We all know how people love to bunch up their panties and come out swinging on message boards about the be-all end-all definition of “punk.” Then we realized the gothic community has just as many permutations and combinations of what defines true “goth.” There are old-school types who bought every single record by such frontline movers and shakers as the Sisters Of Mercy, the Cure, Bauhaus and Siouxsie And The Banshees. The thing is, if you were to slap all those bands onto one playlist, they don’t really sound that similar. The only thing they really share is a sense of darkness that’s a combination of menacing, forlorn or downright cartoony. Also confusing things was the early-’90s advent of industrial-rock culture, which blurred the sonic lines when it appropriated all of goth’s sartorial monochrome vibe. (Because on the surface, you can’t look at some big-haired, black-clad club denizen and know precisely that person is obviously into, say, the Mission, and not Marilyn Manson.)

I’m not going to reaffirm everything that rock historians have told you about goth over and over for decades. Instead, I’m going to lift some lids off of crypts you may not have thought to pry into in the first place.

ALIEN SEX FIEND “Drive My Rocket”

Nik Fiend and his lovely wife Mrs. Fiend have been flying the electro-wacko goth-freak flag for decades. They embrace their goth-itude the same way Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson clutches his metal cred. This little number about taking a spaceship to visit Nik’s home planet [You only wish you could hear Pettigrew laughing in his office right now. —disgust ed.] feels more punk than any kind of exercise in creating a spooky, dark atmosphere. But that’s always been ASF’s stock in trade: They’ve never cared about chart positions or actively pleasing a fanbase, which is why their music has remained vital.

The Bolshoi were one of a trillion new-wave/indie bands looking to make their mark in the world. Although they were quite polished, they did pretty good in the U.K. (as well as on MTV’s 120 Minutes) with a dark little song about backstreet abortions (“A Way”). This track from their album Friends starts out with frontman/guitarist Trevor Tanner channeling his inner sociopath child, collecting insects in a jar. By the end of the song, the guitars are as opaque as obsidian glass, Tanner is shrieking his head off at his insect prey and the whole track comes off like one bad meth trip in an entomology class—or maybe just being trapped in a Tessa Farmer installation. Besides, it’s the only song I can think of that has the word “beseech” in it [So does "My Paper Heart” by AAR! – useless knowledge ed.]

PLAY DEAD “The Tenant”

Throughout their career, seminal post-punk avatars Killing Joke were trying to make sure the planet kept its scheduled appointment with the apocalypse. So it makes sense that many an upstart band would borrow K-Joke’s thunder (tribal beats, curiously equalized guitars, attitude-laden singers) for their nefarious ends. Play Dead hailed from Oxford, U.K., and while their brand of near-metal post-punk was energetic and furious, the goth community primarily embraced it more so than dudes wearing Angelic Upstarts or Comsat Angels shirts. If you like this, seek out their track “Bloodstains Pleasure” on the quite rare The Whip compilation.

SPECIMEN “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”

Despite everything they did for the genre, I never hear anyone talk about these London creepy-crawlies. Lead singer Olli Wisdom and guitarist Jon Klein ran the London goth hotspot the Batcave in the early ’80s, thereby creating a hangout for the whole scene. Sure, Specimen rocked the guyliner, hairspray and mesh shirts like nobody else, but what made their music so compelling was that there was a heavy ’70s glam vibe (cf. Bowie, T. Rex, Slade) happening that was outwardly more about gregarious rock than mere introspective navel-gazing. One can’t help but think Marilyn Manson went through several copies of the band’s Batastrophe mini-LP all those years ago… >>>