The world of 21st-century Gothic rock is as esoteric and obscure as the subject matter that many of its brooding, melancholic artists enjoy pursuing — a genre made up of a bewildering array of niche tastes and covert Mixcloud promoters — independent artists eager to scratch out a name for themselves and old stalwart bands from the 80’s and 90’s that are still churning out new songs from hell. The sound of 80’s Gothic rock a la Joy Division, New Order, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and The Cure are still resonating in these newer iterations of the genre, turning younger artists into ghostly mimics and producing sounds that are at once hauntingly familiar and alien. It is a genre that calls upon widely divergent sources for its inspiration — medieval motifs, post punk nihilism, and romantically dystopic atmospherics: a genre that plays with our sense of what is new and what is old, what is stale repetition and what is undetected growth. It has always been — like all Gothic things — gloriously ambitious: ambitious in its will to take on the mantle of the past and embrace a kind of musical futurism in which an older momentum is not lost but instead continuously realized and reinvented. We perhaps take its existence for granted, until an album emerges that manages to remind us of why we keep turning down these old, dark paths again and again.
Chris Luna and Ash Lerczac, the Liverpool duo who make up the band known as Double Echo, have in many senses succeeded in creating just such an album. When I first listened to Phantomime, I was struck by the bare, manifesto-like quality of its sound. Take a track like “The Wake”: it begins with a harsh, mechanistic drum beat that would, perhaps, serve as the militaristic tempo of some ominous march, were it not undermined by the paranoia of its jittery, staccato pulse and rhythm — think Wall of Voodoo filling in at the last minute for a professional marching band in Orwell’s Oceania. Thirty seconds in and we have Chris Luna’s reverb-laden voice intoning the lyrics — at once resonating above and melting beneath the enveloping fog of synths and drums: a voice issuing from some dystopic loudspeaker, half-heard and half-lost among the competing sounds of a grey, urban wasteland.
Or consider “Darkroom”: here, Ash Lerczac is the frontman and his voice is a more prominent element of the song, reminiscent of the kind of jaded, desolate sophistication that Brendan Perry evokes in Dead Can Dance’s more apocalyptic moods, particularly their earlier, post-punk, Garden of the Arcane Delight years. But unlike Perry who manages to gain a kind of despairing ascendancy over the dark forces that surround him, Lerczac’s voice mingles rather than vies with the neighboring elements. The lyrics are almost incomprehensible, but it doesn’t matter: his voice, after all, is not some separate commentary on the song’s atmospherics or some thematic guide, it is instead only another facet of the gloom.
Indeed, one of the most appealing things about Phantomime is its faithful consistency to its hazy, dystopic aesthetic. There are no stories here, only landscapes: each song is an echo chamber that directs the imagination to another facet of the enduring atmosphere of post-punk tension and soaring gloom that is the very marrow of Gothic rock. There is nothing to break this mood or alter this course — and it is this wonderful relentlessness that makes Phantomime such a consistently satisfying album. For Double Echo seems to understand that while the Gothic aesthetic needs its stories, its ballads, its haunting myths, it also requires a certain atmosphere of grey expectancy: a world in which to stage its dark tragedies and triumphs. To listen to this album, track-by-track, is to lose oneself in such a world: a world of Foucauldian intercom voices, marble mortuaries, silent orders, and scorched flats. The sublime triumph of Phantomime lies in its ability to never once lose sight of this bleak — but nonetheless beckoning — world.
Listen to the entire album here: