Gothic Music Records
Trad goth rock has to survive by its wits in 2016. Grizzled vets like Rhombus and Grooving In Green can hold their own on savvy and swagger, weathering the ebb and flow of trends with the sanguine wisdom that comes with oceans of snakebite and countless tours of duty at Whitby. However, the excellent recent cohorts of deathrock and post-punk acts, not to mention just how weird nu-goth and the witchouse diaspsora have made dark music, should offer younger bands some pause: what more can be brought to a template which has been refined, perfected, and tweaked to within an inch of its afterlife when other fields might seem far more fertile? English new bloods The Hearse make a gallant effort at meeting that challenge, but trip over their own sturm und drang on their debut.
For a band who seem to be begging for Sisters comparisons (wearing their tees in promo photos and penning a tune named “Empire Down”), The Hearse rarely demonstrate much fealty to Eldritch and co. when it actually comes to playing out. Unlike their countrymen in Pretentious, Moi? and Terminal Gods, The Hearse don’t fuck with the nimble, melodic guitar patterns which tie goth rock to its roots in classic rock and new wave. Instead, heavily strummed, thick guitar riffs bring the likes of 90s continental acts like Dronning Maud Land and Love Like Blood to mind. The Hearse puts those riffs so far out front and center in the tracks that they seem to be begging you to embrace or reject them on that basis. However, it’s not until seven tracks in with “Soul Solution” that a riff immediate enough to measure up to that weight comes along , but alas, it’s over in less than two minutes, while plenty of weaker patterns are left to chug along for far longer.
The mix on the album seems a bit harried, rushing drums or vocals right up front the second the guitar lays back for a moment, only to send them clattering over the scenery out of the spotlight an instant later. That said, there are plenty of solid, instinctive strengths amidst that chaos. The vocals aren’t the showiest, but benefit from mostly hiding in the shadow of the guitar, finding plenty of simple enough turns and melodies to wring out some effect. The garage rock croon adopted on recent Nosferatu work, or even the cool weariness of new post-punk, are more fitting touchstones than pale Eldritch or McCoy imitations, and there’s plenty of room for growth there.
The Hearse is far from a perfect debut. It’s clumsy and ham-fisted at times, but more often than not those faults are the product of a band that’s quite active and ambitious. There are some good tunes underneath the imperfect execution, especially on the second half of the record (“Ceremony”, “Faith Healer”), and while it’s hard to recommend their debut I’d caution against writing them off at this early juncture.