Halloween is unique among most holiday celebrations in that it revels in darkness and quirky activity, allowing otherwise normal individuals to act totally out of character, protected by a mask. The holiday has become the rallying flag for macabre media and fascinations of all kinds and just as horror movies are stacked in the Fall, so to are goth records.
Fresh past the release of goth rock record “X” by The 69 Eyes comes another entry into the genre, this time by mixed UK/Italian post-punk goth rockers Horror Vacui. Their record, “In Darkness You’ll Feel Alright” is a partner to the season, another in the vein of dark records that so populates underground parties.
Musically, the quality of Horror Vacui’s sound that is most distinct is their familiar but haunting guitar tone. Halfway between Gibson and theremin, Horror Vacui’s six string tone creates an aura that is thick with imagery usually reserved for a keyboard. The sound of songs like “Corvus Corax” illustrates what a guitar in this manner is capable of, carrying a riff and expanding on a musical idea concurrently.
Horror Vacui (“the fear of the empty” for those translating at home,) has two things going on that separate them from their ilk, and it’s more than simple guitar phonics. First of all, “In Darkess…” is a lyrically and thematically serious album. Unlike Bauhaus and the Misfits and Type O Negative, who all injected gallows humor into their message, Horror Vacui takes on weighty issues like mental illness and anti-militarism. There is nary a ghost, ghoul, monster or alien to be seen. While it may be difficult, nay, impossible to stand up and defend song titles like “I Like it When a Soldier Dies,” there’s no denying that this is uncharted material for a goth punk band of any stripe.
Yet, this comes in curious contrast to the second fact alluded to above, which is that this album is shockingly danceable. No one is going to be grinding to this in the club per se, but as far as rock and punk records go, this is like “The Monster Mash” for the new generation (with respect to the Misfits’ cover of same.) It’s difficult to balance the two-beat bopping of the title track with the dire subject matter, but if the listener can concentrate on the music, he or she will find a pleasantly up-tempo experience. The vocal performance of ‘The Sheriff,’ like this entire genre, is a testament to Peter Murphy and Glenn Danzig. The Sheriff’s echoed baritone helps flesh out the band’s sound by acting as an offset to the hollow guitar.
The most obvious shortcoming of this record has already been broached; that some of the thematic material is difficult to swallow, and the lyrics are abrasive even in their lighter moments. It also merits mentioning that “In Darkness…” offers a lot of the same thing and doesn’t showcase buckets of versatility of musical depth.
Still, this record hits way more of the right notes than it misses, existing at the crossroads of Bauhaus and the Misfits, with a slight Sisters of Mercy breeze blowing by. The bass lines are robust, the punk roots intact and the overall product pretty solid. While “In Darkness…” may not quite be a full meal, it’s a great appetizer, and fine companion for the other goth and punk albums you’ll listen to this season.