two records lined up under a smaller vinyl record

Exploring the Subgenres of Goth Music

By Faith Vara
Music Journalist

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been indulging more and more into the goth music scene. As I’ve been exploring the different artists and elements that go into this genre, I’ve come to a realization: goth is an extremely complicated genre to define. There are many debates as to which bands qualify, which subgenres qualify, and which artist deserves credit as the kingpins to an entire culture. Regardless, the goth genre is one of the most fascinating and diverse genres to come out of the late ‘70s and ‘80s.

Before we dive into the subgenres of goth, it’s important to know its origin. In the late ‘70s, post-punk emerged with bands such as Siouxsie and the Banshees and Joy Division. These groups took influence from the ‘70s punk scene and mixed it with avant-garde sounds, rhythms and vocals. Later in 1979, newly-formed Bauhaus released “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” which mixed Siouxsie’s sensuality with Joy Division’s dark sounds to create the goth phenomenon. As years went on, the genre expanded into many different subgenres that are still evolving today.

Now let’s dive into some of the key subgenres of goth:

Goth Rock: As the direct evolution of post-punk, goth rock creates a darker sound with the use of driving basslines and highly reverbed guitars. Early post punk groups such as Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Cure made the transition to goth rock as they started playing up to their slower, moodier side. Other bands such as Sisters of Mercy added to the subgenre with their use of drum machines that produced simple beats.

Death Rock: Contrary to goth rock, death rock expresses the more frantic and fast-paced side of goth. While it sticks close to its punk and post-punk roots, this subgenre has a darker and more theatrical side to it. Christian Death is commonly seen as the kingpin of death rock with tracks such as “Romeo’s Distress,” which mixes the fast-paced sound with socially conscious lyrics. Other bands such as 45 Grave and Alien Sex Fiend also contributed to the growing sound of death rock throughout the ‘80s.

Dark Wave: A more synth-driven subgenre developed throughout the ‘80s with the emergence of dark wave. Mixing the dancier genre of new wave with the melancholy sounds of goth rock, dark wave offered a new genre unlike anything heard before. The sounds of dark wave are largely based on minor keys and introspective lyrics. Bands such as Clan of Xymox produced sounds that would largely influence other subgenres of goth, as well as modern day artists such as Gap Girls and The Frozen Autumn.

Ethereal Wave: This subgenre is one of the many influenced by dark wave sounds. In addition to the post-punk atmosphere and melancholy sounds of goth rock, ethereal wave also provides a more dreamy sound compared to other subgenres. Elements of shoegaze and dream pop are also implemented into the sound of ethereal wave, with acts such as Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil and Drab Majesty being prime examples.

Minimal Wave: Minimal wave is one of the more obscure subgenres of goth. Its use of minimalistic synth, guitars and basslines match that of goth rock, but in more simplistic terms. This subgenre can also be referred to as a stripped down version of dark wave, with drum machines and synthesizers being the main components. Although it existed throughout the ‘80s, it has since made a resurgence with acts such as Lebanon Hanover leading the modern-day minimal wave movement.

With a genre that’s difficult to define as just one thing, I’ve learned that goth music’s definition and categorization often lies in the ears of the beholder. Therefore, I encourage you to explore the genre and see all the diversity it has to offer. Who knows, you might find yourself enjoying music you never thought you’d be into. I know I definitely did.

Image by Faith Vara.

Share Your Thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s