The top 10 Toronto goth bands of all time
Toronto's goth scene is an undead creature: no matter how many times it's pronounced over, a new wave of dark music will rise in one way or another. Our city's spooky subculture first came to the fore in the early 80s with a handful of post-punk and alt-rockers creating their own morbidly obsessed community - though they didn't use the "G" word at the time. That scene flourished as the decade progressed, with clubs like Silver Crown and Velvet Undergound giving bands the spotlight (er... black light? Ominously flickering candlelight?).
Things began to die down in the nineties, and death knell seemed to be at the turn of the millenium (some blamed the Columbine tragedy; I blame mall emo), but the recent emergence of sects like darkwave and witch house has made goth chic once again. Newbie label Deth Records stands at the head of the local modern-day variant with acts like Sarin, Sins and Vierance making danceable gloom. The locus of the scene has moved away from Queen West to Kensington Market, a more welcoming/less expensive home for the gutter-goth lifestyle.
In honour of Halloween season, here are ten of the best and freakiest goth bands to ever come out of Toronto.
Initially a straight-up punk band, Vital Sines sensed the shift that was coming in Toronto's early-eighties alternative scene. Giving in to the moodier, more experimental influences of post punk and new wave, the band wound up producing their massive career-defining single, "Collage," which gave the masses a cursory taste of goth: mournful vocals, ethereal guitars and a black-and-white music video full of studded belts and esoteric images. With that, Vital Sines helped sow the seeds of a darker counterculture.
Masochistic Religion was one of the first goth bands to come out of the "Freaks" era, and they embodied everything the culture stood for. Raspy lyrics about death, kinky sex, vampires, and Satan were wrapped in a sludgy dirge ornamented with moaning guitars and Gregorian chant. Live shows were even more theatrical than the lyrical content; singer Mitch Krol entered the stage from a coffin sometimes. They were an Anne Rice novel come to life, and Toronto's seediest disciples loved them for it.
Proudly descended from the "Batcavers," The Furies were heavily influenced by the original UK strain of goth. Throughout the latter half of the eighties, they were a staple of the goth nightclub circuit, regularly showing up at Sanctuary, Savage Garden as well as Lee's Palace and El Mocambo. Though they achieved less mainstream recognition than some other names on this list, The Furies were essential to fostering the goth movement and setting the tone for style, sound and subversion.
Unlike its European counterparts, Toronto's goth scene didn't shun societal acceptance. That's why National Velvet, with their catchy hard-rock hooks with dark and subversive content, could achieve mainstream acclaim while holding onto their street cred. Frontwoman Maria Del Mar was a criminally underrated rockstar - commanding attention with powerful pipes and confident swagger while never taking herself too seriously. If you're lucky, you can still catch a local show every once a while.
As goth took on a more industrial sound in the nineties, bands like Vegasphere were at the forefront, taking the opportunity to incorporate more electronic elements into their work. The trio's intricate studio tinkerings were executed just as well in live format - Vegasphere wanted to ensure their shows were always memorable, with extensive light shows and a constantly shaking dance floor.
In a way, Rhea's Obsession was a complete 180 from the increasingly electronic trend of the nineties, championing a much more organic and earthy sound. Led by partners Sue Hutton and Jim Field, the band meshed two totally different styles together - Hutton's world and Celtic music background against Field's hard rock guitars. The inventive alloy enjoyed praise not only from the goth community but from the film and TV world: Hutton and Field were recruited to do scores on multiple occasions.
The Birthday Massacre
Goth music seemed to pretty much be on its way out at the end of the nineties, but that's precisely when The Birthday Massacre, arguably one of the biggest Canadian goth bands today, came into being. The six-piece originated in London, Ontario under the name Imagica, but quickly relocated to Toronto for its still-thriving gothic nightlife. They continue to fill clubs with fans of their cute-horror style and macabre synthrock narrations of dark fairytales and heartbreaking stories.
Vincent Marcone, aka My Pet Skeleton, is a graphic artist whose best-known work may be the creepy image he helped cultivate for Jakalope. Yet far more interesting is this multimedia project he co-founded with Janine White. For over a decade the group has forged a sinister blend of darkwave electronics and baroque instrumentation that's attracted a solid fanbase, recently demonstrated with the successful campaign to fund their new album. Side note: their 2003 teaser website was the coolest - I definitely spent a university semester trying to figure the freaky riddles out.
Not many bands are currently repping the OG goth sound as hard as Amy's Arms. The songwriting duo of Karen O'Keeffe and Justin David Minister has grown into a six-piece band that puts on shows of retro-gothy splendor, pinning O'Keeffe and fellow vocalist Tyla Thea Bolt's sorrow-filled harmonies against a post-punk backdrop with many a nod to Joy Division. If you want to relive the good ol' days of the Freaks era, the next Amy's Arms gig is your best bet.
A certain set of contemporary artists are embracing the dark side and indulging the theatrical, and TRST (Trust) certainly fits the bill, with Robert Alfonse infusing a bleak (/sometimes sparkly) synth brew with traces of new wave and his dissonant, octave hopping voice. He and his crew often don all-black, streetwear inspired attire for shows, and they're unapologetically beholden to the Batcavers of yesteryear (and Toronto electronic darklings Crystal Castles (RIP) but not as much as some might say).
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