Review: The Wraith ‘Gloom Ballet’

The Wraith are the latest addition to Southern Lord’s ever-expanding roster and it’s abundantly clear that label owners Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson have a very diverse taste in music. Everything from Hardcore Punk, Metalcore, Doom, Drone, Noise, Black Metal and now Deathrock is on the label, so there is something for everyone. But what next, I wonder for the duo, Reggae, Hip-Hop and brass band music? Variety is the spice of life and would appear to be Southern Lord’s mantra.

The Wraith ‘Gloom Ballet’

Growing up as a child in the 1980’s I’d be interested to know whether the band’s name is taken from the silly Charlie Sheen starred movie of the same name, in which a high-school hero returns from the dead to take revenge against the psychotic drag racer who killed him. Assuming this is the case, it would imply that the band don’t take themselves too seriously. The artwork is simplistic and stark with a black background and a mohawked skeleton accompanied by what I assume is the Anarchy symbol. This along with the lettering implies a Crass influence which at first seemed at odds for a Deathrock outfit, until I learnt that frontman Davey Bales was in a peace punk band called Lost Tribe who were revered in Virginia and it then began to make sense. Afterall, TSOL started life as a pro-Marxist Hardcore band (see Property Is Theft from their first EP).

For those unfamiliar, Deathrock was a musical movement that was predominantly based in LA in the early 80’s with outfits like TSOL, Christian Death and 45 Grave. A lot of these bands evolved from the Hardcore/Punk scenes and unlike the later English Goth bands of the mid 80’s (Sisters of Mercy, The Mission, Fields Of The Nephilim) were less clichéd and contrived. I couldn’t imagine Christian Death, even at their worst, collaborating with Jim Steinman. The influence therefore from the seemingly more grounded Deathrock genre is therefore evident, both ascetically and as I was to find out, sound wise. 

Although The Wraith makes no effort to hide their influences, they’re not a slave to them and the album feels fresh and contemporary…

Gloom Ballet is The Wraith’s debut album, released on 29th November 2019. There is no mistaking it, the band wear their influences proudly on their sleeves, the name of the album even borrowing part of the title to Christian Death’s second album 1984’s Catastrophe Ballet. Wing Of Night sounds strikingly like Killing Joke’s Requiem utilising the pulsating intro of that track, while the heavy proto-Industrial riffing recalls Wardance from the same band. Prevail, for which there is an official video, keeps the energy high and reminds me of early TSOL Dance With Me era. Of The Earth could be The Damned during their Goth phase, but with thankfully none of the cheese of Grimley Fiendish, as there’s something distinctly Dave Vanian about the vocal style.

A lovely little piano interlude breaks up the album giving you a momentary breather from the bands pulsating energy before launching into Devil’s Serenade. Barbed Wire Sombre is probably one of the catchier numbers on the album with plenty of Misfits style ‘Whoas’ and is one of the shorter tracks on offer. Finally, Can Not Die closes proceedings in triumphant fashion and is a fitting end to the album.

Although The Wraith makes no effort to hide their influences, they’re not a slave to them and the album feels fresh and contemporary. There is an urgency to the record, and I felt energised and positive after listening to it. I would recommend picking up a copy of the record (along with their 2017 EP Shadowflag), I certainly will be.

Label: Southern Lord
Band Links: Official | Facebook | Bandcamp | Twitter | Instagram

Scribed by: Reza Mills