Music News

State of Shock

I'm a bastard. That's the whole thing."

It's early on a frosty evening at Gabor's, the infamous Capitol Hill dive bar where the jukebox leans toward Zeppelin and X and autographed snapshots of Hollywood has-beens like Louie Anderson adorn the walls. Charles Edward, leader of Seraphim Shock, sits at a booth amid all the peeling vinyl and scratched Formica. Raven's wings of slick black hair spill out from under his skull-and-crossbones baseball cap; his eyebrows are shorn clean off, and his sideburns and goatee are as delicately sculpted and sharp as daggers.

Beside him is Daisy Grave, the group's new bassist, and she looks, well, kind of like Daisy Duke if she had died and been dug up. Her impossibly pretty face is framed with long hair blanched platinum as if by nuclear fallout or sheer fright. In fact, the two of them look a bit like members of the Addams Family -- an Addams Family from a world where Kennedy fucked up the missile crisis and the ICBMs rained over North America like lightning bolts from an asshole god.

"I'm a bastard," Edward repeats, his formidable voice sounding muffled. (As it turns out, he's just getting over a nasty head cold.) He's trying to explain why, over the nine years of Seraphim Shock's existence, there has been a revolving door on the practice space through which numerous bandmembers have either passed freely -- or been forcibly ejected.

"It's kind of like a roller coaster," he goes on with a laugh. "Hey, let's just call it what it is: a democratic dictatorship. And honestly, I think a year ago, I was at that point where I was on the verge of walking away. We had just gotten back from tour, and I fired my longtime bass player. We really didn't have a lot going. We hadn't had an album out for four years. Everywhere I'd go, people would be saying, 'Seraphim Shock, Seraphim Shock,' but my personal life was in shambles. I was fucked. It wasn't writer's block or anything; in fact, I've always had too much material. It's one thing to go through pain and be able to get that out, but I just wasn't getting it out. It wasn't translating into music."

Translating pain into music might sound like a gothic rock cliche, and perhaps it is. But Seraphim Shock has always flirted with cliche, and with the conventions of the unconventional, through its blasphemous mix of goth, metal, industrial and punk. With elaborate stage productions and a larger-than-death presence, the act clawed its way to the top of Denver's goth scene years ago, and its 1997 debut, Red Silk Vow, remains one of the most popular local albums of the past decade. But after tons of touring and a well-received 1999 EP called Nightmares for the Banished, Edward and company seemed to lose momentum and sputter out in the new millennium.

"I was really burnt," Edward explains. "I was just sick of it. But things kind of happen for a reason, I think. I'm glad that we skipped an album. We were definitely at that point where it was like, 'Wow, it's do or die.' When Daisy joined the band late last year, we just sat down at the diner one night and made a list of what had to happen, what we needed to happen with the band."

What needed to happen was Halloween Sex N Vegas, Seraphim Shock's new full-length. While Red Silk Vow and Nightmares were compelling, even unique forays into the heavier end of the gothic spectrum, Halloween is the sound of a band stepping out of the shadows and into the sleaze. With less emphasis on electronics and more weight lent to the crush of guitars, the songs fall somewhere between the Sisters of Mercy's macabre hard rock and the Misfits' mishmash of camp, punk and horror-flick chic. Wide swings of dynamics and texture are spiked with piano and pop-scavenging samples taken from everything from Wild at Heart to Swingers. The album's whole hedonistic air is topped off with a whiff of anthemic '80s glam metal, setting it far apart from the dour, unholier-than-thou attitude of goth's mainstream.

"I think this new album is really good, but it's going to turn some people off," Edward notes. "It's not Seraphim Shock 1997. It's not a radical departure, but once you attain a fan base at whatever level, people want you to be the same thing forever. Although we've done well, we've always been kind of an outsider in the gothic scene, because we're too heavy. I even had a fucking promoter in Dallas tell me one time over the phone that we were too heavy for him to book. I was like, 'Too heavy? What are you talking about? Go back to gazing at your fucking shoes, then.' I couldn't believe it."

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Jason Heller
Contact: Jason Heller