Various Artists – For The Bats, Volumes I & II + final instalment coming soon

Various Artists – ‘For The Bats’, Volumes I & II, + final instalment coming soon

As the project nears its third and final instalment, you might think that everyone in the goth music community must surely know about the ‘For The Bats’ compilation series by now. They certainly should!

Here we have a fantastic compilation project, drawn from all corners of the international gothic rock, post-punk, deathrock, coldwave, darkwave (etc) scene. Contributors range from long-established iconic names like Monica Richards, The March Violets, The Last Dance, Kommunity FK and The Danse Society, to leading lights to emerge in later years like Christ vs. Warhol, The Cemetary Girlz, The Spiritual Bat or Pretentious, Moi?, right through to bands and artists so fresh, or just so downright obscure, that even the most on-the-pulse underground enthusiasts will discover something they’ve never heard before.

With virtual unknowns standing shoulder-to-shoulder with acclaimed leaders in the genre, ‘For The Bats’ offers great exposure to all involved. Meanwhile, listeners get to taste the very latest in a wide variety of what’s on offer from Californian deathrock, French coldwave, Brazilian darkwave, Italian goth-punk, Australian post-punk, good old fashioned UK gothic rock, and everything in between.

The project abounds with (if you’ll pardon my language) unique selling points. Two volumes to date have been littered with brand new tracks, exclusive mixes, studio out-takes and other previously unreleased rarities; there are even pieces composed especially for the collection. Indeed, throughout the submissions and selection process, great care has been taken and priority given to ensuring that potential contributors are providing variety and adding value to the project as a whole.

As if that wasn’t enough to get our attention, 100% of all money raised goes to a worthy cause, and one that is both symbolic and dear to the hearts of many within the subculture – Bat Conservation. All proceeds from ‘For The Bats – Volume I’ go directly to the Bat World Sanctuary in Texas; profits from ‘Volume II’ to the Tolga Bat Hospital in Atherton, Australia; while the batty beneficiaries of ‘Volume III’ will be the Bat Conservation Trust in the UK.

Whatever your stance may be on the pros and cons of music downloads vs. physical product; in this case, the digital format is the perfect fit. It allows the compilations to be jam-packed with variety, unrestricted by the running time of a disc. It’s affordable and immediately accessible to all. Stock never runs out, so there’s no missing out on some limited edition item that sells out while you’re still saving up for the postage. And even long after the release date of the series’ final volume, purchases of all three will continue to benefit worldwide Bat Conservation efforts, indefinitely.

Importantly, the download format means that you’re not paying for the cost of disc manufacture, distribution, label staff or any other hidden overheads before residual profits eventually trickle down to the nominated charity. Your PayPal or Credit/Debit Card receipt immediately confirms that every cent has gone directly to the intended beneficiary. So even before you’ve unzipped the download, you can be satisfied that your money was well spent.

Like any ‘various artist’ compilation, ‘For The Bats’ is a mixed bag, and not everything featured will appeal to everyone. But again, like all the best underground music comps, being able to sample that level of variety is also key to what works so well about it. And let’s face it, it wouldn’t be a proper goth comp if there weren’t a few third tier Sisters-of-the-Nephilim impersonators and Joy Division-by-numbers acts; it just wouldn’t feel right without them, and even the most po-faced purist needs a good belly laugh now and then.

Variety notwithstanding, diehard ‘true school’ adherents can rest assured that ‘For The Bats’ is no vacuous lifestyle soundtrack for weekend steampunk cosplay, mock-Victorian preening displays or hot gothip alt.model fashion-tip vlogs. There are no cyber-nu-goth-industrial-dance-metal tourists here; no EBM, aggrotech, dubstep or witch house hijackers. ‘For The Bats’ is a collection all about absolute devotion; not just to a worthy cause, but to the fundamental tenets of a musical and subcultural movement, of which that cause is emblematic.

Bands/artists take note – Volume III will be the last one, so get ready to make it the best of the bunch. Submissions close September 28: details here.

Here’s a rundown of some of my favourite tracks from Volumes I and II. Your choices will undoubtedly be different, or maybe you think the final volume really needs your favourite band on it – so why not let everyone know?

For The Bats - Volume IFirst released in October 2014, ‘Volume I opens with a special ‘Prelude’, composed especially for the album by ‘For The Bats’ project mastermind, DJ Candy R., alias Tenderlash. A nocturnal chorus of chirping insects opens the path for vaporous synth modulations and frosty e-drums, before harmonious, wraithlike vocals drift into the mix. While fittingly eerie and evocative, the piece is more delicate and tender than it is foreboding or sinister, perhaps indicative of the composer’s fondness for her pet project and its beneficiaries. Transient, it floats past almost intangibly, like a spectral guardian looking in on a loved one, wishing to remain undetected.

Of the many bands and recording artists featured, French coldwave band Contre Jour immediately stand out with ‘Wild’, which is an iridescent shimmy of cascading guitars and swooning e-bows (think Robin Guthrie meets Wayne Hussey); slick, electronic drums and synths; and vocals that swing from sinister unrest to soaring, haunting melody.

Monica Richards’ contribution is the original mix of ‘Fall’, from her 2013 solo album ‘Kindred’. It’s to be expected that this initial blueprint not as strong as the final album cut was, but as exclusive content it offers fans a collectible item and an interesting insight into the creative process, while adding value to the cause. As a stand alone track, if the listener isn’t already familiar with the album version, then on its own merit ‘Fall (Original Mix)’ still manages to stack up alongside some of the best in this tracklist.

‘Lost Your Soul’ from Alaskans Cliff and Ivy is an unusual concoction of shimmering melodies, almost discordant guitar counter-harmonies, and layered voices that seem to invoke a diabolical choir from a late ‘60s cult horror flick. The duo’s contributions to both volumes of ‘For The Bats’ reveal them to be one of the more original and intriguing projects in the international goth music scene right now, who’ve managed to avoid being hemmed in by the stylistic tropes and clichés of the genre. I liked this track a lot, and their featured song on Vol. II is even better.

When it comes to rare content from some of the more established names, The March Violets have taken a similar approach to that of Monica Richards, insofar as ‘Liam Hits Seven’ is essentially a bit of a throwaway. But it’s also a lot of fun; a studio out-take from their 2013 album ‘Made Glorious’, in which the Violets wish a young Liam “many happy purple returns” on his seventh birthday, complete with all the calling cards of classic March Violets – the riffs, the drum-machines, and the familiar cast of vocalists.

‘Fakir’ from Brazilian duo Escarlatina Obsessiva (Zaf and Karolina) is wistful and nostalgic. Zaf’s Cure-esque guitar-lines wrap themselves like satin ribbons around an eighties drum-machine sound, while bass and synth provide the backdrop to Karolina’s new wave pop hooks, delivered in post-punk vox. The performance is imperfect and its production lofi, adding to its charm. As much as the pair like to make a proud display of their underground DIY credentials, it comes over as sincere; there’s nothing overtly cultivated or self-consciously hip about it. Pure and unrefined, ‘Fakir’ is a real gem.

From Paris, The Cemetary Girlz’ track ‘Reflection’ has its roots in deathrock/goth punk, while also leaning towards the more grandiose aspirations of latter-day gothic rock, with its riffing guitars and bombastic drum machine rhythms. The grinding bass is a standout feature; you can hear the wood of the fretboard as fingers slink and slide up and down the neck, while the vocals contain hints of the theatricality of the Batcave scene. It’s glam, punk, goth and deathrock, all rolled up into one; perhaps a little more style than substance, but no less enjoyable for it.

‘Into A New Ice Age’ from LA deathrock staples Christ vs. Warhol was already a favourite; a sneak peek from the band’s much anticipated forthcoming album. It’s skeletal, twitchy and angular; the unrelenting kick-drum and solemn bass groove provide both a steady axis and constant sense of movement, while offbeat snares jerk and serrated guitars stab, at other times dragging themselves like razors across flesh. There’s a nod to the experimentation of the likes of Bauhaus or Sex Gang Children; ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’, ‘The Silent Hedges’ and ‘Dieche’ all use a very similar rhythmic template as the backdrop for guitars and voices to wander back and forth between improvisation and more choreographed movements. Eveghost’s vocal meanwhile stamps Christ vs. Warhol’s distinct brand of deathrock all over the track, combining banshee wailing with sneering punk attitude.

While unmistakably goth, Liverpool’s Double Echo are a band who won’t be easily filed away under any one subcategory; the fluidity of their stylistic range making them one of the more interesting and diverse bands continuing to inject fresh energy into the genre. With ‘La Danza’, guest singer Ellon Souter officiates at the marriage of energetic pop to otherworldly atmosphere, adding an airy but strong vocal character akin to Anne Marie Hurst or Anja Huwe’s more melodic moments. The track is propelled by flange-heavy bass and pulsating drum machine, and augmented by lots of swirling synth-pad washes and flickering guitars, providing a nice juxtaposition between the livelier post-punk elements and the moodier darkwave textures.

Swiss gothic rock band Yabancı are often described as a cross between Fields of the Nephilim and Siouxsie and the Banshees, and ‘The Call’ makes no attempt to shatter that perception. Laura’s vocals sound like early Siouxsie, and Valerio’s guitars sound like Dawnrazor-era Nephilim. Emiliana’s grunty, bottom-heavy bass absolutely thrums as the drum-machine takes a bouncier, brittle post-punk approach, while numinous synths add a drifting sense of movement behind the song as it careers along. The arrangement intricately weaves its way through several melodic shifts, anchored by strong vocal hooks that maintain a central focus and prevent the song from meandering off on too many prog-ish tangents.

ACTORS from Vancouver deliver another standout track with ‘Jacknife’. While the band describe their style as new wave, post-punk and synthpop, the sound arguably owes more to seventies forerunners of those genres (Bowie/Eno, Roxy Music, NEU!) than to the eighties influences that permeate so much of the other material collected on ‘For The Bats’. The verses in ‘Jacknife’ build tension around disquiet vocals and a steady bass/tom-driven groove, occasionally punctuated by dramatic, Fripp-ish guitars and jarring synth noise. As the choruses kick in and the band lurches into full swing, it’s powerful, stadium-sized theatrical rock, and Bowie’s vocal influence becomes inescapable. Overt as that aspect of ACTORS’ sound is, in context it’s just one component of the whole package, and one that works. Their sound aptly highlights the relevance and timelessness of their inspirations, and manages to refresh and build on that template within a new setting.

The title alone, ‘Garlic’ from Italian band Other Voices, had me wringing my hands with glee, and it was even better than I could have hoped for. The song features throaty vocals in a theatrical, ‘vampiric’ style, drawn up from the shadow of Dave Vanian (or the lower registers of Ian Astbury or Pete Burns in gothier days long past), while a thick Italian accent enhances a European flare for the melodramatic. Musically, the track is characterised by spooky guitar lines weaving in and out, and drumming in the so-called ‘positive-punk’ style, with some nice ‘neo-tribal’ tom-tom sections here and there. Schlocky but fun, this is pretty nifty old school gothy post-punk. With a song like ‘Garlic’, Other Voices would’ve made great understudies to The Damned for their ‘Nasty’ cameo in The Young Ones. This one’s for the Bats, for sure.

Temple of Venus are another Italian outfit, albeit in an entirely different vein; essentially a minimalist electronic darkwave duo, but with guitars and bass still prominent features. Their song, ‘Sugar Sandman’, is sleek and stylish in its brittle simplicity, with flickering electronic drums, melodic bass, moody synths, resonating guitars and psychedelic vocals. There are occasionally faint traces of a Sisters influence in the guitar and bass melodies, without venturing anywhere near that godforsaken dime-a-dozen clone territory. About midway through, the song takes a shift in direction, rebuilding itself from the ground up before moving towards something of a crescendo, without deviating from the austerity that made it so appealing to begin with.

For The Bats - Volume IIFor The Bats – Volume II came out in March 2015, and Tenderlash once again provides the opening ‘Overture’. Like the previous volume’s ‘Prelude’, the piece is short, understated and unobtrusive, but this time manages to set a comparatively grand, ominous tone for the album. The hallmarks of atmospheric darkwave (complete with reverb-drenched, ethereal vocals) are cleverly offset by the economical use of relatively sparse, crisp, electronic textures; a nice juxtaposition, providing a well-balanced counterweight.

Musically, ‘Broken Class’ from Los Angeles’ Peeling Grey sounds like it could’ve been a Cure b-side from the 1987-1992 period; the pianos and drums have a fittingly dusty, battered and broken sound about them, as if recorded in a cobweb-filled attic, while the vocals tend more towards an early eighties dark new wave/new romantic vibe. The bass suffers a little in the recording/production stakes, but some deftly arranged guitar parts gliding here and swooning over there manage to lift the whole thing up.

Sounds Like Winter from Sydney, Australia are a band I’ve been paying closer attention to lately. Their track ‘Sanity Is Calling’ combines a melodic, hi-definition post-punk-inspired bassline with sharp, raw-boned guitars alternating between spartan lead and spiky rhythm, while brooding vocal lines take centre stage. It’s a slight departure from some of their earlier singles, which contained stronger electro-darkwave and synthpop elements, but it retains and successfully builds on that new-wave-ish sense of melody, while also establishing the band’s relevance within the neo-post-punk scene.

‘The Garden (Alaric)’ by UK goth rock band Pretentious, Moi? gets top marks for performance, execution, production, strong vocals and plenty of melodic hooks. Arguably a little over-produced; it’s nevertheless a fine example of dancefloor-friendly ‘third wave’ gothic rock, following in the tradition of Rosetta Stone, Suspiria or Aeon Sable, but distinguished by the lavish arrangement and production values. While those similarities place them firmly in the post-Sisters school of goth, they manage to pull it off with confidence and style, without slipping into the bad parody camp.

The ‘ungoogable’ (sic), anonymous Danish one-man project (((S))) stands out with his debut single, ‘Perfectly Imperfect’, providing something altogether different to a lot of the other content; an interesting mix of psychedelic pop with ethereal overtones.

‘Bronze Contempt’ is an older song from Dance Naked; a UK goth/synth band active during the late eighties, and more recently revived following the release of their retrospective ‘Point of Change’ last year. Even for the time, this track has a retro minimal synth sound, like an almost neo-tribal spin on early Cabaret Voltaire, while theatrical layers of vocals suggest the influence of Sex Gang Children, Virgin Prunes, The Specimen and classic Batcave-era goth club hits. As the song progresses, serpentine guitars entwine around electronic tom-toms, with nods to very early Sisters and March Violets. It’s a great track, and lots of fun.

Cliff and Ivy return for ‘Volume II’, and once again give us one of the most original offerings on the album with ‘In Your Hands (Old World Mix)’. With guitars that are at once exotic and abrasive, while layered vocals flit between ritualistic chanting/wailing and spoken word, the sound occupies its own unique and surreal space in the gaps between experimental college radio and an obscure Siouxsie b-side; part late eighties Sonic Youth, part ‘Livonia’-era His Name Is Alive.

Hailing from Italy, there’s nothing subtle or understated about The Spiritual Bat’s gothic trappings, but it works, not least because of Rosetta Garrì’s powerful voice. Many have tried, but there are very few vocalists who can tackle this particular brand of wailing witchery so well; a near-operatic amalgamation of Siouxsie Sioux and Monica Richards at their most glowering. Guitarist and musical leader Dario Passamonti’s arrangement is simple but effective; menacing power-chords set against a slow, loping backbeat, providing the yawning cavern into which the song howls.

From Portland, Oregon, Delphine Coma’s offering, ‘Moth Meets Flame’, is driven by a robotic synth-bass and icy mechanical beats, and set adrift on an ocean of keyboard ambience and swirling, eerie guitars. Meanwhile, detached vocals repeat a few key lines, to strong effect.

Koma Koma is self-described as “a darkwave/coldwave band”, from London. Belying those expectations, ‘Black Water Lung’ is all ‘candle flames and razorblades’, like a subdued Screams For Tina; their use of resonant guitar and feedback textures making for one of the more sonically interesting tracks in the collection. The vocals are suitably amniotic, the bass drones, and the hammering, lurching snare of a syncopated drum-machine conjures visions of some waif-like figure dancing in jerking, twitching silhouette before a flickering strobelight.

Goth DJ Kitty Lectro provides an excellent new remix of Californian goth/deathrock mainstays Kommunity FK, and their 2014 single ‘Doll Ov Thee Undead’. Where the original was swimming in the mysterious gloom of what could’ve been an experimental Rozz Williams side-project, Kitty’s rebuild enlivens the song with a stalking backbeat, somewhere between Cocteau Twins’ ‘Wax and Wane’ and an early Sisters single, frosty effects manipulation, and a ghostly, warbling, Theremin-like synth. The original hovering bassline finds new space as a lead melodic instrument, while Patrik Mata’s stylish, enigmatic vocal sounds like Berlin-period Bowie crooning in Soho’s Batcave.

Those were the tracks that I enjoyed the most; an average of around a dozen per volume, which (for me) is an incredibly high ratio where this kind of thing is normally concerned. At $9 USD for each comp (with the option to donate more to the cause if you’d like to), that’s $0.75c I paid for every gem that I discovered – less than I would normally pay to download them as individual tracks.

There were other songs on ‘For The Bats’ that I thought were quite good as well, but for whatever reason just didn’t grab me, and some that I thought were a bit shit, really. But you get that – and what I thought was rubbish, you might very well adore, and vice versa. So let us know – what are your picks of the bunch?

Listen and/or purchase ‘For The Bats – Volume I’ on Bandcamp

Listen and/or purchase ‘For The Bats – Volume II’ on Bandcamp

Bands/artists: get info for submitting music to Volume III: here.

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