Just as the theatrically minded LA punk scene was beginning to give rise to such morbidly themed outfits as 45 Grave and the Flesh Eaters, an androgynous teenaged street performer named Rozz Williams (né Roger Painter) founded Christian Death, one of the most prolific, enduring and beloved gothic acts of all time. Few groups have histories as tangled as Christian Death’s: the band has gone through countless lineup changes and thrown off a multitude of side projects and solo careers.
Williams’ ghastly groan can make Only Theatre of Pain difficult going for all but the gothic faithful, but the loud/not-too-fast music (courtesy of ex-Adolescents guitarist Rikk Agnew and the walking-dead rhythm section of bassist James McGearty and drummer George Belanger) is appropriately doomy’n’gloomy, with inventive arrangements and clear sound (thanks to Orange County production legend Thom Wilson) capturing the mood in full B-movie fidelity. The lyrics irreverently address horror topics and religion: they’re overwrought (the backwards masking of “Mysterium Iniquitatis” being one clever exception) but easy to overlook in the wash of inspired rock noise. (The CD appends the menacing synth-rocker “Dogs,” rescued from the first Hell Comes to Your House compilation, as well as Deathwish — a grainy-sounding five-song EP of pre-LP demos that includes early versions of three songs that made it onto the original album as well as two punky tracks that didn’t.)
Christian Death went through several lineup shifts following the release of Only Theatre of Pain and finally fell apart. Williams (who was all of 20 years old at the time) hooked up with guitarist/vocalist Valor Kand, keyboardist/vocalist Gitane DeMone and drummer David Glass, who had previously graced the LA death-rock scene as the trio Pompeii 99. Despite some misgivings, the group ultimately opted to keep the Christian Death name in order to capitalize on a French record deal and European tour opportunities, a decision that would prove the first step on a path of much controversy.
Despite its dubious provenance, this lineup’s recorded debut is a gem. Catastrophe Ballet reveals a maturation in Williams’ stylings, vocally and lyrically. Dropping the demonic excess of his teenage years, he guides a coldly elegant tour of eerie, surrealistic landscapes where “windows rattle with contempt” and “honest clocks bury oceans with sand.” Even with the occasional return to heavy-handedness, the singer’s stately purr carries enough conviction to make hecklers think twice. The sublime, night- at-the-opera songwriting (by Kand, though the album credits ignore the fact that “Sleepwalk” was done by the prior Christian Death) is augmented by an otherworldly guitar tone, cavernous drums, hollow bass (by Constance Smith) and funereal organ to cast a delicious iciness over the whole affair. Produced by Eric Westfall at Rockfield Studios in Wales, Catastrophe Ballet may as well have been conceived on some distant star — this is goth that can afford to take itself seriously. The Italian reissue, A Catastrophe Ballet in Rhapsody of Youth and Rain, tacks on a few tracks (including the incredible “Between Youth”) from a later, post-Williams phase of the band.
Williams’ voice is lower in the mix and DeMone sings along more frequently on the stylish-looking Ashes, which raises a bit of internal controversy over which key any given song should employ. With a stand-in bassist and string and wind players, the ponderous, Bauhausian music — which sets its solid foundation on David Glass’ drumming — is more mature and sophisticated than on prior CD LPs; lyrics (some in German) leave religion behind for surreal symbolism and vague evocations of medieval debauchery and evil. The album’s seven selections move by in cinematic, nearly uninterrupted succession. The Decomposition of Violets, a contemporaneous live tape recorded in Hollywood, is loud and enthusiastic but suffers greatly from the blatant overuse of synthesizers and terribly recorded vocals. The show it documents is one of Williams’ last with the band; citing loss of interest and a distaste for touring, he abruptly took his leave.
With Kand taking over vocals and leadership, the band decamped to Europe. Scrapping a reported plan to rename itself Sin and Sacrifice (or The Sin and Sacrifice of Christian Death, depending on whom you believe), the remaining trio ran afoul of Williams’ fans by continuing as Christian Death and continuing to perform Williams-era songs alongside newer material. Through a lengthy controversy over rights to the band name in ensuing years (Williams eventually picked it up again, refusing to acknowledge Kand’s persistence), no legal issue would ever be resolved enough to affect the activity of either faction.
The first release from the Williams-less group is not so much a statement of revised purpose as a quick fix of product. Occasionally colored by gusty vampire movie ambient effects, the clear, open music of The Wind Kissed Pictures (abetted by guitarist Barry Galvin and bassist Johann Schumann) makes the would-be decadence of “Believers of the Unpure” and the title track easier to endure, if not actually enjoy. Kand’s singing, alone and combined with DeMone’s, is rather more accessible than Williams’, although his lyrics are not on par with those of his predecessor. The American edition adds an English- language “Lacrima Christi” (originally sung in Italian and included as a bonus 7-inch), while the first Italian CD, lengthened to The Wind Kissed Pictures (past & present) , adds three cinematic instrumentals. The third Italian version, Past, Present and Forever, adds the Italian and English renditions of “Lacrima.”
Kand began to really distinguish himself as a pompous prat on Atrocities, Christian Death’s darkhearted return to Rockfield Studios and the somber cesspool of slow-paced grimness. “Herein contained are the emotional remains of millions,” his liner notes to the impenetrable, Holocaust-themed concept album exclaim, but that’s hard to believe. The album employs Galvin and Schumann, and benefits from two impressive solo vocal turns by DeMone. Jesus Christ Proudly Presents (another dubious assertion, to be sure — proudly?) is a lavish box set, spreading a concert’s worth of live cuts and an interview over six 7-inch EPs.
Raging ego and unchecked ambition allow Kand to attempt a laughable comparative history of religion on The Scriptures, subtitled “A Translation of World Beliefs by Valor.” (Thanks, Val!) After beginning the LP with a fundamentalist preacher, V. goes on to crib lyrics from the Bible and sing — with an audibly straight face — of Huns, horsemen and Ma’gog, pontificating in a most truly offensive manner. The core trio also manages to cover a Jimi Hendrix song (“1983,” sung by DeMone) and play the relatively incidental (but agreeable) rock music with the assistance of guitarist James Beam and bassist Kota. The original pressing included a bonus 7-inch single of “Jezebel’s Tribulation” and “Wraeththu,” both also added to the CD; the Japanese release throws a third bonus track in but does away with two from the album itself. The Scriptures was the end of the line for David Glass, who vacated the drum stool after its recording and returned to the US.
Christian Death claims to have assembled An Official Anthology by collecting and culling illicit concert recordings made of them between 1981 and 1986. Shows from London, Amsterdam and Los Angeles are included, as are three previously unrecorded tracks.
Like its British edition’s intentionally offensive cover photograph (of the messiah jacking up), which was successfully banned in Germany, the contents of Sex and Drugs and Jesus Christ are awful, a rudimentary and barely musical mix of (what sound like synthetic) drums, bass and loud guitar that could have been knocked off in an afternoon by just about anybody with hands. Lyrically, Valor and DeMone continue to prattle crypto-religious imprecations and apocalyptic mumbo jumbo. To get an idea just how bad this is, try singing “Your church makes me vomit into the vertiginous abyss” or “In the chambers of unguiculate sacciform / From the Almighty avenging words of pernicious thoughts” and see where it gets you. UK (and some US) CD editions contain varying assortments of bonus tracks.
Recorded as a five-piece at the Marquee in London in mid- 1989 (hence the prominence given to material from Sex and Drugs), The Heretics Alive contains on-site interviews with fans explaining their fondness for — and understanding of — Christian Death. Given the devilishly grungy sound and sloppy, impotent performances, the irrational comments make a better case for the band than anything else on the record.
Christian Death then lost all of its members apart from Valor himself. Even his one-time wife Gitane DeMone departed, to sing in Dutch jazz clubs. Aided by multi-instrumentalist Nick the Bastard (part of the Heretics Alive ensemble), Kand came up with an ambitiously simpleminded concept project, released as two separately packaged LPs. All the Love, which begins with a Martin Luther King Junior quote — now that’s artistic presumption — takes an ambivalent stance on the subject of l’amour, from respectful (“We Fall Like Love”) to hostile (“Love Is Like a Bitchin’ in My Heart,” revising the Holland/Dozier/Holland classic without credit) to bent (“Deviate Love”). The casually played, occasionally atmospheric music likewise shifts gears (none of them especially accomplished or attractive) without ever finding one worthy of attention.
All the Hate, a third-rate heavy metal record whose cover shows a swastika in a black heart ringed by Jewish stars, uses shock value symbols, inflammatory lyrics and sound bites of Hitler and the KKK in a supposed commentary about the evil that men do. Hardly. While “Climate of Violence” does indeed mention numerous historical forms of prejudice, from Jim Crow laws to Salman Rushdie, Valor merely lists them without comment; the sound of Nazi salutes is equally meaningless in this lame context. Strip away the pretense, and All the Hate is a standard, lurid metal maniac fantasy, with only one redeeming item: in “I Hate You,” Sevan Kand (Valor and Gitane DeMone’s five-year-old son) unleashes a bratty British-accented spew of four-letter words and cranky opinions (“I hate going to bed / And I hate stinging nettles / And I hate…” ad nauseum) in a fine pre-pubescent echo of punk-rock solipsism. (All the Love and All the Hate would eventually and predictably be repackaged as the double-CD Love and Hate.) Insanus, Ultio, Proditio, Misericordiaque is a compilation.
The Valor-fronted Christian Death takes a fond look back at itself with Jesus Points the Bone at You, a best-of sampling of singles from 1986 through 1991. The rambling, pretentious and often nonsensical liner notes provide much more entertainment than the bombastic music: “…Christian Death music always resounds the conflict between mankind and the natural order, albeit chaos.” Whatever. Valor’s gruff voice would be more appropriate in a metal or hard rock setting; he lacks the elegant sensuality that marks great goth vocalists. Also included is All the Hate‘s self-indulgent (but amusing) “I Hate You.”
Williams re-entered the story in 1989. Having spent the intervening years in relative obscurity, remaining active with intermittent experimental/performance-art outfits Premature Ejaculation and Heltir, both documented on numerous hard-to-find cassettes, he put together a new Christian Death for a series of nostalgic live dates in 1989 and 1990. This band included his new wife Eva O. (Ortiz) and Only Theatre of Pain guitarist Rikk Agnew. (Eva contributed backing vocals to Only Theatre and replaced Agnew on guitar before the original band’s early-’80s demise.) On another front, Williams trumped Kand by assembling a retrospective, Heavens and Hells 1981–1985, for release a year before Jesus Points the Bone; the double cassette gathers live recordings from Williams’ Christian Death tenure as well as two unissued studio tracks (one the memorable rocker “Haloes”) he recorded after leaving.
Challenging himself to lead a successful band without relying on the drawing power of the Christian Death name, Williams formed Shadow Project with Eva O. on vocals and guitars, keyboardist Paris and a terminally unstable rhythm section. (Oddly enough, Rozz’s and Eva’s original incarnation a few years prior had featured David Glass, Johann Schumann and Barry Galvin, all defectors from Valor Kand’s Christian Death and future members of Mephisto Walz. The Original Shadow Project offers a long-after-the- fact listen to demos from this period.) Fans remained loyal, but that probably has a lot to do with the fact that Shadow Project doesn’t sound any different. On the band’s eponymous debut, Williams tackles pet topics — organized religion, violence and death — in his trademark feline croon. “Death Plays His Role,” “Holy Hell” and “Red Handed” make his beliefs unsettlingly vivid. Eva’s guitar work is appropriately heavy-handed, and she frequently joins Williams for wailing, chilling choruses in a strong, throaty alto. Paris contributes subtly ominous synth effects to sharpen the edgy undercurrents.
Paris opens Dreams for the Dying (recorded during the LA riots) with a dramatic organ instrumental passage before the bruising guitar and howling harmonies start in earnest. Williams’ lyrics are, of course, obsessed with the obvious: death (“Funeral Rites”), religion (“Static Jesus,” “Thy Kingdom Come”) and violence (“Night Stalker”). The music is notably more spacious and melodic, but still aims to provoke the usual unease.
Most of the songs on Shadow Project’s first two albums appear on In Tuned Out — Live ’93, taped before an appreciative Los Angeles audience at the band’s farewell show (held at a Denny’s restaurant, no less!). The renditions aren’t substantially different from the studio versions, and there’s no between-song chatter — the band determinedly plows through one song after another with scant pause. The studio albums are a safer bet; the production values are much better and they reveal just as much personality.
Paris stayed busy with EXP, his own experimental venture which found him seeking contributions from various members of the heavily extended Shadow Project/Christian Death family. EXP issued an eponymous album a few years after Shadow Project’s breakup.
The Iron Mask finds Williams hoisting the Christian Death banner on record once again. Along with Eva O., bassist Listo and drummer David Melford, he reworks songs from Christian Death’s first three albums. Despite the changes, longtime fans will quickly recognize old favorites like “Figurative Theatre” (Only Theatre of Pain) and “Deathwish.” Williams sounds strangely subdued throughout most of the gritty, trying-hard-to-be-ghastly material, and things truly drag without his theatrical delivery. The songs were much better the first time around.
As if The Iron Mask round of do-overs wasn’t enough, Williams and company rework the same songs again on Skeleton Kiss, an EP which contains two versions of “Skeleton Kiss” (an old tune never given studio treatment until The Iron Mask) and one of “Spiritual Cramp.” The EP also includes a 1984 live recording of Only Theatre of Pain‘s “Resurrection.” Again, there’s nothing terribly exciting or different about the versions. The Mandylion CD, inexplicably credited to Christ Death, is a sampler of tracks from The Iron Mask, Skeleton Kiss and Williams’ spoken-word debut, Every King a Bastard Son.
Williams rediscovers his charismatic, energetic self on The Path of Sorrows, for which he and Eva O. recruit former Shadow Project bandmate Paris, multi-instrumentalist William Faith (later of Faith and the Muse), drummer Stevyn Grey and several guests. There are some remarkably good songs here, as well as such misguided curiosities as a strange cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs.” But the tension-packed, wailing “Book of Lies” is first-rate, as is the eerie, bleakly atmospheric “Mother” (which strongly resembles Bauhaus’ “Hollow Hills”). “Psalm (Maggot’s Lair),” a scathing spoken-word piece that attacks Jesus Christ and glorifies murder (paradoxically backed by a soothing choir), is among Williams’ best pieces.
In 1993, Williams reunited an early Christian Death lineup (veteran punk guitarist Rikk Agnew and drummer George Belanger, but not bassist James McGearty) for one show in Los Angeles; the event is preserved on Iconologia. The rough-edged live set includes songs from Only Theatre of Pain (the only full-length studio album this particular incarnation recorded), Lou Reed’s “Kill Your Sons” and two new songs. Aside from a disturbing-but-fascinating intro featuring a jarring array of samples (the work of fill-in bassist Casey), this historical document is less intriguing than it sounds.
Sleepless Nights documents another of Williams’ Christian Death career-overview performances, this one from 1990 and featuring both Agnew and Eva O. on guitar. The sound is horrible, the performances competent but perfunctory. But Sleepless Nights seems like a rollicking good time next to the indescribably bad Invocations: 1981–1989, another collection of bootleg recordings from various Christian Death shows so unlistenable that it actually includes the band’s apology for the sound quality. Invocations tacks on an early studio version of “Sleepwalk” (which appeared in a different form on 1984’s Catastrophe Ballet), as well as the Williams solo tracks that were only available before on the Heavens and Hells cassette compilation. None of these additions justify this dreadful release, though.
Yet another so-so live recording, this one from Halloween ’81, The Doll’s Theatre is a limited- edition CD that’s essentially another excuse to make loyal followers waste money as they try to keep their collections complete. How many live versions of “Cavity” or “Figurative Theatre” does a person really need to hear?
Rozz Williams and Valor Kand produced a good deal of material as a unified Christian Death before becoming competitors; some of their best work together is compiled on Tales of Innocence: A Continued Anthology. Other than several studio outtakes, the tracks are mainly concert recordings. As on most Christian Death live albums, the fidelity is dicey and the performances strangely unenthusiastic. Still, the album offers an opportunity to hear Williams and Valor working compatibly together. And some of Valor’s songs do turn out extremely well, after all. The Cult-ish “Jezebel’s Tribulation” is spirited fun, while “Strange Fortune” finds him crooning with surprising delicacy, accompanied by spare acoustic guitar and slightly ominous percussion.
The live album streak ended with the release of The Rage of Angels, which was recorded at the same sessions that produced The Path of Sorrows. Williams again opens with a sacrilegious spoken-word piece, “Trust (The Sacred and Unclean).” Except for a jaunty, likable cover of David Bowie’s “Panic in Detroit,” the album is virtually indistinguishable from its cousin: the same melodramatic vocal delivery dwelling on the same lyrical subjects, all set to the same jagged guitar and spooky effects.
Valor Kand then returned with new blood: bassist/vocalist Maitri, who would become the most enduring collaborator of Kand’s career. In the grips of some sort of gothic mid-life crisis, Valor, operating out of the US once more, made sex his full-time muse, undergoing a full shock-rock makeover. The first drops of this torrent come via Sexy Death God, a thoroughly juvenile display of libido, from the introductory sex act noises of “At the Threshold” (of what? The adult bookstore?) and vulgar fantasy of “Kingdom of the Tainted Kiss” to the penetration fixation of the bizarrely swinging “Deeply Deeply.” The absurdly ornate lyrics and impenetrable mysticism of Valor’s past outings are nowhere to be found. His new, simpler sentiments are expressed in amateurish rhymes. Although the band, completed by a drummer and strings player, gels fairly well at moments, the boneheaded hard-rock songwriting (not much post-punk in this neck of the woods anymore) and lazy arrangements make it all for naught. “Temples of Desire” builds some genuine tension, as Maitri’s slinky bassline paves the way for unsettling choir wails. “The Serpent’s Tail” is memorable for its fiddle and Spanish guitar. The disappointing context, however, makes these glimmers of life more frustrating than anything else. Dumbly pretentious was a lot more interesting than just plain dumb. At this point, Valor is hardly even trying. The two-disc Amen was recorded in Mexico City in 1995.
Death in Detroit consists of remixes of various Christian Death classics (“Spiritual Cramp,” “Figurative Theatre,” “Skeleton Kiss”) by members of Spahn Ranch, Rosetta Stone, Die Krupps and others. The album also contains covers of “Panic in Detroit” and “Venus in Furs” that would leave David Bowie and Lou Reed in shock. With varied degrees of success, the songs veer from grating industrial bombast to eerie sensuality. A sinewy version of “Figurative Theatre” by Jürgen Engler of Die Krupps and the multi-layered take on “Panic in Detroit” by Zero Gravity’s Len Del Rio are truly original interpretations of the material.
While Valor flew the Christian Death flag, Williams began to record under his own name. Every King a Bastard Son is the most hair-raising poetry likely to be encountered outside a satanic cult read-in. Sickening knives-scraping-bones sound effects embellish “Mind Fuck (Soundtrack to a Murder)” as he gleefully spits out lines like, “He has, among other things, been decapitated…Solid metal stripping off his skin…” Unless you’re an actual sadist (or a true fan of gore for gore’s sake), you really don’t want to know about the rest of this deliberately horrific creation. Williams continues the nightmarish journey on The Whorse’s Mouth, a heavily symbolic chronicle of his struggle with heroin addiction. If anything, his recitations are even more graphically disgusting. On “Raped,” for example, found-sound of a convict languidly describes (in excruciating detail) how he’s going to rape a woman he’s apparently been stalking, how he’ll glory in her pain and humiliation. It’s a stretch to imagine who would actually find cultural value, much less enjoyment, in this, but that’s undoubtedly the point. If Williams’ aim is to upset and unsettle, he has succeeded.
Premature Ejaculation is Williams’ long-running collaboration with performance artist Chuck Collision. (The two worked as a street performance team called the Happiest Place on Earth). Necessary Discomforts, the duo’s first widely available release, consists of six long, dreary, monotonous instrumentals: hell’s version of Muzak? With typical calculated-to-offend taste, the cover photo shows an angel-faced young boy in a suggestive, full- frontal nude pose. Likewise, Estimating the Time of Death overflows with ho-hum instrumental “soundscapes” — boring collages of haphazard samples — that are even more slow-moving and unimaginative than the debut. Nearly 10 minutes of dragging chains make up one “song.” The only imaginable use for this is as a Halloween novelty joke, to scare the water out of the costumed tykes at your door.
Williams fares much better in Daucus Karota, the band he formed with bassist Mark Barone, drummer Christian Omar Madrigal Izzo and guitarist Roxy. The enjoyable Shrine offers up flashy, slightly glammy rock, while Williams abandons his gore-drenched goth ways and instead imitates Bryan Ferry (especially on the sauntering “Angel”). Daucus Karota also pays homage to another idol, Iggy Pop, with a deft cover of “Raw Power.” (The EP was co-produced by former Iggy/Bowie sideman Hunt Sales.) Unfortunately, at only five tracks, Shrine‘s good time doesn’t last nearly long enough. It figures. Just when Williams finally hits on a winning formula, he suddenly decides to get miserly with it.
Not content with the many projects already on his résumé, Williams activated his least-used outlet, Heltir, to release Neue Sachlichkeit (“new objectivity”), a collage of samples, distorted loops, spoken-word and guest instrumentalists that shows slightly more life and imagination than Premature Ejaculation. Williams is characteristically bent on weeding out the reactionary and easily frightened: in case the project’s anagrammatic moniker is too subtle, the album art is rife with Third Reich imagery.
Williams’ sporadic live appearances were always intriguing, given as he was to such a diverse array of material, stylistic approaches and collaborators. Live in Berlin finds him in full rock and roll mode in 1993, right on the cusp of forming Daucus Karota. Accept the Gift of Sin captures a more exotic moment in Philadelphia in October 1996: he sings against the synthesized backing of David E. Williams, offering two early Christian Death songs (Only Theatre of Pain‘s “Cavity” and Ashes standout “When I Was Bed”), a spoken piece, a number from Cabaret and a 10cc cover!
Proof she can do more than sing in wailing goth style, DeMone turned to club-ready dance music in her solo work. On A Heavenly Melancholy, her vocals veer from impressively broad-ranged to Liza-like overstatement. The title track is a bouncy, fluffy bit that would fit in nicely at some Euro-trash soirée; über-sleek and pseudo- sophisticated, but good fun. Except for the ever-present dominatrix gear, DeMone tones it way down on Lullabies for a Troubled World, possibly the most enjoyable music released by anyone in the Christian Death camp. Simple, pretty piano provides the main accompaniment for Demone’s classy, expressive vocals. She’s finally learned how to sing with emotion-and not go over the top. It’s hard to believe this is the same woman whose shrieks and screams made some of Christian Death’s albums such perilous listening. The somber, haunting “Sounds of War” and the evocative, quietly elegant “Lullaby for a Troubled Man” display her considerable talent with commendable panache.
The contents of both A Heavenly Melancholy and Lullabies for a Troubled World appear on Facets in Blue — along with some amazing live tracks recorded in Holland: “Golden Age,” “Little Birds” and Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale.” The gorgeous “Golden Age” (slightly marred by her zeal) is actually a Christian Death song written by ex-husband Valor Kand. Never Felt So Alive, credited to Demonix, is a collaboration with electronic/industrial artist Mark Ickx of A Split-Second. With Love & Dementia documents a 1994 performance in France; Rozz Williams assists with vocals on two tracks. Like her previous releases, the album features DeMone’s solo work alongside piano-based versions of older Christian Death material (“Tales of Innocence,” “Lament”) and a pop standard (“I Only Have Eyes for You”). Unfortunately, the mood is destroyed on Christian Death’s “Sleepwalk,” wherein DeMone and Williams proffer the same kind of screeching, cats-in-heat performance that characterized much of their early work together.
DeMone and Williams only occasionally slip into that headache-inducing style on Dream Home Heartache, their official duo album. Williams indulges his adulation for Bryan Ferry in a slow-motion cover of Roxy Music’s “In Every Dream Home a Heartache.” Unlike the original, however, this one never kicks in, instead spiraling away on DeMone’s frantic wailing. Elsewhere, Williams solos on “Flowers,” a vulnerable revelation for him. The rest of the songs mesh his hyper-drama with DeMone’s lounge act style, making for a surreal experience that could be the score to some warped, shadowy Broadway musical. (The German re-release adds an alternate version of the pair’s cover of Hendrix’s “Manic Depression.”)
After playing in the Speed Queens, Eva O. led LA’s Super Heroines in the ’80s; this tough metal band, which briefly included future Hole bassist Jill Emery, disbanded in ’87 when Eva left to form Shadow Project with Williams. (Emery eventually followed her and is the bassist on Shadow Project, for which she did a spot of writing as well.) Love and Pain contains tracks from an unreleased album as well as two early songs and some live tracks. The sound is poor, especially on the concert recordings, but even that can’t mask Super Heroines’ immense power.
When Shadow Project disbanded and her involvement with Williams’ new Christian Death gained speed, Eva released Past Time as a sampler of her career. Three new solo songs join tracks by the Speed Queens, Super Heroines and Christian Death. The early material is frustratingly muddy; better production would’ve done wonders.
Eva’s next move was shocking but probably predictable for someone in the Christian Death circle: she became a born-again Christian and released A Demon’s Fall for an Angel’s Kiss. As with every Christian Death-affiliated project, the album’s lyrics dwell on the war between good and evil…but this time, evil doesn’t conquer. A relatively delicate acoustic ballad, “Take a Jesus,” demonstrates a previously unrealized knack for subtlety. Still, much of Demon’s Fall incorporates her usual heavy-handed guitar technique — which, combined with the religious lyrics, brings her uncomfortably close to Stryper.
In their alternate universe, 1996’s Prophecies found the Valor/Maitri Christian Death camp indulging Kand’s in-depth obsession with apocalypse theory. The album is more musically aggressive than usual: after a deceptively breezy opener, “Without,” it descends into a clumsy approximation of aggro-industrial, with downtuned, distorted guitars and rhythms that incorporate grating samples. Valor bellows and grunts over the din, sharing Nostradamus predictions like “The Pig Half Man” and “The Great Swarm of Bees.” His ridiculous performance and awful lyrics quash any evocative quality the references might have held. When the songs, in quieter moments, manage to convey some atmosphere, tedious repetition ruins the effect. Numbing, and not in a good way.
Although they had broken up as a couple, Eva and Rozz resurrected Shadow Project for the nearly acoustic From the Heart. Though her numbers tend to be awkward and over-the-top, Williams’ performances are more honest than anything else he has done. Though his lyrics remain rife with baroque imagery, he sings of his own loneliness instead of abstracted, universal torment. When he confides, in “Hall of Mirrors,” “Here comes the sun / And I hope that you can see / The light does not pour out of me” it seems as though he’s finally found out how to say what he’s been getting at for years. The harshness and confrontation are gone, making songs like “Forever Came Today” and “Hounds Upon the Hare” all the more moving for it. Sadly, this was Williams’ swan song. He committed suicide on April 1, 1998. He was 34.
The year following Williams’ death saw the release of Pig, a disturbing short film on which he collaborated, and its soundtrack.
Available on both double-LP and CD (with almost entirely different contents in each), The Tongue Achieves the Dialect is an elaborately conceived, penetrating tribute to Williams’ career, as the current generation of goth and death-rock musicians acknowledges his immeasurable influence. Among the items of interest are a French-language version of Only Theatre of Pain‘s “Figurative Theatre,” Gitane DeMone reprising her original vocal on Crush Violets’ rendition of Catastrophe Ballet‘s “Cervix Couch” and several Williams writings set to music for the first time.
Apparently unfazed by Williams’ death, Valor and Maitri served up Pornographic Messiah, a return to their sex-as-subversion shtick. Doing the album title justice, the couple get things going by delivering a bit of porn-ready voice acting with undue verve. From there, the platter serves up such white-hot gems of theological contemplation as “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Christian Death / I will fear no evil,” and “I don’t want your fucking God / I don’t need your fucking God.” Maitri takes the vocal lead on a few tracks, and her sultry-to-enraged dynamism (more than a little comparable to DeMone’s) is a welcome alternative to Valor’s crypt-kicking theatrics. The shock-metal sound is more energized, varied and convincing than before, and Valor can be an imaginative guitarist, but the improved presence shines a glaring light on the shallowness of the pair’s obsessions.
The Bible is a brief, slapdash compilation of studio and live tracks spanning almost the entire history of Christian Death, including live, Valor-led versions of “Cavity” and “Sleepwalk.”
Kand lurched into the new millennium with Born Again Anti Christian, which boasts a nimble drummer and more professional recording quality than Valor has bothered with in years. Unfortunately, the band is now openly competing with the likes of Slipknot, vying for the hearts and minds of kids that Marilyn Manson left behind a half-decade back. Valor’s pitch-shifted vocals are at an all-time low of ridiculousness; when he sings “Got nothing left to give you / You worthless piece of shit,” it’s easy to reciprocate the feeling. If you’re locked in a room with it, check out “The Painted Aura” or Maitri’s “The Knife.” Otherwise, forget it.
Misleadingly credited to Christian Death, Lover of Sin is a new project entirely. With Valor Kand nowhere in sight, Maitri fronts a group of dyed-in-the-wool metal musicians. Not bad if you’re into this sort of thing; the guitars kick up a convincing Scandinavian tremolo and Maitri’s shriek is unsettling angry. Her lungs are prodigious, and her mid-range has a cool, swaggering yelp that evokes toughs like Pat Benatar and Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker.
Death Club, put together with the assistance of drummer David Glass, is a retrospective of Rozz Williams’ Christian Death work, paired with a DVD of concert film, a TV appearance and exclusive interview footage.