Christian Death – Evil Becomes Rule


Depending on your loyalties, Christian Death have eighteen albums to their name if you count the three issued between 1992 and 1994 under the rival moniker, Christian Death Featuring Rozz Williams. Remove these from the discography (which is never easy following Williams’ suicide in 1998), and the stable line up with Valor Kand as the frontman and songwriter are now on their sixteenth full-length release. Kand joined the band in 1983 for their sophomore effort and has remained the lynchpin of the group that scored hit singles in the 1980s and moved from LA to London for a big chunk of the Thatcher and John Major era. Celtic Frost, Danzig, Type O Negative and countless obscure artists on Bandcamp declare them an influence on their music, but are they still a force to be reckoned with in the dark alternative scene?

One consistency of the group’s evolution from the early 1990s is their increasing preoccupation with heavier guitars and noisier dynamics. This continues on Evil Becomes Rule, which has a clear metallic aesthetic and grungy guitar tone cutting through the glowing vocals and mournful melodies of opener, ‘The Alpha and the Omega’. Kand’s lucid and hoarse voice has a strong presence in the mix, like Brendan Perry (Dead Can Dance) puffing on a lifetime supply of Leonard Cohen’s favourite cigarettes. The Black Sabbath guitars in the chorus throb like Black Flag, but the change of key is the clever part here. Kand is a veteran songwriter who knows the trade like an experienced field engineer. His efforts on ‘New Messiah’ remind you how much he influenced Marilyn Manson by, uh, sounding like the God of F*ck in the filthy rock chorus. The audio mastering by Maor Appelbaum captures all the accidental notes and spontaneous noises among the delectable chord choices.

Of course, Christian Death is more than just Valor Kand, and bassist and co-vocalist, Maitri, has much to offer on this record. As a member since 1991, her importance to the group’s sound is vital. The crystal keyboard effects and obtuse guitar effects on ‘Elegant Sleeping’ recall the glory of Siouxsie & The BansheesHyena record (the one with Robert Smith in 1984) and allow the Dutch singer to demonstrate the full range of her voice from punk snarl to serenading wails of sorrow. The lead single, ‘Beautiful’, is even more captivating. “I want you to look beautiful at my funeral,” she declares, in the melancholy pop chorus. You’re back in 1987 and listening to the golden age of English alternative music. The way she follows Kand’s sullen verses on ‘Who Am I, Pt.1’ with the same lyrics in a louder and more vitriolic tone is pure genius and will remind you of Sisters of Mercy at their unapologetic best.

Much praise lands in the lap of Christian Death for their founding influence on the deathrock sub-genre, but the group’s inspiration on the gothic scene should not be understated. The music is more accessible than it appears. After all, what is the gothic rock of Christian Death if not a sultry pop sparkle with punk musicianship and anti-establishment sentiments? ‘Blood Moon’ rides into the night with the confidence of Echo & The Bunnymen and the triumph of a Kand/Maitri harmony on your lips. In some ways, Christian Death have become the pop group black metal fans can listen to as their equivalent of The Beatles.

Whether you like melodrama or not, this album is first and foremost a gothic rock spectacle, which means the exaggerated macabre tones sabotaging the pop sensibilities take centre stage on more than one song here. ‘The Warning’ starts with news broadcasts reporting the Jimmy Savile scandal and the sound of children having fun in a playground to the sound of gothic piano keys. It’s not subtle, and nor are the blood-thirsty vocals of Kand. The title track is even more aroused by the opportunity to play the vampire, but it’s the definition of an album track that won’t see the light of day on a live stage. Neither of these songs fall into mediocrity, but they come close to self-parody.

The musical partnership of Valor Kand and Maitri Nicolai is one of the most underrated in modern alternative music, but this LP is the reminder you need that it’s a special one with a unique dynamic. Evil Becomes Rule is a marvellous piece of concupiscent pop wrapped in the paraphernalia of Amsterdam and the politics of Trafalgar Square.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 06/05/2022

Record Label: Season of Mist

Standout tracks: The Alpha and the Omega, Blood Moon, Beautiful

Suggested Further Listening: Echo & The Bunnymen – Ocean Rain (1984), Marilyn Manson – Mechanical Animals (1998), Messa – Close (2022)