Friday, January 29, 2010

Goth in a box - Bauhaus 'Mask' (Omnibus edition)

I will freely admit to being somewhat vulnerable to fancy packaging when it comes to buying music, which isn’t a particularly good thing but at least it drove me to pick up a copy of the newly released Omnibus edition of Bauhaus’s Mask from Melbourne’s Missing Link records yesterday.

Bauhaus, despite their German name and traces of krautrock influences, are in fact an English post-punk goth-rock band and Mask, released initially in 1981, is undoubtedly one of their very best albums.

Its relatively short ten tracks all create their own special sense of doom and gloom, through dark and brooding words set to dark and brooding music in dark and brooding colours and tones.

The music comes to you mostly through a rather cavernous acoustic, where the murky shadows seem to crawl out before you, like in the long, crying, electronics over bleak bass beats in ‘The Passion of Lovers’.

Each track on Mask takes you into a different space, with different shades of darkness enshrouding each of them, be it the strange, dehumanised, mortuary world, that we hear in the dry, cold, impersonalised beat of ‘Of Lillies and Remains’; or the grimy underground world of ‘Dancing’, with its demonic sense of energy, like a dance party for the undead; or the desolate, sad and empty tonality of ‘Hollow Hills’ where the music slithers and slides slowly, hopelessly, along.

Tracks like ‘Kink in the Eye 2’, ‘In Fear of Fear’ and ‘Muscle in Plastic’ are more vigorous, but with a sour, dour energy that makes you feel that if you met this music in a dark alley it would punch your lights out.

In ‘The Man with X-Ray Eyes’ an unrelenting hammering beat sounds like nails going into a coffin, ready for the album’s closing title track – a sweat-drenched funeral dirge, where it could be the cortege of humanity itself that drags and staggers past you to a slow, incessant beat and wailing vocals and electronics. It is interrupted towards the end by an almost jaunty little melody but, before long, that too is dragged down into the pit.

Mask is a powerful, magnetic album that seduces you with its darkness and then assimilates you into it. At times I almost expected to hear Nick Cave emerge from the music’s sullen squalor but Bauhaus are the real pioneers of this music and, like many pioneers, it’s the people who follow the paths that they laid who become the most famous.

Of course, goth-rock is probably not the healthiest thing to be listening to, especially if you’re having a bad day but, when it’s performed like it is here, where you don’t just get the gloom but also evocative uses of sound and tonality that each conjure up their own unique vision of the night, it is worth taking the risk.

And when it is packaged in beautiful cardboard slip cases, with little plastic sleeves like the ones you used to get when you bought vinyl, and there are two additional discs of extras, and a book, and a really nice box, then, really, resistance is futile.

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