Saturday, August 8, 2015

Spiritual Cramp

I was just in a record store purchasing the 12" version of Japanese Whispers by the Cure when a tattoo artist from the parlour next door waddled in and accosted me with tales of the last Death Rock Bar in Los Angeles having an anniversary party tonight. "Will they play Rozz?" I said, meaning, of course, Rozz Williams, creator and former lead singer of one of my favorite bands, Christian Death. "Well I don't know about that, but I've got his ashes in my shop!" the guy blathered.

Turkey, please.

First of all, Rozz's ashes were scattered, aside from a small portion that reside at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Observe:

Rozz Williams Memorial, Hollywood Forever. 

Second of all, I am so sure that Rozz would wind up in some crappy tattoo shop on York in Highland Park. He's got better places to be. 

I've been listening to Christian Death a LOT lately. They're that death rock / goth band that have been around since 1979 and have gone through tons of lineup changes (one in particular very controversial) and are incredibly polarizing, mostly because people who haven't ever listened to them think the name makes them Satanists. I've gotten death threats under my windshield wiper in the past when I had a Christian Death bumper sticker on my car. Give me a break, assholes.  

I go through phases, maybe once every two years, in which I listen to nothing but Christian Death. And I always get wrapped up in the stupid "Valor vs. Rozz" debate. 

Today, I am going to say very clearly, definitively, once and for all - Fuck the "Valor vs. Rozz" debate. Why can't we just enjoy Christian Death as an ever-changing thing of beauty? All versions have produced lovely, thoughtful music. All versions are connected. All versions count. Christian Death - whether it's Rozz, Valor, Gitane DeMone, or Maitri singing, is just a great band. Besides, arguing about it will never solve anything since Rozz is sadly long gone. 

I interviewed Rozz in 1993 before his band Shadow Project came to Ybor City, Tampa. We spoke for about an hour about serial killers, his musical influences, what he planned to accomplish with Shadow Project. He told me I was the best interviewer he'd ever had, which naturally made me all giddy. And so I finally had to ask him what his thoughts on the current state of Christian Death were. He said, "I really don't know. I haven't paid any attention to it. I see it and I know it's out there, but I don't really care." So there you go. Rozz didn't care, and neither should you. 

(Mind you, he DID reform his own version of Christian Death a few years later... but what're you gonna do.)

Now, this most recent foaming-at-the-mouth obsession with Christian Death came about because Valor's Christian Death has a new album. And I bought it. (I will buy everything they put out until either they or I die. It's just how it's going to be.) I wasn't sure what to expect. Valor's Christian Death albums are either pure masterpieces or absolute garbage. There's really no in-between. You just don't know which one you're going to wind up with. 

Happily, it's a REALLY good album. The cover art looks like a PowerPoint presentation, but you can't have everything. The music is what's important, anyway.

To celebrate the continued existence of Christian Death in any form, I decided I'd rank Christian Death's albums from best to worst. If I didn't include it, it's because it's so bad I don't listen to it. And you all know there are a few turkeys in this discography that are just laughable, so don't pretend like you don't know what I'm talking about. Pee-yew. 


1) Ashes. 

Best songs: "Ashes," "When I Was Bed," "Lament (Over the Shadows)." Rozz and Valor proved that their collaborations were amazing. It's too bad we didn't get to see what would have happened had they continued to collaborate. 

2) Catastrophe Ballet. 

Dang have I listened to this album on repeat forever since I first heard it. I love, love, love every moody, gloomy fucking song on this album. Beware, though - the remastered version that was most recently released on CD has some awful "bonus track" as the first song, and it fades into "Awake at the Wall." Why Valor would decide to ruin a masterpiece album this way is beyond me, so I'd suggest you find an older version on CD or get the recently released 30th Anniversary (!) vinyl. 

Any of you who went to Unitarian Universalist summer camp in the mid-Eighties - this album will remind you of that time!

3) Only Theatre of Pain. 

Now, "Burnt Offerings" was the first song I ever heard off this album. A goth girl in college put it on a mix for me. I don't know how anyone could listen to this song and not be immediately charmed. Rozz was obviously going for full shock value on this album, with his gurgling, crazy vocals and Satanic ritual sacrifice lyrics. Just adorable. 

4) Atrocities. 

My affection for this album grows each time I hear it. It's so, so good. Gitane is finally given her own songs, including her haunting version of "Gloomy Sunday." It's a theme album - most of Valor's Christian Death albums are. My favorite songs are "Silent Thunder" and "Will-o-the-wisp." 

Dang, y'all, put this on, light some candles, lie on the floor, and pretend you're in a dumpy, dank, smoke-filled club wearing all black and holding a clove in one hand and a gin and tonic in the other. 

5) Sex and Drugs and Jesus Christ. 

This was the first Christian Death album I ever purchased, never having heard them, based solely on the cover art. Yes, it's a picture of Jesus looking up to the heavens while shooting up. How could I NOT buy it?!? 

When I got it home, my uncle was there. He took the sleeve out and read the lyrics to "This Is Heresy" out loud. "Your church makes me vomit into the vertiginous abyss," he deadpanned, before pausing to think.  "I like that."

This album is gritty, pared down, and awesome. Gitane's songs are wonderful, especially "Incendiary Lover."  Woo-wee! 

6) The Scriptures. 

This here is some preachy shit. 

You see, before 1999, Valor SWORE that the world was going to end (in 1999) based on the prophecies of Nostradamus. Obviously that didn't come to pass. But Valor spent a lot of time talking about getting the "right" people to move with him to Antarctica. Yes, you read that correctly. Antarctica. What he thought they were going to do there - this Christian Death Society - is beyond comprehension, but at least he was trying.

That doesn't necessarily have anything to do with The Scriptures - it's just a cute story. The Scriptures is Valor's take on the philosophies of the world's religions. I used to dislike this album pretty intensely but upon repeated recent listenings, realized that it is actually really good. What was my problem? Who knows. 

7) Pornographic Messiah.

This came out in 1999, the year that nothing Nostradamus predicted would happen did... so Christian Death clearly moved past that shit. It's good. I love "Weave My Spell" and "The Obscene Kiss." This was the first album to come out after Rozz's suicide, and is dedicated to him. The poor lamb. 

8) The Root of All Evilution. 

Y'all this here's brand new. As of July Fourth, 2015, as a matter of fact. You can order it on pledgemusic, where they raised the money to produce it. Take a listen - it's only ten dollars! 

9) American Inquisition. 

This one came after a long silence, and it was worth the wait. "Angels and Drugs," "Surviving Armageddon," and "Last Thing" are excellent. 

Yes, I left a few albums out, as I stated I would earlier. The unmentioned albums - well, they have their merits, I suppose - some more than others. If you want to root through Sexy Death God and try to find a good song, please feel free. 

However, if you're just starting out with Christian Death, avoid things like "Best of Christian Death Featuring Rozz Williams," "All the Love / All the Hate," and pretty much anything on Cleopatra Records with the exception of The Path of Sorrows (primarily for the song "Mother," which is a beautiful, incredibly depressing little number.)

So why not pretend you're a disaffected teenager in the mid-1980s rifling through discs at your local record shoppe and coming across one of these little gems for the first time. You'll feel better about the world, at least temporarily. These people - they're geniuses.