Music know exactly what that means: it’s the consciousness expansion that comes from conquering fear of the dark side and exploring its depths. It is part of the journey to enlightenment, like Dante’s journey through hell, before purgatory and eventually heaven.

And on the subterranean path of Goth Music, it was only a single turn down a darker tunnel that led to Bauhaus.

But right before that turn was a great big cavern, inside which was born ‘Alternative Music’, known as Punk Rock. Officially, Goth was part of that 1970’s litter. While regular punk took off in a fabulous, ugly, masculine “!DESTROY!” guise, Goth became it’s beautiful, brooding, androgynous, even feminine, sibling. It was almost as if (in Dionysian tradition) they tore off equal parts of the rebellious, tragically insane, brilliant creature that was Morrison.

Punk (morphing with heavy metal) went on to become all the incarnations of Hardcore Punk, Death Metal, etc. etc. It is external, masculine, aggressive, violent and angry—it is Yang. Goth is romantic, tragic, sexy and internal—it is Yin.

So in understanding that, how does one reconcile the two as being placed in the same category by some proclaiming to be Goth?

I guess you have to blame it on the color Black.

Here is a beautiful example of my point illustrated on stage. Industrial, dark ambient Nine-inch Nails lead, Trent Reznor, humbly learns at the feet of the Gothic master, Peter Murphy. Trent, a pent-up energy ball ready to burst, is unable to match his guru’s vampiric-cool serenity. Trent cannot contain his angry, kinetic energy, no matter how hard he tries, because he has not yet mastered his monster. Murphy, on the other hand, could lie effortlessly in a coffin for a hundred years, sucking on his smoke, and not give a flying bat-shit . . . because he mastered his monster long ago.

And that is the difference between ‘Metal’ and Goth.

Iucundissima somnia,


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