Of “Goth” Music

This time around at Gothic Charm School, a Snarkling has a question about one of the foundations of the Goth subculture. Can one call themselves a Goth if they’re not a fan of the bands that helped form the subculture?

Dear Lady of the Manners,

I believe I tried to email you before, and if I did, please ignore my previous inquiry because part of it has been resolved. The other part has not, and though I have asked about it many times on the internet, I have not yet gotten a straight response. Because I appreciate your opinions on many of the things you have covered (I plan to buy your book), I would like to hear your opinion on this.

I consider myself darkly inclined. I like to wear flowing black clothes, I am going to celebrate my birthday at the Jekyll and Hyde Club, and a conversation will immediately capture my attention if the word “spooky” is mentioned (even if I’m wearing earbuds!). I have been drawn to the gothic community because it seems to be made of like-minded people. The thing that seems to bring all these people together is the music. I have no taste for bands traditionally considered “Goth”: Siouxie and the Banshees, The Cure, Bauhaus, Joy Division, etc. I do not particularly like the music style and I have always generally preferred instrumental and orchestral music over songs with lyrics. I love Nox Arcana, and similar music by fantasy artists that produce some spooky pieces (“Ceremonial Spell” by Adrian von Ziegler is a favorite of mine). I would prefer waltzing in a great ballroom lit by iron candelabra and moonlight than dancing in a Goth club.

I understand the opinions of people who agree that I cannot consider myself part of a music-based subculture if I dislike said music, but it is frustrating to be unable to connect with otherwise similar people because of this one small but very important element of the subculture. There are so few “requirements” for being Goth, no Goth Cabal that awards Goth Points as you say, and yet this seems to be the one great unifier. I feel almost alienated because, as usual, my music taste– though still dark and not mainstream– is different from everyone else’s, even in a community like this one. I suppose I am asking if I and my music taste qualify as being “Goth”. It seems like a silly question, because I do not seek to put a label on myself. I want to know if I can consider myself part of this community, despite my lack of taste for traditionally “Goth” music.

Thank you for bothering to listen to the whiny rantings of a babybat and I would be grateful for an answer.

Sincerely,
Nyx Shadowhawk

First things first — you absolutely “qualify” as a Goth. Your description of your tastes and your interests mark you as one of our spooky tribe. Please don’t fret over whether or not you’re a Goth, because you are.

With that said, the Lady of the Manners understands why you’d question your spooky status, because there are people who (very loudly) proclaim that you Must Like These Particular Bands In Order To Be Considered Goth. The Lady of the Manners even understands why those people have that opinion. She also thinks those people are wrong.

Goth music, just like the Goth subculture, is a vast, sprawling thing with many offshoots. Yes, what most of us consider to be “Goth” grew out of the postpunk music scene, but that was close to 40 years ago. And even then, the music wasn’t the only thing that the scene drew on. Art, literature, poetry, movies, fashion–all of these things shaped the newborn shadows that would grow into what we know as Goth today.

There is no rulebook or checklist that says you MUST enjoy certain bands to consider yourself a Goth. Really, there isn’t. Is it nice if you know who the bands are that helped nurture the gloom we gleefully pull around ourselves? Of course! But knowing about them is different than enjoying them, and personal taste is, well, personal.

(As the Lady of the Manners has stated before, even she doesn’t enjoy all of the “classic” Goth bands. She respects Joy Division for the influence they had, but would rather not listen to them.)

“Goth music” is a staggeringly huge genre with countless branches, and what one person calls “Goth”, another person will call “industrial”, or “postpunk”, or “dark ambient”, or “shoegaze”, or “dark symphonic”, or “dark folk”, or a million other, increasingly nuanced and tiny, labels. In fact, in the Lady of the Manners experience, the only musical thing that every Goth can agree on is that bands such as Joy Division, Bauhaus, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, etc. were the ones who were around at the beginning. After that, everyone’s definition of Goth music is intensely personal, which is as it should be.

The music that you described that moves you, the fascination with dark waltzes and spooky orchestral pieces? Those are Goth. Those are incredibly Goth. If someone were to try and tell the Lady of the Manners that Nox Arcana weren’t Goth, she’d raise an eyebrow in polite scepticism.

Finally, the Lady of the Manners wants to remind you (and all the other Snarklings who are reading this) of something very important: you don’t have to like all the Goth things to be a Goth. The Lady of the Manners has had to reassure so many people of this lately! You don’t have to like Goth music, you don’t have to like horror movies, you don’t have to dress head-to-toe in spooky finery, you don’t have to dye your hair or have tattoos, you don’t have to wear makeup, you don’t have to go to goth clubs … THERE IS NO CHECKLIST. If you’re calling yourself a Goth, that means there’s something about the dark and lush subculture that calls to you. It could be that you have an appreciation for Goth fashions. Or perhaps you love Gothic literature and suspenseful movies about things that lurk in the shadowy darkness. Or that one of the eleventy squillion “Goth” musical genres has caught your ears and heart. Or that you find beauty and comfort walking through cemeteries and overgrown forests. Do you see what the Lady of the Manners is getting at? When someone starts talking to you about classic Goth bands, tell them about the darkly romantic musical artists that make your heart swell. Ask them what other subgenres of music they like. Ask them what else draws them to the Goth world. Be secure in yourself and your interests, and don’t fret so much about what other people may think.

(As an aside, the Lady of the Manners would be thrilled to bits if you commented and gave her some musical artist suggestions, because she too is very fond of dark instrumental and orchestral pieces! Do you perchance have an 8tracks collection the Lady of the Manners could peruse?)

For that matter, do the rest of you have musical suggestions of a dark instrumental/orchestral/or ethereal nature? Leave a comment! The Lady of the Manners is always on the hunt for new music. Let her start with a recommendation for all of you: celadon, who composed the Gothic Charm School theme!

29 Responses to “Of “Goth” Music”

  1. Maura Hubbell Says:

    Dead Can Dance might be right up Nyx’s alley. More to my taste but still darkish are Sky Cries Mary and Juno Reactor.

  2. JameyB Says:

    My go to for spooky atmospheric is Arcanta (http://arcanta.bandcamp.com/), Delerium (https://www.discogs.com/Delerium-Semantic-Spaces/master/52026) and the soundtrack from the games Myst + Riven.

    Am looking forward to seeing the other suggestions here – love to find new music from like-minded spooky folks!

    (and WOW what fun 8tracks is – hadn’t used that before….)

  3. Lynn C-H Says:

    It’s so very nice to be able to offer a music recommendation to someone who *already* loves Nox Arcana! Here are two albums I really like that have a dark faerie-tale forest vibe:

    Chants d’automne (Artesia)
    Ancient Shadows (Priscilla Hernandez)

    Now if you want a really lovely melancholy waltz, try “Once Upon a Dream” by Lana Del Rey, from the Maleficent soundtrack. Unless you’re going to mind humming it all day, that is, because it’s definitely an earworm.(Yes, I’m humming it now.)

  4. Rhias Hall Says:

    You can’t tell the history of modern gothic without acknowledging the music scene- but you can certainly enjoy and participate in the goth subculture without listening to to the music.

    I mostly listen to 70’s glam rock – but my aesthetic and lifestyle are undeniably gothic. As Jilli is always reminding us, there is room in the goth subculture for millions of iterations and interpretations.

    A 14 year old in a t-shirt from Hot Topic is no less goth than an elder goth who drives a hearse to work and lives in a creepy Victorian mansion.

  5. Mila Webb Says:

    As someone who simply cannot will myself into loving the EBM played in goth clubs, I sympathize.

    My own recs are Ataraxia, Unto Ashes, and Qntal.

  6. HouseCat Says:

    Ooo! I have a playlist of just this sort of thing on Spotify that I’m compiling. I love Post-Punk, French Coldwave, Darkwave, a few kinds of ‘industrial’ and all that sort of stuff, but my first love was Classical music of various sorts, especially choral music. I ADORE all the early ecclesiastical music – the stuff that was sung in those ancient Gothic cathedrals and abbeys and basilicas! (And which I have sung in those sorts of places, because I was a very enthusiastic chorister back in my Christian days.)

    Anyway, my suggestions for Gothic ambience in classical music:
    In organ music I suggest:
    ~ Widor’s toccata in F (one of my favourite recordings is the one by Kalevi Kiviniemi, but I like the James Flores one too)
    ~ Widor’s fugue in F# minor is quite sombre, chilled and perhaps a bit funereal in places; reflective.
    ~ Suite Gothique by Boellmann is wonderful, especially the last movement.
    ~ Film composer Jeffery Gold wrote a very impassioned organ piece called Castel Queribus.
    ~ Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D is the obvious choice, but Bach’s Dorian Toccata is also quiet atmospheric.

    In piano music I suggest:
    ~ A lot of Liszt’s works. He was quite a dark an eccentric person, a very Gothic personality from the 19thC and a bit of a musical superstar in his day. He was very introspective and fascinated with morbid themes, and I’m sure had he been born in a different era, he’d have been some kind of rock-star 😛 The Appassionata from his Transcendental Etudes is glorious, but I also suggest the Mephisto waltzes, and my favourite the Totentanz (dance of Death), especially when in a wonderfully gloomy full orchestral recording.
    ~ Dagmar Krug did a very Liszt-esque arrangement of the One Winged Angel theme from Final Fantasy.
    ~ Erik Satie’s Gnossienes are wonderfully reflective in a way that is certainly atmospheric.
    ~Chopin, too. The Piano Sonata No.2 in Bb Minor’s ‘Funeral March’, and the other Funeral March in C Minor should definitely be on the list of Gothic piano music.
    ~ Coeur De Pirate have two very beautiful strings and piano pieces that I love, ‘Woods Darker Than Night’ and ‘Funeral Dirge’.
    ~ The solo piano arrangement of Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante defunte (‘Pavane for a Dead Princess’) is not quite as sorrowful as one would expect from the title, but more reflective. Other Ravel Piano music that is Gothic would be the ‘Serenade Grotesque’. I don’t think it’s meant to be about grotesques as in the carved monsters on churches, but I can’t shake the association.

    In orchestral music:
    ~ Gounod’s Funeral March of a Marionette is a mixture of whimsy and creepiness.
    ~ First movement of Mahler’s Symphony No.5 in C# is subtitled ‘Funeral March’ and is very dark and foreboding.
    ~ The Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber is soaring, lamenting, glorious and passionate. I love it.
    ~ Another Adagio for Strings (and organ) is Albinoni’s, that’s very beautiful. There’s a recording of this played completely on hand-bells I heard once that is absolutely serene.
    ~ Camille Saint-Saens’ Dance Macabre (The ‘Jonathan Creek’ tune for UK murder mystery fans!).
    ~ Fratres for Strings and Percussion by Arvo Part. It makes me thinking of being in a swamp in the fog, alone. The percussion leads me to think that /something/ is out there, and maybe I’m not quite /so/ alone…
    ~Ase’s Death from Peer Gynt by Grieg. Beautiful, and quite solemn.
    ~ More funereal solemnity in the form of the ‘Cantus In Memoriam’ for Benjamin Britten by Arvo Part. Arvo Part’s a composer of many amazing contemporary classical works with a certain Gothic atmosphere to them.
    ~Mussorgsky’s ‘A Night on Bare Mountain’ and ‘The Catacombs (Sepulchrum Romanum) are both good atmospheric orchestral pieces. The latter is under appreciated, but a mixture of majesty and ominous foreboding. There’s also ‘Baba-Yaga’ or ‘The House on Hen’s Legs’. Got to love Mussorgsky for music that makes you imagine things.
    ~ Nearly forgot to mention the orchestral version of ‘Pavane pour an infante defunte’ which is certainly more mourning in tone as an orchestral work.

    Requiems:
    ~ Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor… Oh, I had the wonderful privilege of being part of the choir in a performance of this years back. It was probably the highlight of my being musical. I love this Requiem and it will always have a special place in my heart. The Lacrimosa is incredible, beautiful beyond words, and the Dies Irae (Days of Wrath) is full of fury and then soars up like angels, perhaps avenging angels.
    ~ Faure’s Requiem, all of it, but especially the Introit and the Agnus Dei. The Introit touches heaven.
    ~ For full on ‘Wrath of God’ in music, the Dies Irae from Verdi’s requiem is the most tempestuous and majestic. I find the rest of the requiem a bit too operatic of my tastes, but I love the Dies Irae.
    ~ The Introit from Spears’ Requiem is unusually minimalist, but very beautiful, haunting and is like void of death itself. I love it.

    In Music for Glass Harmonica:
    (It’s thought to be a cursed instrument, and has a delicately haunting sound)
    ~Adagio for Glass Harmonica by Mozart it’s shimmering and beautiful. If you can find one of the softer, more shimmery recordings, it’s especially beautiful.
    ~Schulz’s Largo, is reflective, melancholy in places, charming and thoroughly beautiful, too.
    Also, the theramin and ondes martenot are equally creepy instruments.
    ~ There’s an arrangement of Ravel’s string quartet in F Major for four Ondes Martenot that’s positively haunting in a early/mid 20thC sci-fi sort of way.

    Strings/String Instrument Solos:
    ~ Walking Roots by Hexperos, not sure if it’s played on lower registers of a ‘Cello or on a Double Bass, but it’s short and spooky.
    ~ Hindemith’s Viola Sonata Op. 11 No.5. part 1 is frenetic and unnerving. Some of his other Viola Sonatas also have a certain unnerving atmosphere.

    I am already getting carried away with this…

  7. Marika Says:

    Mediaeval Baebes is a group with a folksy/celtic style that Nyx might enjoy! I only just discovered them, myself.

  8. Faoladh Says:

    Unwoman is a remarkable musician/composer from California. Many of her songs are written in waltz time, most center on her amazing cello skills, and her classical training shines through her compositions, which range all over the genres stylistically. She’s been featured in steampunk, goth, and many other contexts across the country. She also works with Matt Fanale of Caustic in the project Beauty Queen Autopsy and has opened for the likes of Rasputina and Voltaire.

  9. writtendark Says:

    I’ve really been enjoying the instrumental/ambient playlists of shrinemaiden on 8tracks: http://8tracks.com/shrinemaidens

  10. Nyx Shadowhawk Says:

    Thank you SO much for this response, Lady! I believe I truly knew all of this, but I am so grateful to have gotten the validation from someone like you.

    As for suggestions, I would be happy to offer some! I don’t have a collection on that website, but most of the music I listen to can be found on YouTube or iTunes. My favorites by Nox Arcana include “Labyrinth of Dreams”, “Into the Night”, “Echoes of Elise”, “The Raven”, and “Magic and Moonlight”, though I suppose you already know plenty about them
    One of my favorite artists is Adrian von Ziegler, who writes mostly fantasy music of one kind or another. “Ceremonial Spell” is my favorite, but I also like “Ghost Bride”, “Silent Moon”, “Night Mist”, and several others. I suggest looking at his albums “Mirror of the Night” and “Requiem”. https://www.youtube.com/user/AdrianvonZiegler
    I recently found an album by Peter Gundry that was called “The Shadow’s Bride”. The title alone makes it absolutely perfect for a fantasy novel I wrote about the Shadow complex, so I was ecstatic when I found it. There is a song on it of the same name, and also ones called “I Meet My Shadow” and “The Last Dance” that I like. https://www.youtube.com/user/23Alchemist23
    Finally, Derek and Brandon Fiechter are fantasy artists that have some spooky songs. I suggest looking at their work as well. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjMZjGhrFq_4llVS_x2XJ_w

    Thank you again Lady for taking time to respond, and thank you everyone for recommendations! I’ll be sure to check them out. I have one song by Dead Can Dance (“The Host of Seraphim”) but I generally prefer instrumental music and most of theirs have lyrics. However, I discovered Voltaire’s “Raised by Bats” today and found it absolutely hilarious.
    Nyx

  11. Oli Says:

    Hello, on the topic of dark orchestral pieces and gothic instrumental bands, the things that come to mind are:
    -Midnight Syndicate ( Artist )
    -Giuseppe Tartini-The Devil’s Trill Sonata
    -Ordo Funebris-Lycanthia
    -Claude Debussy-Clair De Lune
    -Ophelia’s Dream-Danse Macabre
    -Hayley Westenra-Dark Waltz
    -The Vitamin String Quartet-Sally’s Song ( From the Nightmare before Christmas ) These are some of My favorites from My own playlist. 🙂

  12. Alesand Says:

    Bands/songs I recommend.

    Type O Negative is good, esp. the song Black No. 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-r7myJeXuE

    Arkona is a good Russian pan-slavic/pan-pagan rock band with medieval features in their songs. This song is about an unhappy couple with the wife eventually killing her husband: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9wylzyFcKM

    Galneryus is a great metal band from Japan with good moody and uplifting songs. Some of their songs are even sung in English! One of my favorite songs by them is Wings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-pW3NtvCTXE

    Nightmare, another band from Japan, also makes some good rock with dark undertones such as The World which was used as the opening for the Death Note anime: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IO4uhmitthg

    Amazing guitarist Steve Vai records all sorts of excellent music such as Love Blood which he recorded when he was auditioning to play as Lestat in Interview with the Vampire (the role of which went to Tom Cruise): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GE6_UUxK3i0

    Enjoy Nightmare Before Christmas and its songs? You’ll enjoy them all the more when you hear them in French! Here is a playlist featuring all the songs: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL43938C5DA5B0E5A4 Even better is knowing that when the lyrics were translated into French, they were made much darker from their original English versions.

    If I think of more, I’ll list them in another comment.

  13. Raven Waters Says:

    I personally haven’t found much of that type of music, but i most certainly love Black Veil Brides, Sleeping with sirens, and perhaps Sisters of Mercy

  14. Crystal Says:

    May I suggest the music of Dark Sanctuary (piano and dramatic lovely instrumental music with female french vocals!). I suggest “Les Mémoires Blessées”!). And also Priscilla Hernandez! <3 And of course, Nox Arcana~! <3

  15. Bloodysyren Says:

    I personally really love a local San Diego artist called Eliza Rickman! Her music videos are wonderfully surreal, just like her music. I recommend:

    Cinnamon Bone
    Black Rose
    The Devil’s Flesh and Bones
    Pretty Head

  16. Bloodysyren Says:

    I forgot! Versailles, a beautifully gorgeous-looking and-sounding band from Japan!! There are two “girls” in the band made up completely of guys!! I love their style!

  17. Bloodysyren Says:

    Another HUGE love of mine is the HALO soundtracks! Especially anything revolving around the main theme. It’s the soundtrack to my life!!!

  18. Nya Shadowhawk Says:

    I love the Celadon song! Everything is better with theme music.

  19. Alesand Says:

    Creature Feature and Rufus Rex make great goth/horror music and have been branching out recently. For Creature Feature here are a few of my favorites: Greatest Show Unearthed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVwqkBG0ulE
    Here They be Witches https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7zHuV0znQ0
    Buried Alive https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2b704tlVZqs
    Grave Robber at Large https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TA0zwhnW3OM

    For Rufus Rex here is the official channel videos https://www.youtube.com/user/lastmanonearthprod/videos Many other of his songs are on Youtube.

  20. Vlad Says:

    I highly recommend Rasputina, who have more Victorian and Folk themes in their music, which is played on cello. The same goes for the wonderful Johnny Hollow, whose cover of “Temple of Love” by the Sisters of Mercy is exquisite. Hitchcock soundtracks by Bernard Hermann and various classic horror soundtracks would also probably be enjoyed. The “Music for a Darkened Theatre” collections by Danny Elfman are also great.

  21. DreamWalker Says:

    Nyx, it would seem that we have similar taste in music. 🙂

    Adrian von Ziegler’s work is indeed beautiful, as is Nox Arcana. I love working on artwork or anything else creative while listening to them.

    There are a few bands and artists you might like too.
    Have you tried Within Temptation? Their sound is a combination of orchestral and rock, with a Gothic theme. Their instrumentals tend more toward orchestral. You’d probably like their song “Edge of the World”, since it is more melodic and orchestral than rock and roll.

    Secret Garden is always lovely. Their has a classical fantasy-ish flavour, but they made a few Gothically-inclined pieces too. Adagio, Appassionata, Nocturne, Passacaglia, and Elegie leap to mind.

    Two Steps from Hell does transcendental orchestral music. Blackheart or Children of the Sun could easily be dark theme music, as could several other pieces of theirs.

    May these recommendations be as delightful to you, as yours were to me. 🙂

  22. RobR. Says:

    Listening to “goth music” since 1987 I prefer the “old” goth rock. But there’s nothing wrong not to like them. If Nyx is into other styles of “goth music” that’s fine. And… tastes change from time to time! As an example: 20 years ago I couldn’t hear Bauhaus – and now I like them.

  23. Taya Says:

    I like things form Get scared, The Cure, BVB (black vail brides), and set it off. Kinda my owl liking tho 😛

  24. Obsidian Witch Says:

    I’m so happy to see that not liking “goth” music doesn’t make one not goth. I have eclectic tastes but pretty much all of the gothic classics I can’t really get into. I think I like one The Cure song and that’s it.

    In terms of other bands:

    One person mentioned Midnight Syndicate and I have to say they are my FAVORITE. I HIGHLY recommend their Vampyre and The 13th Hour (which I have a shirt of) albums if you like spooky music. Alongside of them there’s Dark Sanctuary, Immundus (dark ambient), and Autumn Tears.

  25. Infiltrat0r_N7 Says:

    Sounds like you might be what Voltaire referred to in his ‘What is Goth?’ book as an ether goth. He describes them as being more likely to be found sipping wine and reading poetry by candlelight than bouncing away in a goth club. More drawn towards the romantic and elegant end of the goth spectrum.

    This goth blog discusses ether goths a little bit:
    http://ultimategothguide.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/styles-of-goth-fashion-ethergoth.html

  26. Kjeran Says:

    I’ll get castigated for this but….Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera.” Look for the Original Cast recording with Sarah Brightman rather than the one for the 2005 movie treatment. Especially “Mirror,” “Music of the Night,” and “Point of No Return.”

  27. Aaron Moore Says:

    This is not a recommendation but a thank you. I myself have always identified as goth and love the subculture but I’ve never been a huge fan of the music. I love the cure but that’s about it. I’ve always been more of a metal head. As a guitar player metal is the genre that I found most captivating and fun to play. I have often struggled with wondering if I was a “real goth.” So again thank you for the affirmation! I needed it 🙂

  28. Alan D.D. Says:

    I’m definitely more into darkwave and love, madly, listening to The Birthday Massacre, one of my favorite bands ever. I also like talented souls such as Emilie Autumn, Marilyn Manson, Chris Pohl (Blutengel is on my to-love list, and I think I’ll add Terminal Choice) and Strvngers (make yourselves a favor and listen to them.)
    If there’s anyone telling you that you cannot be Goth, make sure to put your headphones on and enjoy your music. The Lady of the Manners already told you, there’s no checklist, and all those jerks that think you need their permission to call yourself Goth know nothing about it.
    Enjoy it, feel it, love it, touch it and kiss it. Biting… maybe not.
    The dark side is big enough for all of us.

  29. Ice Gillespie Says:

    Hi there! ^_^ I just want to drop by to let you know how awesome your article was about goth music, I discovered this site just a few moments ago from a certain youtube video about getting into goth. Anyway, this helps me a lot since there are people who asked me about the type of music I listen to and if there’s a band I am not familiar of, I am scared from the inside that I’ll be judged and thought of as a poser just ’cause I ain’t listening to the same band.
    I am a goth but I do not have any tattoos nor piercings but people around me expect that I should have one. I really dislike it when someone jumps to conclusion what a goth should look like.
    I’ll definitely keep your advice in mind about being secure and all. Thanks a whole bunch.

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