Perhaps the most mocked, maligned, and misunderstood of rock subgenres, goth's gloomy aesthetic encompasses a host of different styles: glam, punk, metal, disco, New Wave, industrial, psychedelia, murder ballads, classical, and endless permutations thereof. Stranger still, it has thrived outside the mainstream for nearly 30 years even as many of its major artists have experienced some degree of pop success: The Cure, Siouxsie Sioux, Ian Astbury, Nick Cave, and the Bauhaus family have all emerged from their coffins into the Top 40 at some point. Others, such as Echo & the Bunnymen, Jesus & Mary Chain, and Ministry, aren't expressly goth but share enough affinity for the theatrical and/or macabre to merit inclusion on Rhino's A Life Less Lived. Notwithstanding the cheesy leatherette packaging, this 3-CD/1-DVD set is as comprehensive a survey as possible for a label that applies equally to the Misfits' horror-punk, Einstürzende Neubauten's sturm and clang, and Dead Can Dance's wispy arcana. Save godfather-of-goth Alice Cooper, all the figureheads are well-represented, including their work before, after, and between their best-known bands: the Birthday Party, Tones on Tail, Creatures, Dali's Car, Southern Death Cult. Either by influence or simply their ever-changing lineup, the Sisters of Mercy alone seem responsible for every third song. The few American groups to dent the scene Christian Death, 45 Grave, Kommunity FK get their due, while floridly named forgotten heroes like Alien Sex Fiend and Lords of the New Church are resurrected in all their eldritch glory. The DVD is predictably top-notch: "Lullaby," "Bela Lugosi's Dead," "Cities in Dust," etc. These days, goth may mean a Hot Topic fashion victim to most or a convenient tag to hang on angsty bands like Evanescence, AFI, and My Chemical Romance, but even that demonstrates its pervasive influence and undead staying power. Release the bats.
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