In a way, I don't particularly want to tackle this album. Christian Death is one of those bands who have amassed so much bullshit over the years – both internally and externally – that getting involved in the fray is not high on my list of priorities. And when I say "bullshit," perhaps I should use the more polite phrase "strong opinions and reactions" save for the fact that I think "bullshit" more appropriate.
Because of the history and mythology surrounding Christian Death, they just aren't easy to write about fairly. Good for me then that Off the Rack isn't so much about in-depth analysis as it is my own word wankery to my record collection.
So, here we are: Only Theatre of Pain, the 1982 debut by Christian Death, hailed by many as the birth of gothic and/or death rock in the United States by way of Los Angeles. The CD version of this LP tacks six additional songs onto the end, which were originally released separately as an EP entitled Deathwish. That makes for thirteen unique songs, as the EP contained versions of "Romeo's Distress," "Spiritual Cramp" and "Cavity" which appeared in different forms on the album.
In June of 2008 (Friday the 13th, to be specific) Illusion of Joy along with The Burning Path opened for Christian Death at the 31st Street Pub. They were touring in support of their most recent release, American Inquisition. I can't compare them live in 2008 to this recording though. What I saw that night is pretty far-removed from Only Theatre of Pain. So far, in fact, that the current incarnation of the group doesn't play any early material.
Fronted by Valor Kand since 1985, some say that I didn't share a stage with the "real" Christian Death. I find arguments like that laughable, given that there are so many bands which have had rotating line-ups. If the argument is legitimacy then Kand being a part of the group since 1983 strengthens his position. Rozz Williams may have founded the group, but he only dedicated himself to it for six years before leaving to pursue other projects. Then there was a lawsuit and a suicide – and with that ultimate expression of "I give up" on Williams' part in 1998, there became only one "legitimate" Christian Death.
Like I said at the onset: bullshit. So much bullshit. I think this kind of stuff, more than anything, is why Illusion of Joy only has one member.
That 2008 show was pretty fucking awesome though. A shame it wasn't better attended.
But here I am going off on tangents when I should be focusing on Only Theatre of Pain. What do I think of this album? Honestly...not much. I don't hate it, but I don't particularly like it. Maybe when it debuted in 1982 it was mind-blowing, but I've heard gothic and deathrock albums which I've enjoyed far more and in my opinion are far better. Listening to this, it all kind of blends together. Only "Romeo's Distress" really stands out and would probably have been a great radio single if the first line of the song weren't, "burning crosses on a nigger's lawn." Yikes! Guess we all know where Marilyn Manson stole his shock shtick from. In fact, I'd dare to say that Antichrist Superstar is Only Theatre of Pain re-recorded with louder guitars. We all know that they've all been stealing from Alice Cooper though...
So, take away whatever goth points I have remaining (if any), but this is the only Christian Death album I own and I'm not into it. A couple of friends have told me to give Catastrophe Ballot a listen, telling me that I might enjoy it more. I probably should, but I don't feel any personal push to do so anytime soon. If anything, based on the strength of that live show I went to in 2008, I should grab a copy of American Inquisition. "Narcissus Metamorphosis Of" alone is likely worth the price of admission.
As I listen to the closing song on this CD – the Deathwish version of "Cavity" – I recall where I first actually heard Christian Death. It was either 1998 or 1999 and I had taken over WAIH's morning show. I decided that I wanted to do a Halloween special, which I cheesily dubbed "The Mourning Show." A friend loaned me some goth and deathrock CDs (WAIH's archives at the time being woefully inadequate since I'd yet to become the music director). Among these was Christian Death's 1996 album, Prophecies. I don't remember which track I played off of it – I'm tempted to say "Without" – but I do remember that it got a spin that Halloween morning. I also remember the then music director telling me that my Halloween special wasn't much fun to listen to because, "you can't have fun when you're dead."
I didn't know how to respond to that at the time. My anti-Valentines show several months later received more positive feedback.