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The Hidden Gems of Horror Punk.
For a relaxing stroll through your friendly neighborhood cemetery.
There is an allure in macabre imagery. Gothic themes, dark romantic sentiment, and death hold a place of resonance in the shadowy underbelly of rock and roll. Combining the playful motifs of classic horror movies and hyperbolized gore with despair, frustration, and aggression forms a black cloudy cocktail called “Horror Punk.” However, it is an easy mixture to ruin. Overemphasis on one ingredient (costume and set design) and not enough of another (musical ambition) can compromise the chemistry. Playing too much with the formula might ruin it, while using the same formula every time shows a lack of creativity, which then renders the formulaic process down into a stale parody of itself. I cannot think of any other sub- genre of punk rock that requires such meticulous planning to achieve legitimacy. The whole idea that became horror punk was implemented by a single band that wanted to incorporate one thing that they loved into another. Had The Misfits not influenced bands of future generations of punks, the genre that they created wouldn’t have ever been labeled. They would have simply been a punk band that displayed an affinity for b rated horror flicks. But they did create a new market, which simultaneously set them apart from other 1970’s and 80’s punk progenitors and placed them at the top of a sub-genre of the primary genre they helped form in the first place. In short, every single band that chooses to adopt horror imagery and lyrical content into a punk rock sound will undoubtedly be compared to The Misfits. Even The Misfits are compared to The Misfits. The original incarnation of the band that broke up in 1983 is still preferred over the resurrected Misfits band that has been forging ahead through a revolving door of line-up changes since 1995. Some bands choose to pay homage to The Misfits through imitation, but some choose to give a respectful nod to the originators while trying to create something unique that they can call their own. The Misfits comparisons and criticisms come either way. Thus is the bane of the movement. It’s hard to be unique when everyone involved shares a common primary influence. If a horror punk band was to deny the influence of The Misfits, that scenario would be akin to denying the influence of Bram Stoker on vampires in popular culture.
There have been many good horror punk bands. There have even been some great ones. My gripe is with the blatant lack of originality. This isn’t the same argument that plagues black metal. Black metal bands are subject to criticism based on black metal criteria that varies from person to person. Horror punk is easily defined and outlined. Paint your face and sing about monsters, or don’t paint your face, but play a bass guitar shaped like a coffin and sing about gargoyles. I’ve always been on the lookout for bands that add something unique to the croons and bar chords of traditional horror punk, bands that bring a new ingredient to the cauldron. I won’t discuss bands with direct ties to the misfits, as nearly twenty souls have at one point been a part of the band. This is a bit tricky. It’s like only discussing baseball teams that haven’t ever lost a free agent to the Yankees. There are three bands that immediately come to mind that fit this criteria though: The Rosedales, Nim Vind, and The Order of the fly .
The Rosedales are a Chicago based horror punk outfit whose doo wop, rockabilly, and catchy punk appeal caught my attention thanks in large part to the dual vocal harmonizing of band leaders Mark Danger and Rip Phantom. The strength of two capable singers is rare in horror punk. Most bands attribute their vocal prowess to one single front man. The Rosedales, however, display strength in vocal ability by combining two very capable singers over a macabre yet soothing backdrop of graveyard inspired melody. It’s like mood music for the damned. There albums would provide a suitable playlist for a hearse because they forgo the aggression of many of their contemporaries in favor of upbeat yet tranquil micro stories that seek to paint pictures of spectral isolation and picturesque hauntings. They’ve released two albums to date, 2003’s “Raise Your Spirits” and 2009’s “Once upon a Season.” Numerous compilations feature their work, as does a 2009 remastered greatest hits album entitled “Gravest Hits,” that highlights the bands early material from when they were called “The Onlys.” One song that was released on both “Gravest Hits” and “Raise Your Spirits” is the track “Frozen Ghost.” Had they only ever written and recorded that one song, I would still be paying tribute to them through writing. It is, in my opinion, their masterpiece. It is cross dimensional lover’s lament. The pain of losing another in death is reversed and frozen in time. A ghost that is haunted is a powerful metaphor. Even taken literally, the song inspires the listener to empathize with the dead over matters of the heart.
Nim Vind isn’t actually a band. It’s the adopted stage name of a musician. He took the name Nim Vind after his previous band Mr. Underhill parted ways. He performs with his brothers Anthony Kils and Rob Kirkham under the collective Nim Vind moniker. It’s sort of how the band Danzig is fronted by Danzig or Marilyn Manson by Marilyn Manson. Nim Vind is Nim Vind. He is a crooner, like Glenn Danzig before him. Unlike The Rosedales who maximize their own crooner effectiveness by harmonizing highs and lows, Nim Vind keeps the mood a bit deeper (not quite Roy Orbison deep, more like Jim Morrison), slightly more aggressive, and rebellious as if the things that go bump in the night may have a bit of a defiant streak. The black leather clad appearance of Nim Vind is more vampire than ghoul. His music still carries the coffin vibe, but with a twist of abandoned mental hospital. Nim Vind ha released two albums to date, 2005’s “The Fashion of Fear” and 2009’s “The Stillness Illness.” Both are exceptional. “The Midnight Croon” and “Like a Guillotine” are two of my favorite tracks off of the first album and “Killing Saturday Night” and “The Radio-active Man” off of the second, however, it is important to note that neither album contains any filler. Nim Vind’s versatility as a musician and performer is impressive. He seems to easily maneuver between electric punk rock performances, and lower key acoustic performances. Both scenes seem to find him in his natural state. His image would also beg the question whether or not he would be comfortable holding a wooden stake.
I have to step away from the crooners and the soulful explorations of death as a romantic theme now. The Order of The Fly from San Bernardino California is a hard rocking punk band. There sound is infinitely more straightforwardly aggressive than the bands mentioned before. They blend hard punk, industrial rock, and synth driven new wave, with (forgive the cliché) absolutely killer bass lines together into a demonic concoction of vivid and hellish anthems of chaos and angst. Where other horror punk bands observe hell, The Order of The Fly raises it. Their image seems to spawn from a blending of The Exploited and Alice Cooper if the two were fused together while falling through the Halloween tree portal in Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare before Christmas.” They are not overly violent or gory, just wicked enough. Their live shows are fun. They don’t seem to aim to frighten. They perform what they love for likeminded fans. There are smiles mixed in with their demonic vibe. They seem friendly. It’s the synthesizer that sets this band apart. The effects spawned from those doom laden keys are entrancing. They hypnotize and call forth until the ensuing demon punk train comes and rips your head off, figuratively of course. Songs such as “Breathing Liquid,” "Rot," and their unique cover of Falco’s “Rock me Amadeus” are indicative of the different approach to punk rock that this band takes. Ralphie Repulsive and company have released four albums to date. Each one takes the strengths of the earlier records and perfects them. They are getting better, and they were great to begin with.
Exploring the depths of different genres of music is fun. It’s like a treasure hunt. The gems are everywhere. Horror punk may come directly from a singular source, but it has branched out and evolved. Kudos to those that breathe new life, excuse me, or death, into art and music.
There is a band called "Ghoultown" that I'd like to suggest in addendum to the other bands mentioned. They combine horror punk and country western themes. It's like a trip to the old west...with shootouts among the undead.