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A Graveyard Smash 

by Luke Baumgarten & r & All right, you eyeliner jockeys: Put down your black nail polish, turn down that In Flames album, there's something you need to hear. It may come as a shock, so prepare yourselves. Goth is over. It's been over for years, frankly. If you didn't get into the Cure until after Pornography, it was already done.


I'm sorry, this must be hard. You had to have known, though.


I'm sure the last thing you want right now is analysis, so I'll just say this: Goth died, friends, because it lost its yin. It retained its yang, but, you know, yang wasn't much of an innovator.


That is to say the Cure and Bauhaus weren't the ones that kept Goth edgy and vital during the golden years. They were the melodramatists. They took the real craziness and made brooding weepy ballads out of it. No, it was the wild, schlocky, vaudevillian horror rock that really kept things interesting. Deep down, you know it, too. You bought that Joy Division album, but I bet you wish you'd saved up for the Misfits tattoo.


The yin occasionally reappears, but it does so in fits and starts, usually finding little soil in which to take root. Which is a shame, because all Goth's got now is like what ... Good Charlotte? They are no proper heirs! Their misfit shirts and mascara are mere uniforms. I can't remember the last time there was even one great youthful serial killer band to offset all the shoegazers interested in examining the psychology of the high school breakup from every wrist-slitting angle.


Rejoice though, for, in 2000 at Tacoma's Charles Wright Academy, the seed of Goth's more playful, less masturbatory doppelganger came to rest in some Tacoma-area high school and sprouted up as the Schoolyard Heroes. They channel the best elements of the Misfits, Tiger Army, Judas Priest (and Iron Maiden), Wagner and Andrew Lloyd Webber to create little diving, crescendoing Goth-horror gems. It's a singularly unique sound forged by some wildly disparate musical backgrounds. "I'm into classic rock and punk," says Jonah Bergman, the band's bass player and principal screamer. "Ryann [Donnelly] is a theatre lady. Steve [Bonnell] is more into classic rock and metal. Brian [Turner] is really into jazz. He likes Rush quite a bit." Rush. Fantastic.


Bonnell's mathrock-inflected speed-metal axmanship cruises through some insanely elaborate constructs at warp speeds, overtopping Turner's pummeling, dynamic drum work -- no wonder he's a Rush fan -- while Bergman suitably darkens everything with his atmospheric bass and hellish screams. Donnelly's maniacal vibrato, though, is what ties it all together. She channels the coy brashness of rock's great female leads, cooing like Gwen Stefani, wailing like Souxie Souix and brooding like Patti Smith. By all accounts, her stage presence matches her high-drama delivery. It's operatic in the best sense of the word. Nietzsche would be pleased.


Despite these dark and somewhat fringe interests, the ebullience of the band's live performance has earned them a legion of fans just as diverse and freakish as their subject matter. In September, they were brought in at the last minute to play Gonzaga's McCarthey Athletic Center, opening for soccer rockers Yellowcard. We all know how loath Gonzaga is to allow anyone on campus who might contradict their Jesuit mission, but Bergman says it wasn't a problem. "Despite [the subject matter], we're a pretty upbeat band, that's the irony," he says, "We play these really upbeat songs called like 'Serial Killers Know How To Party.'"


But it's not as though Schoolyard Heroes is cult burlesque. They use their palette of Gothic (in the literary sense), horror and sci-fi sensibilities with the respect these things deserve. "Horror movies make a great framework for creating interesting metaphors," Bergman says.


Their songs are teen parables and cautionary tales -- the ghouls, zombies and animated dolls more or less pulled straight off the cover of CosmoGIRL!. The songs churn and stutter, switching tempo to suit the situation, but remain as menacing and operatic as coming of age itself. "Every song [ever written] is about something, someone's experience," says Bergman, "We just think there are better ways of communicating most of that than [how] 'my girlfriend broke my heart.'"


Indeed. It's singing about how your girlfriend commands a skeleton army.





Schoolyard Heroes at Fat Tuesday's with Mylestone, Emberghost, Life's Lie and Cyrus Fell Down on Saturday, Dec. 3, at 6 pm. Tickets: $5; $8, at the door. Visit www.ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT.
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