Christian Death is one of those bands that fit within a specific time frame and setting, There’s a certain cult status attached to the group. Surprisingly, the group is still active and just released a new album in 2015. Seasons of Mist decided that this was a great moment to release a reissue of Atrocities (1986) and The Scriptures (1987). Two albums that see the band at its finest.
Atrocities – This album saw a significant change for the band, for it marks the end of the Rozz Williams years. Williams had been a founding member of the band, but the lead had shifted on the previous two records to Valor Kand. Years later a bitter struggle for the name of the band would follow between the two.
Atrocities deals with the horror and impact of World War II. Contrary to what the band name suggests, the sound of the group is in no way a sort of proto-Reign In Blood, but a tasteful mixture of post-punk, early EBM and gothic rock of the kind I hardly hear being played anymore these days.
Due to its theme, the record feels like a ‘Dance Macabre’ of the twentieth century, with ragged guitar play that sounds confused and harrowing at times and a weird, uncomfortable dance groove to it. It’s like dancing on the graveyards thanks to the frantic beats, which remind you instantly of grim progenitors Joy Division. The tunes are wild and sometimes it feels like the musicians are barely in control of their instruments, like they’re running wild.
The vocals are weary, like on The Death Of Josef or Strange Fortune, with a hint of defeat in its timbre. It’s fitting for the theme, this uncontrolled, dragged out misery. The lustrous piano parts give a little shine to it all, but the theme is, in the end, one that calls for little joy. Adorno proclaimed that it was barbaric to write poetry after Auschwitz and that echoes in all forms of art in a way. It’s that, that makes Atrocities such an impressive album, though sound wise it could not have been made in the present day. It’s a clear product of its time and place in history.
The Scriptures – On the album released a year later, we hear a reinvigorated Christian Death. Two band members have been replaced on bass and guitar and the music sounds much more crisp and driven. The theme for this album is religion, albeit in a very broad sense.
Gone are the languid, atmospheric pieces of Atrocities, this is a band that jumps right onto the deathrock and new wave train that was going strong at the time. Big guitars soar high over the rhythm section, thanks to a polished and clean production that helps to create a grandiose sound. Kand is supported on vocals by Gitane Demone, which allows for a much bigger feel, more akin to the Temple Of Love era Sisters of Mercy.
In a song like Four Hoursemen, you can first hear the lulling, bewitching influence of the likes of Bauhaus and then after a crescendo, the song launches into a chaos, not unlike Public Image Limited, where so much is going on. As the listener you feel like you’re being dragged along, spun around and blown away, it’s like a mythical ‘wild hunt’ dragging you along.
Compared to its predecessor, this record is much more open, playful and accessible. If you listen to the songs A Ringing In Their Ears all the way to Spilt Blood, you will experience an extravaganza of noise, folk and soundscapes all chopped into little bites. I feel, looking back at the history of the band that this record expresses a particularly creative and liberated period. The music is completely free from constrictions and simply seeks the beauty and expressive nature that Christian Death wants to offer.
Verdict – Though these reissue’s are a must for anyone not familiar with the work of Christian Death, I feel very strongly about the second album for its current day relevance. It in fact makes me think of a band like Ulver, who come from a constricted background of the black metal genre and then start freely running amok through any genre you can think of to create music, just music in its broadest form. That’s what Atrocities lacks, its concept is its prison, where The Scriptures is a liberation. This says a lot about the band in both periods too, but it is what it is.
Scribed by: Guido Segers