Goth‘s unlikely tendency to flourish in the world’s sunniest places could be said to start with the debut album, Only Theatre Of Pain (1982), from Los Angeles band Christian Death.
Formed by Rozz Williams (born Roger Alan Painter in 1963) – and featuring Rikk Agnew of hardcore band The Adolescents on guitar – Christian Death were standard-bearers for the American death rockers, with songs like Spiritual Cramp and Romeo’s Distress as twisted and overwrought as anything being produced in the UK at the time.
The group relocated to Europe in 1983 where they fitted in perfectly with the goth fashion. In fact, Christian Death earn additional special Goth cred points for the fact that Only Theatre Of Pain was once smashed up on an Evangelical TV show for being ‘satanic’.
To describe the history of Christian Death as complex would be a serious understatement. Over the years many members would flow through its ranks and the band would frequently break up, re-form and exist in parallel.
Besides Rozz, the line-up was completely different by the second album, Catastrophe Ballet (1984).
The LP also showed a richer, less harsh side to Williams’ vocal stylings, with more influence from David Bowie and Lou Reed. Rather than the occult-oriented lyrics from the first album, the singer showed a new-found interest in Surrealism and the Dada movement.
In 1986 the group fell under the control of songwriter and singer Valor Kand who made radical changes to the lineup. Rozz Williams departed and principal members now included Gitane Demone (keyboards and vocals) and David Glass (drums).
Their first post-Williams album was 1986’s Atrocities, a concept album about the aftereffects of World War II on the European psyche, which was followed by The Scriptures (1987), recorded by a revamped lineup of Kand, Demone, Glass, guitarist James Beam and bassist Kota.
The band had their biggest successes on the UK Independent Chart with the singles Sick of Love (1987), Church of No Return (1988) and Zero Sex (1989) and the album Sex and Drugs and Jesus Christ (1988).
During the late 1980s, Rozz Williams resurrected his own version of Christian Death, with his wife Eva O contributing guitar and vocals. Billing themselves as ‘The Original Christian Death’, they were rejoined by first-album guitarist Rikk Agnew for a 1989 tour of Canada and released The Iron Mask album and Skeleton Kiss EP in 1992.
Williams’ reclamation of the Christian Death name sparked a fierce battle with Kand who actually now owned the rights to the name due to Williams’ departure from the band and neglect of the name. Williams consequently billed his version of the band as ‘Christian Death Featuring Rozz Williams’, releasing The Path of Sorrows in 1993 and The Rage of Angels in 1994.
On April Fools Day 1998, Rozz Williams took his own life by hanging himself in his Hollywood apartment.
Kand’s Christian Death continued performing and recording, issuing the 1990 album Insanus, Ultio, Proditio, Misercordiaque, and adding Dutch bassist Maitri in 1991. The band released the Sexy Death God album in 1994, the double-live set Amen in 1995, the Nostradamus-themed Prophecies in 1996, and Pornographic Messiah in 1998.
In 2000, Christian Death added drummer Will Sarginson and toured Europe with Britain’s Cradle of Filth.