Darkwave: A Hidden Arcana

October 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

Now that we’ve decided autumnal entities are not calculated, as swiftly and accurately pondered by Sir David (I can knight people), now we must explore the possibility of these spirits encapsulated in a medium, because what is the purpose of a medium but to project expression, those of which we can’t experience without aid. Eyes can only allow you to feel so much, but combining the touch of bark or dead leaves, taste of brittle air, with sounds of silence, and a circle of decadent statues gazing into you…far more powerful than some damn Monet painting. Robin Williams learned this when he died.

Darkwave is a fairly new genre in music, resembling a myriad of styles but all of which fall under this umbrella. Its origins can be traced as far back as 1976 when Tangerine Dream released Stratosphere, their only album that really expanded their already liberal bounds to the point where using world instruments in ambient-based compositions made sense. It also introduced the concept of proper trance, something that had been attempted (poorly) before then. However, darkwave at its core, in all its darkly darkness, is linked directly to Bauhaus, in 1980. The album In The Flat Field took Tangerine Dream’s concept and put it to rock, simultaneously inventing what most would define as true post-punk as well as the second step towards darkwave.

The only other post-punk band to take on Bauhaus’ “let’s kill ourselves for fun” attitude was The Cure. Siouxie And The Banshees met them halfway but never truly captured the sound, for their songs were too reliant on the beat. The Cure quickly followed up Bauhaus with their highly overlooked album Faith in 1981, a record which not only included the darkness, but also ambience, in larger amounts than was expected (All Cats Are Grey, The Funeral Party, The Drowning Man). This is when the music became incredibly visual, with The Cure’s lyrics matching the sounds of the music. Concept albums these were not, but in my opinion there had not been a concept album with musical storytelling. At least a few of these bands were heading on the right track.

Dead Can Dance and Fields Of The Nephilim are the last pivotal bands to develop this sound, in 1987 and 1990 respectively. Dead Can Dance started out as a world musical outfit influenced by post-punk, but they quickly shed any semblance to other acts by the time they released the ever-influential Within The Realm Of A Dying Sun. An album split in two by its own two members, Brendan Perry composing/performing the first 4 tracks, and Lisa Gerard the latter 4. The album basically defined darkwave as the powerful, ethnic, and evocatively picturesque budding seed it has become in present time. After this album, not one band in the genre could ignore citing Dead Can Dance as an influence. Except Fields Of The Nephilim, but they’re goth rock, however they’re notability is for bringing back the ambience that seemed to completely disappear (even in The Cure) until the album Elizium, more specifically the tracks Wail Of Sumer/And There Will Your Heart Be Also.

Now, here we are in a position where most music is without pulse. Mercifully, the underground is the pounding heart, and where the genre of darkwave has landed in terms of history is putting nature into audial form, something many other genres have tried emulating, and usually failing but sometimes there are breakthroughs (Opeth, Agalloch, and a few others). In darkwave alone, however, the bands are highly skilled in conveying anything they wish. Arcana’s Raspail, Dark Sanctuary’s self-titled record, Lycia’s Day In The Stark Corner, and of course Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerard’s solo groups’ albums, notably Ark (2010) and The Black Opal (2009) respectively. Wonderfully profound music for the season of death. History lesson is finished, go Walden it up in a forest near you.


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