Emphasis on the dirty. Dallas has quietly been cranking out quite a few gothic rock, deathrock, and dark postpunk bands in the past few years. This is a guide to a few — BUT NOT ALL — of them, and it’s why Dallas might just be the sleeper capital of traditional gothic rock not just in Texas, but in the larger US southwest region.
A few caveats: The following list is by no means exhaustive. It’s meant as more of a starting point for your own discoveries. I’m always interested in things I have overlooked; email me.
Lastly, a qualification of terms: By “gothic rock,” I mean gothic rock rooted in the traditional guitar-driven, human-on-a-drum-kit, punk-was-our-foundation style of gothic rock, and not post-1990s dark dance club music that calls itself “EBM” and “industrial” and which many people confusingly also call “goth” these days. There are very divergent trends in the 30+ years that saw the birth of bands like UK Decay and Sisters of Mercy, with some acts since the 1990s using dark imagery to accompany slick dance music mainly meant for djs to play in clubs to pack the dance floor (Faderhead, et al), versus others exploring and rediscovering the actual punk/postpunk roots of the genre (Night Sins, Crimson Scarlet, Belgrado, Lost Tribe).
With that caveat out of the way, here are some –but not all — of the best current North Texas goth bands:
1) GARDEN OF MARY
As of this writing, Dallas’ Garden of Mary have a cassette-only release, The Agony in Memory, on Funeral Party Records. (Note that Funeral Party Records is not related to the Funeral Party goth/postpunk event that used to occur in Dallas at the Beauty Bar and at The Church.) Ryan’s vocals are downright narcotic, and Noah’s bass pins the music down — gives it its anchor — in true trad gothic rock style, a la the Sisters of Mercy. There are elements of dreamy shoegaze and hallucinatory 80s UK dark underground stuff at play in the mix, too.
As this blog post goes to, uhm, “press,” Garden of Mary will play their first show at my friends’ event, Mutant Wave, on Wednesday, September 21st. They will also play when Soft Kill return to Dallas in December, at a Wardance event. Look out for this band in the future.
2) AZTEC DEATH
This Dallas three-piece plays a clean but somber style of early Factory Records-inspired music that is refreshing and crisp. Singer Chris Ortega’s vocals are up front and center – unlike many current darker bands that tend to bury their vocals beneath waves of dark sludge – and are clearly enunciated. (You can understand them without a lyric sheet.) And, yes, while there is a hint of the almighty Ian Curtis in the vocal delivery, the band’s overall darker tones also recall the deeper spectrum of the original postpunk explosion – namely, oft-overlooked pioneering bands like Positive Noise and early The Opposition, or Glorious Din from San Francisco. But Aztec Death also cite influences from the shoegaze genre.
Aztec Death have been playing out a lot in Dallas — some promoters might say too much — but they are worth catching if you haven’t seen them yet. They win p(o)ints with me by featuring more smoke than a Cheech and Chong movie, and more atmosphere than a Maya Deren film. One of my personal favorite band in Texas. Or anywhere. They blew folks away that caught them at the recent San La Muerte III dark punk fest down in San Antonio in August. Check out their Facebook page.
3) OSSUARY SEVERE
Currently this Ft. Worth deathrock act is a duo, but, damn, what a demo they just released digitally on Bandcamp a few days ago! The vocals and off-kilter, jagged guitar playing remind me a lot of the Christian Death LP Ashes. Ossuary Severe are currently looking for a third member. As far as I know, their only internet presence as a band is their Bandcamp page.
4) RITUAL ORDER
I’ve already interviewed and featured them here at Grave City, and they are really good. They’ve played shows so far with Ohio’s Pleasure Leftists and Brazil’s Rakta and on Thursday, September 15th they’ll open for Germany’s Diat with Slimy Member in Fort Worth.
Ritual Order are a newer North Texas band that combines elements of deathrock, gothic rock, older dark purist punk (think Chron Gen or Legal Weapon), and postpunk in a galvanizing, guitar-driven, gloomy maelstrom of glorious, shadowy noise. Their roots-y deathrock sound harkens back to Iron Mask-era Christian Death and Rozz’s other more rootsy deathrock project, Daucus Karota, but they also remind of more recent offerings by bands like Portland’s Deathcharge: Ritual Order singer Waymire coincidentally sounds a bit like like Deathcharge‘s Adam Nauseam. To date, the doomy 4 piece have only a cassette demo as well as a few songs posted on Bandcamp. But their song catalog is growing.
I mentioned traditional gothic rock in the header paragraph. Okay, iill are not that, but they merit inclusion here. Originally a three piece with a human on the drum kit, iill are now a darkwave duo that remind me of early Projekt Records material. Singer Greer’s helium-baby vocals remind me of the Cranes at some points, and partner Alex Velte’s accompanying musicianship alternately reminds of Throbbing Gristle (specifically, the bad-trippyness of “Hamburger Lady”) and acts like Attrition.
iill have been going a couple of years now — they played their first show at one of myown events in 2014 — but as of now they still only have a CD-EP to their name. They need to get an LP out soon.
Some other bands that don’t neatly fit the “gothic rock” category, but which nonetheless deserve a mention:
SLIMY MEMBER – If you were ever into the dark side of 80s UK anarcho punk, like Rudimentary Peni or Part 1, or dark/weird US punk like Saccaharine Trust, these guys are ones to check out. Slimy Member are hands down the best punk band in Dallas. They were nominated for that either last year or the year before in the Dallas Observer, but lost out to someone else whose name I forget. Slimy Member are incredible.
AWEN – If you accept the premise that Current 93 and Death in June are goth bands, maybe in the true sense of the word “gothic,” Awen also deserve mention here. Awen have been a North Texas staple for over a decade now.
Whereas one segment of the early 80s UK postpunk scene split off into Leeds-style Sisters of Mercy/March Violets style gothic rock, a lot of other folks in London were also busy developing what would later be called apocalyptic folk or neofolk — namely, the bands Current 93 and Death and June and Sol Invictus, the latter two of which contained members of the ’77 era punk band Crisis. Awen is the long running North Texas representative of that occultic neofolk movement, and their longevity here in Texas is impressive. They have an LP on Dais Records, making them label mates with another band that has a member also here in North Texas, Them Are Us Too.
Metal? Prog-rock? Gothy dark synth? The debate rages. But Dallas’ Pinkish Black continue to challenge all neat genre categorizations. And that’s a good thing.
From an interview I did with Pinkish Black 3 years ago, singer Daron said, “We’ve heard all kinds of references. We think it bothers people that they can’t nail us down. The fact that people refer to us as a metal band is strange in itself. Texturally, we can understand, but structurally and vocally, it’s something completely different from what most people think of as metal.”
Here is their Christian Death cover:
All words copyright Oliver Sheppard 2016. All rights reserved. Nothing may be duplicated without explicit permission from Grave City.