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1979 - 1983 Volume 1 - * * * *

White on white translucent black capes
Back on the rack
Bela Lugosi's dead
The bats have left the bell tower
The victims have been bled
Red velvet lines the black box
Bela Lugosi's dead
The virginal brides file past his tomb
Strewn with time's dead flowers
Bereft in deathly bloom
Alone in a darkened room,
The count
Bela Logosi's dead
Undead Undead Undead

- Bela Lugosi's Dead

To try and chart the importance of Bauhaus to the development of gothic music is an impossible undertaking. Suffice it to say that they, along with Black Sabbath and Joy Division comprise the fountainhead of modern goth. This is roots music for the kids who like to dress in black during the summer. This is not to say that Bauhaus has all that much in common with the modern scene. No more than Joy Division or Black Sabbath. This is roots music, but it is very different from what it has spawned. The album title refers to the time of the band's existence. They inhabited that crucial period after punk became corporate and before new wave became an MTV fashion show. Bauhaus took their influence out of punk's anti-authority freedom of expression but they were not a punk band. Although many people have tried to classify them into this category, Bauhaus actually stands fundamentally opposite from the punk rock ethos of simplicity above all. Bauhaus were art students, influenced as much by the frantic experimentation of artists as by the musical influence of punk. Bauhaus is basically art for art's sake. They are not sending any profound message, but musically their stuff is incredibly interesting. They were post punk and pre new wave. This creates an interesting mix of styles.

This band's biggest claim to noteriety however lies in their fascination with the dark side in all its B-movie vampire glory. At a time when punk was taming down and commercial music once again taking over, bands like Bauhaus and Joy Division for a breif moment of glory added an element of danger and vivid experimentation to modern music. We all flirt with the dark side. Bauhaus embraced the dark side, played around with it, and created true art from it. Their appeal lies in the fact that while they were dark, they also had an element of parody to them. Bela Lugosi is actually a giant overblown parody of all that is gothic. However in this parody, Bauhaus did manage to gain some real ground for the dark side of music, and did create some really disturbing gothic art. They are not quite as disturbing as Joy Division, probably because they are half parody and Joy Division was fucking serious. However there are moments which will send chills through your spine.

Musically, I really like this band in some places and not in others. Their flirtation with early new wave sounds became a crucial part of their music. Sometimes these dance rhythms and synthesized programming tracks work for the sound and really add to it. Sometimes they just clutter the mix of a good song. St.Vitus Dance and Dancing are songs which suffer this fate. By contrast, Terror Couple Kill Colonel sounds so much like the Clash that I'm surprised it's not a cover. This is one of their better ventures into new wave, gothic and danceable at the same time, combining influences well. The Passion Of Lovers, and Mask are also true sucesses in this area. Mask is a really amazing song. The loops of synth piano, organ, and drums mixed with haunting bursts of acoustic guitar, and eerily resonant baritone vocals creates a soundscape of atmosphere that engulfs, terrifies, and hypnotizes the listener simeltaneously. If Trent Reznor wasn't 12 when this was laid down, I would have looked for his name in the credits. It is definitely a predecessor to the beautifully disturbing tone later found in the Downward Spiral album.

I have a feeling that not only industrial and goth owe a debt to Bauhaus, but also the countless black and death metal corpse paint bands. Bauhaus helped to make darkness a musical commodity and means of artisitc expression for those who followed. The goth definitely runs thick throughout this recording, though it wasn't their only fascination. Telegram Sam is an annoying venture into more straight ahead rock. Besides a chorus that kind of sounds like the Misfits, this song has no redeeming value. Free form artistic experimentation is admirable but not always enjoyable. Bauhaus knows how to fuck up a good song by going too far into left field. God In An Alcove suffers this fate, as does Hair Of The Dog, where the songs just get too weird for their own good. However, when Bauhaus sticks to what it does best, this band is fucking incredible. In The Flat Field is one of the darkest songs that I have ever heard. Even though Lugosi was this band's trademark goth song, The Flat Field is singularly more disturbing and dark. I can't even figure out what the lyrics mean, but they are scary as hell. Peter Murphy's ranting dark baritone on this song provides some of the most gothic vocals I have ever heard anywhere from any band. Stigmata Martyr is also disturbing. The end part of Murphy and Ash trading off bouts of screaming in Latin (translation: Father Son And Holy Ghost) sounds like a sound bite from The Exorcist. Then the song just ends all of a sudden in the middle of this shouting match, leaving the listener deeply unsettled. Once again, Bauhaus plays games with their art for maximum effect. Spy In The Cab is an amazingly dark song, with a single haunting guitar melody played to mournful vocals.

Of course the band's calling card is Bela Lugosi's Dead, an eerie free form experimental song. The beginning is dark enough with the vampire imagery and monotone vocals. However, when this song begins to wander into instrumental territory, Bauhaus create imagery with their sound, recalling the disturbing experimentation of early Pink Floyd. The grating, scratching guitar noise placed over a continuous bass and drum groove is hypnotic and extremely fucking dark. Daniel Ash proves his reputation on this song as a true artist with the guitar. Bauhaus is a quality band. When they are good, they are incredible. When they suck, they're still not too bad. This is art driven to its purest form for its own sake.
You don't know the power of the dark side.


Reviewed: April, 1999

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