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A Life Less Lived: The Gothic Box (Rhino)

Gothic music's sibling, industrial, can be tricky to key. Is Nine Inch Nails's Trent Reznor just a guy who backed conventional rock guitars with a drum-and-synth track? Did Ministry skip industrial altogether, bouncing from synth-pop straight to metal? Are Cabaret Voltaire, Einstürzende Neubauten, Psychic TV, and My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult multimedia experimentalists who followed an infatuation with Robert Reich into the studio?

Goth, though, is strictly defined, codified not only by somewhat formal dress and makeup regulations but also by a musical content philosophy informed by the Shelleys but founded by Rimbaud and Verlaine. The line of succession from the Damned to Bauhaus to Sisters of Mercy (sorry, Andrew Eldritch, but you are goth) to VNV Nation is clear and somewhat nonnegotiable. So Rhino's — even given the label's specialty, reissues — Gothic Box is just wrong from a first glance, having excluded so much that is goth, included so much that is not, and boarded up the whole thing as if Bela Lugosi really were dead.

The omissions are critical, as is the lack of contemporary specimens. Wolfsheim is one of goth's leading heirs apparent, boasting a flawless pedigree (black-haired pale brothers from Hamburg, consistent lyrical references to the ocean and drowning, name inspired by Fitzgerald character), the requisite journeyman work output (twelve albums in fifteen years), and an epic lament of heartbreak and betrayal ("Once in a Lifetime") with a propulsive beat that is a dance-floor standard. Norway's Carpathian Forest is taking a sabbatical from recording albums with names such as Defending the Throne of Evil (2003), We're Going to Hell for This (2002), and Black Shining Leather/Through Chasm, Caves and Titan Woods (2004) while its members go to grad school (doctoring in psychology beside the Kings of Convenience!), but the duo's 2005 remake of the Cure's "A Forest" is solemn, stunning, and utterly modern. Florida's own Cruxshadows, who are on tour right now behind the just-released Mystery of the Whisper, enjoyed their first nonsubterranean chart success when this past week the single "Sophia" hit the Billboard singles chart in seventh place and debuted at number one on the dance chart. And then there's Sunn O))) and the whole Southern Lord crew, whose prolific output is rivaled only by Eliot Lipp's Daedalus project. None of these bands is represented in this collection.

Who is? Well, some obvious choices, including the Creatures ("Exterminating Angel"), Alien Sex Fiend ("I'm Feeling Zombified"), 45 Grave ("Party Time"), and Christian Death ("Romeo's Distress"), as well as some disinterred treasures by the March Violets ("Snake Dance"), Miranda Sex Garden ("Ardera Sempre"), and the Birthday Party ("Mutiny in Heaven"). But nearly all of these cuts are from the mid-Eighties to mid-Nineties, a fallow period, considering Bauhaus and Joy Division had disbanded by 1983 and Cranes, Fields of the Nephilim, and London After Midnight didn't really kick up again until this past decade. In fact only LAM's "Kiss," AFI's "The Hanging Garden," and the Rose of Avalanche's "Dreamland" hearken to the genre's newer circle.

And then there's the stuff that just doesn't belong, and because goth is largely about being inside or outside, these inclusions are egregious. It's not that Skinny Puppy's "Assimilate" or the Chameleons UK's "Don't Fall" aren't great songs; they are. Skinny Puppy and Chameleons just aren't gothic bands, and neither are Gene Loves Jezebel (emo progenitors), Dead Can Dance (ren faire hippies), or Flesh for Lulu (one-hit Pretty in Pink wonders).

With YouTube and MySpace's music component making it possible to evaluate and identify goth's entire catalogue, perhaps Rhino's effort is more sentimental — the three CDs and one DVD come cloaked in a leather, lace-up case — than practical. Nonetheless, how can any such music collection that aspires to definitiveness fail to include Ministry's "Halloween," the recipe of the genre?

 
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