From black clothing to heavy makeup, goths have always had a reputation for being a little…different. But with their haunting melodies and introspective lyrics, goth bands have created a timeless genre that continues to inspire new musicians to this day. So without further ado, here are the top 10 original goth bands you should know.
Defining Goth Music and Its Origins
Before we dive into the world of goth music, let’s first take a moment to define what exactly it is. Goth music is a subgenre of post-punk that emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the United Kingdom. It is characterized by its dark and melancholic lyrics, atmospheric soundscapes, and introspective themes.
Origins wise, goth music was heavily influenced by punk and post-punk, which shared a common DIY (do-it-yourself) ethos and a preference for outcast themes. But while punk was associated with fast, aggressive music and political protest, goth had a slower and more introspective sound that focused on personal themes like love, loss, and death.
The Emergence of Goth Rock
The term “goth” originally referred to the Germanic tribe that sacked Rome in 410 AD, and it wasn’t until the late 1970s that the word was used to describe a subculture of music fans. The first goth band is widely considered to be Bauhaus, who released their debut single “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” in 1979. The single featured a creeping bassline, eerie guitar riffs, and Peter Murphy’s haunting vocals. It was an instant hit among goth fans and was later featured in the classic vampire film “The Hunger.”
Following in Bauhaus’ footsteps were other seminal bands such as The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Sisters of Mercy. These bands helped to create a distinct goth sound, with their music characterized by a moody atmosphere, introspective lyrics, and dark subject matter.
Characteristics of Goth Music
In order to be considered goth music, a song must meet certain criteria, such as a moody atmosphere, introspective lyrics, and dark subject matter. Goth music typically features atmospheric soundscapes created by keyboards, synthesizers, and effects pedals. Guitar riffs are often simple but effective, with a focus on creating a wall of sound that’s both ethereal and dissonant. Drumming is typically slow and deliberate, with a focus on building tension rather than fast beats.
Lyrically, goth music often deals with themes of death, despair, and the supernatural. Gothic literature and horror films are often a major source of inspiration, with musicians drawing on the works of Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, and Bram Stoker. Love and loss are also common themes, with many songs exploring the darkness of human emotion.
One of the unique characteristics of goth music is its fashion and aesthetic. Goth fashion is characterized by black clothing, heavy makeup, and often includes elements of Victorian or medieval dress. This fashion and aesthetic helped to create a distinct subculture that was both dark and alluring.
The Influence of Punk and Post-Punk
While goth music may have its own unique sound, it has always been heavily influenced by punk and post-punk. Bands like The Sex Pistols, The Damned, and The Clash paved the way for the goth movement by encouraging self-expression and promoting DIY music-making. Post-punk bands, such as Joy Division, Magazine, and Siouxsie and the Banshees, took this a step further by introducing more experimental sounds and introspective lyrics to the punk genre.
Today, goth music continues to evolve and inspire new generations of musicians. From the haunting vocals of Chelsea Wolfe to the ethereal soundscapes of Drab Majesty, goth music remains a powerful force in the world of alternative music.
The Pioneers of Goth Rock
With its moody soundscapes and introspective lyrics, goth music quickly gained a cult following in the UK and other parts of Europe. The genre emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s, as a reaction to the punk movement that had dominated the British music scene. Goth rock was characterized by its dark, brooding sound, macabre imagery, and introspective lyrics that often dealt with themes of death, despair, and alienation. The genre quickly spread beyond the UK, with bands from other parts of Europe and the US adopting the goth aesthetic and sound.
Here are four of the pioneers of goth rock that helped establish the genre as we know it today.
As we mentioned earlier, Bauhaus is widely credited as the first goth band. The band formed in Northampton, England, in 1978, and quickly gained a following with their dark, atmospheric sound and theatrical live shows. Their debut single, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” is still considered a classic of the genre. The song’s haunting bassline, eerie guitar riffs, and Peter Murphy’s haunting vocals set the standard for goth music. The band went on to release several more albums, including “Mask” and “Burning from the Inside,” before disbanding in 1983. Their other hits include “She’s In Parties” and “The Passion Of Lovers.”
Siouxsie and the Banshees
Another seminal band in the goth movement was Siouxsie and the Banshees. The band formed in London in 1976, and quickly gained a reputation for their goth-meets-art-rock sound and Siouxsie Sioux’s ice queen persona. The band’s early albums, including “The Scream” and “Join Hands,” are considered classics of the genre. Some of their most well-known songs include “Hong Kong Garden,” “Peek-A-Boo,” and “Spellbound.”
The Cure are one of the most recognizable bands of the goth movement, thanks to their distinct, gloomy sound and frontman Robert Smith’s iconic wild hair. The band formed in Crawley, England, in 1976, and quickly gained a following with their moody, introspective sound. The band’s early albums, including “Seventeen Seconds” and “Faith,” are considered classics of the genre. The Cure gained mainstream success in the 1990s with hits such as “Friday I’m In Love,” but their early music, including “A Forest” and “Charlotte Sometimes,” set the stage for goth music to come.
Joy Division’s dark, melancholic sound was a major influence on goth rock. The band formed in Manchester, England, in 1976, and quickly gained a following with their minimalist, post-punk sound. Their frontman Ian Curtis’s haunting vocals and raw lyrics about mental health and despair set them apart from other bands of the time. The band’s second album, “Closer,” is considered a masterpiece of the genre. Their biggest hit, “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” is still played on goth dancefloors today.
These four bands helped establish goth rock as a genre, but they were far from the only ones. Other influential bands of the time included The Sisters of Mercy, The Mission, and Fields of the Nephilim. Today, goth rock continues to have a dedicated following, with new bands emerging and the classics still being played on dancefloors around the world.
The Evolution of Goth Music
The 80s may have been the heyday of goth music, but the genre has continued to evolve over the past few decades. From its origins in the post-punk movement, goth has grown into a diverse and multifaceted genre that encompasses a wide range of sounds and styles. Here are four bands that showcase the diversity of goth music today.
The Sisters of Mercy
The Sisters of Mercy are one of the most influential bands in goth rock. Formed in Leeds, England in 1980, the band quickly rose to fame with their unique blend of gothic rock, heavy metal, and industrial music. Led by the enigmatic Andrew Eldritch, the band’s sound is characterized by its powerful, driving rhythms, soaring guitar solos, and haunting vocals.
Over the years, The Sisters of Mercy have released a number of classic albums, including their debut “First and Last and Always” (1985) and the follow-up “Floodland” (1987). Their music has been covered by countless artists and has influenced generations of goth musicians.
Check out their hits “Temple of Love” and “This Corrosion” for a taste of their sound.
Fields of the Nephilim
Fields of the Nephilim offer a different take on goth rock with their blend of post-punk, goth, and psychedelia. Formed in Stevenage, England in 1984, the band quickly gained a reputation for their brooding style, Western-inspired fashion, and complex, atmospheric sound.
Frontman Carl McCoy’s distinctive vocals, which range from deep, guttural growls to soaring, ethereal melodies, are a hallmark of the band’s sound. Their music is characterized by its intricate guitar work, haunting keyboards, and driving rhythms.
Listen to “Moonchild” and “Preacher Man” to hear for yourself.
The Mission’s sound is a bit more upbeat than other goth bands with its catchy melodies and rock anthems. Formed in Leeds, England in 1986 by former members of The Sisters of Mercy, the band quickly established themselves as one of the premier goth rock acts of the late 80s and early 90s.
Their music features an underlying darkness and introspection that remains true to the goth ethos, but is tempered by a sense of optimism and hope. Their anthemic choruses and soaring guitar solos have made them a favorite of goth and alternative music fans alike.
Give “Tower of Strength” and “Wasteland” a listen.
Alien Sex Fiend
Alien Sex Fiend began as a humorous take on the goth genre, with their self-proclaimed “batcave” sound featuring horror movie samples, electronic music, and heavy drum beats. Formed in London in 1982 by Nik Fiend and Mrs. Fiend, the band quickly gained a cult following with their unique blend of punk, goth, and industrial music.
Their music is characterized by its driving rhythms, distorted guitars, and Nik Fiend’s distinctive vocals, which range from deep, guttural growls to manic shrieks. Their lyrics often deal with themes of horror, science fiction, and the occult.
Try “Now I’m Feeling Zombified” and “The Impossible Mission” for a taste of their sound.
These four bands represent just a small sampling of the diverse and ever-evolving world of goth music. Whether you’re a die-hard fan or a curious newcomer, there’s always something new to discover in this rich and vibrant genre.
The Darker Side of Goth Rock
While goth music is often associated with introspective themes and theatrical performances, it has also had a darker side. Here are two bands that pushed the boundaries of the genre with their macabre subject matter.
Christian Death’s sound can best be described as death rock. With their focus on horror and sacrilege, they were a controversial band from the start. Their songs deal with subjects like necrophilia and satanism, making them an acquired taste for many goth music fans. “Romeo’s Distress” and “Sick of Love” are two of their better-known songs.
Formed in Los Angeles in 1979, Christian Death was originally fronted by Rozz Williams, who left the band in 1985. After his departure, the band continued to release music with various lineups, but it was their earlier work that cemented their place in goth music history. Their debut album, “Only Theatre of Pain,” is considered a classic of the genre, with its haunting vocals and dark, atmospheric sound.
Despite their controversial subject matter, Christian Death has had a lasting impact on goth music and continues to inspire new generations of fans.
Specimen is often associated with the Batcave club scene, which was a melting pot of punk, post-punk, and goth music. The band had a flamboyant image and theatrical live shows, with lead singer Ollie Wisdom donning a top hat and tails. Their sound was a mix of punk, goth, and glam rock, with songs like “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and “Hex” demonstrating their dramatic flair.
Formed in London in 1980, Specimen was part of a vibrant underground music scene that was emerging in the UK at the time. Their music was a reflection of the cultural and social upheaval of the era, with lyrics that touched on themes like alienation, sexuality, and identity.
Although they never achieved mainstream success, Specimen has had a lasting impact on goth music and culture. Their influence can be heard in the music of bands like Bauhaus and Siouxsie and the Banshees, and their theatrical style has inspired countless performers in the goth and alternative scenes.
So while goth music may be known for its introspective themes and theatrical performances, it’s important to remember that there is also a darker side to the genre. Bands like Christian Death and Specimen pushed the boundaries with their macabre subject matter and helped to shape the sound and style of goth music as we know it today.
So there you have it, the top 10 original goth bands you should know. While goth music may seem niche, its influence has spread across the music world and continues to inspire new musicians to this day. Whether you’re a longtime fan or new to the genre, there’s no denying the emotional depth and creativity that goth music has to offer. So put on your black eyeliner, light some candles, and let the dark allure of goth music take you on a journey to the other side.
feature image credit: Bauhaus by Pedro Figueidero via flickr