Christian Death

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Catastrophe Ballet

Christian Death - Catastrophe Ballet ©1984 Nostradamus
1. Awake At The Wall
2. Sleepwalk
3. The Blue Hour
4. Evening Falls
5. Androgynous Noise Hand Permeates
6. Electra Descending
7. Cervix Couch
8. The Glass House
9. The Fleeing Somnambulist

Catastrophe Ballet, the second album in the trilogy of essential albums that Christian Death would release consecutively in the early eighties, was quite a left turn when one takes into account that only two years previously, Rozz Williams and company had released one of the most unsettling, disturbing and dissonant albums to ever come out of the eighties with Only Theatre of Pain, an album that made even Bauhausí earliest demos seem like a Bobby Vinton compilation.

Shortly after the release of their eponymous debut of frightening, molten post-punk, main songwriter and consummate frontman Rozz Williams disbanded with then-guitarist Rikk Agnew (ex-Adolescents) and the rest of the original lineup. Off he stalked to Europe where he would recruit guitarist Valor Kand, keyboardist/vocalist/sex-kitten Gitane Demone, and drummer David Glass (seemingly stealing them from their then-band, Pompeii 99). As much as I disdain Valor and the deceitful way in which he pretty much stole the band right from under Williams (and incidentally took the band into a shameful, neo-fascist political area that relied more on shock value than quality music), I must admit that his and Gitane De Moneís influence on the two subsequent Christian Death albums after Only Theatre of Pain did shine quite brightly. Converse to the disturbing nature of the debut, Catastrophe Ballet is a thoughtfully composed, relaxing, and, dare I say beautiful recording from a tortured songwriter who only two years previously dabbled in the most dreaded (but no less fantastic) ugliness.

Regardless of Valor and Gitane De Moneís input, it is and will always be Rozz Williamsí show all the way through. Catastrophe Ballet found Williams ditching his androgynous snarl of yesteryear in favor of an evocative, delicate, light, effeminate croon. His songs had turned into exactly that Ė songs. There are verses and choruses and, most surprisingly, hooks to keep the songs memorable. Valorís guitar playing started to resemble that of a poor manís Geordie Walker, but his guitar lines were no less creative. The minimalist production values made for a somewhat flat, under-produced sound that makes it seem as if a long-overdue remastering should be in the works.

As I mentioned earlier, Only Theatre of Pain, Catastrophe Ballet, and Ashes are post-punk essentials and are in essence the only recordings you really need of this ill-fated bandís back catalogue.

Review by Alec A. Head

Review date: 11/2002

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Christian Death - Atrocities ©1986 Cleopatra
1. Will-o-the-Wisp
2. Tales of Innocence
3. Strapping Me Down
4. The Danzig Waltz
5. Chimere De-ci De-la
6. Silent Thunder
7. Strange Fortune
8. Ventriloquist
9. Gloomy Sunday
10. The Death of Josef

The first Christian Death album to be released after the departure of Rozz Williams (or, depending on your view, the usurpation of the band by guitarist Valor Kand) saw the band treading the murky death rock waters, clearly unable to shake the spectre of their prior, far superior albums with Williams at the helm.

While Christian Death was no stranger to controversial or "naughty" subjects in their lyrics and artwork, Atrocities presents a shift in the more esoteric elements of the band's Rozz-era material and dives head-long into shock-rock tactics via a concept album dealing exclusively with The Holocaust. Now, one would think that this would be prime fodder for a post-punk/death rock album, but the problem here is that the music is simply nothing to write home about. While no one can fault Valor Kand in his abilities to come up with characteristically high-end post-punk riffs, his vocals, though arguably more tuneful than his predecessor, simply lack the character and haunting sense of evocation that Williams showed so beautifully on Ashes and Catastrophe Ballet. On top of that, he tries so hard to sound like Rozz that one can almost imagine that he never left the band at all. On the plus side, David Glass' inventive drumming is still a prime anchor for Kand's discordant riffs, and Gitane Demone is allowed to come into her own on "Tales of Innocence" and "Gloomy Sunday", a haunting rendition of the song infamously associated with a string of suicides in the 1930s. "The Death of Josef" is an appropriately creepy closing ambient number, as well. The rest of the songs just plod along without identity or any purpose beyond trying to creep the listener out with forced vocal mannerisms and riffs that were seemingly lifted from the two prior releases.

While I am sure that both eras of this band have their detractors and followers, it is pretty evident that Rozz Williams was the definitive frontman for this group, and that the albums that followed his departure, while admirable in their near-prog rock attempts at conceptualization and ambition, simply fall flat in terms of songwriting and atmosphere. One would be best served by sticking with the first three Christian Death albums and avoiding the Valor-fronted albums save for anything more than a cursory listen.

Review by Alec A. Head

Review date: 07/2011

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