By Robert Maisey. In biographical order…
Queen – A Night At The Opera
Queen were the first band I ever loved. At about age 13 (around 2002) they ignited my joy in music. My parents bought me the Platinum Collection after I came home singing the Bicycle song after hearing it at school. A Night At The Opera was the first album I tracked down and bought for myself and it was my best friend for years. I listened to this album the way only a teenager can listen to an album, lovingly pouring over every detail – which in the case of this monumental rock epic is rather a lot of detail! I’d probably cite the harder rocking Queen I and Queen II as my favourite Queen albums now, but A Night At The Opera gets the spot for how throughly it rocked my world when I first heard it. I also loved to listen to A Day at the Races alongside it, which had obvious aesthetic and musical similarities, but also felt like a more mature piece to enjoy after one had been thoroughly inducted to A Night at the Opera. I was very lucky to have an older friend named Luke, who kept a big brotherly eye over me and would lend me CDs whenever I showed curiosity (including the entire Queen back catalogue). He lives in Plymouth and has a family these days and I don’t see him as much as I’d like too, but I still consider him a great friend and a very formative influence.
The Darkness – Permission To Land
This record followed pretty hot on the heels of my discovering Queen. Coming out in July 2003 it seemed like manna from heaven for a kid with a new found mania for screachingly camp hard rock. In hindsight, Permission To Land is naff as hell and utterly derivative – but lacking the context of any wider musical knowledge at the time, I loved it. I still love it to be honest and regularly return to it, guilt free.
Honourable mentions at this point go to Meatloaf – Bat Out of Hell – which I pilfered from my Mum’s record collection – and to my new (at the time) friend Shelley, who was already an expert in all forms of music ever made in my eyes. Spotting a burgeoning rock fan, Shelley introduced me to loads of albums that would be on constant rotation for me in my early teens, including Nightwish – Once and Mortiis – The Smell of Rain, the last of which I still listen to all the time and maintain is one of the best electro-goth albums ever made. I didn’t have very many friends at school to be honest and Shelley was the first friend I ever made based on shared interests. I was in awe of him then – and very grateful to him for sharing his musical knowledge with me – and I’m in awe of him still. He’s grown up to be a very refined, complicated and good humoured man who I still learn from all the time.
The Sisters of Mercy – First and Last and Always
This was probably the first album I got into that Shelley hadn’t vetted first, and really set the tone of my own personal musical self identity. The older I got, the deeper my appreciation of this very fine record became. What started out as theatrical gothic soundtrack evolved into druggy invitation into subculture, which become a complex criticism of rock music and then finally morphed again into just a solid pop record, as I started to level out as a human being. Honourable mentions at this point go to The March Violets – Natural History which I never found as emotive, but did find more fascinating, The Mission – God’s Own Medicine, which probably pushed the same buttons in me as The Darkness, Fields of the Nephilim – The Nephilim, which I found extremely immersive with its rich production and occult obsessions, Ghost Dance – Gathering Dust which, like First and Last and Always, hides a heart of pure pop brilliance under fuzzy post punk pretence and Red Lorry Yellow Lorry – Talk About the Weather, which still feels intimidatingly strung out at the end of its tether. Another honourable mention here goes to one Robert Cowlin, who I first met in 2006 in the queue to see The Sisters at the London Astoria and who has been one of my closest musical allies and respected friends ever since. He and I are in the habit of jumping into Hussey and Eldritch personas when we’re together – which is occasionally tortuous for us both, but mostly good fun and artistically fruitful.
VNV Nation – Empires
My gang of collage friends was about as much like Breakfast Club gang as you could possibly wish for in the mid ’00s. There was my first love, Hazel Kenway, who was avant-garde as fuck for a 16 year old, there was Cyber Chris, who was the most thrilling person I had ever met (not only was cybergoth – a brand new idea at that point – but he was also the first out-of-the-closet homosexual I’d ever been friends with) and there was Tara Allen, the ultra cool girl who dated older boys, was already tired of “the scene” and knew literally everything about sex and drugs that it was possible to know. I shared my love of 80s goth bands with them, Hazel taught us all about Kraftwerk (I lost my virginity to Minimum/Maximum!) and Chris and Tara introduced us all to pounding pounding EBM music and nightclubbing, by way of the infamous Slimelight. Of all the stuff I listened to in this period, Apoptygma Berzerk‘s first two albums, Soli Deo Gloria and Seven still get regular rotation and pretty much everything VNV Nation did up to 2005’s Matter+Form I still regard as essential, although Empires is by far my favourite.
The Human League – Reproduction
By this point (I guess around age 17) I was starting to develop a pretty inflated sense of self regard, in the way of all young people who have had their first taste of serious drinking, consumption of illegal drugs, a small variety of sexual partners and have stayed up all night on more than one occasion. I was ready for music as clever as I was, and The Human League was definitely it. I’d started buying music on vinyl, in accordance with how clever and refined I was definitely becoming – and the proprietor of 101 Records in Farnham had my number straight away. He recommended I purchase this weird and wonderful album – which I believe is the the original and best British synth pop record ever made. Honourable mention also goes to The Human League – Travelogue, their second and equally bizarre album, and final LP before they disbanded; Phil Oakey carrying the name forward to make a breakthrough alongside Martin Rushent with DARE. This period of ego inflation also saw me getting wildly into Depeche Mode – Violator, which was the most sophisticated thing I’d ever heard.
Rosetta Stone – An Eye For The Main Chance
My deep, deep obsession with Rosetta Stone started around the time I started my first band. It was the distillation of all the things I’d grown to love over the previous 5 years or so and it consumed me for a very long time. I would listen to Rosetta Stone every single day, and did my best to track down live recordings and demo versions so that I could listen to every possible iteration of every track. An Eye For The Main Chance is the greatest purposefully recorded Goth Rock album ever made. Every single note is sculpted to absolute perfection. Choosing to create music within a genre often draws critical scorn (“have they no ideas of their own?!”) but the results are immensely satisfying to enthusiasts. The love and dedication that plainly went into every single aspect of this LP is bolstered by the awesome technical ability of the musicians. This record doesn’t do much, but what it does do, it does better than anyone else. This marks the beginning of several years of committed goth rocking on my part, which lasted my entire period studying at university. Other records I was into during this time that still receive near constant rotation include Children On Stun – Tourniquets of Love’s Desire and Dream Disciples – Asphyxia. A very special mention goes to Pretentious, Moi?, who’s self titled album inspired my first tattoo and who’s mastermind, Tim Chandler, produced the first Terminal Gods 7″: Electric Eyes/God Child.
Iggy and the Stooges – Raw Power
Towards the end of university, around the time I moved to London and formed Terminal Gods I had something of a revelation. I discovered, for the first time since I was a school kid, ROCK MUSIC. I’d gone along with the post-punk view that all-out rock and roll was passé nonsense, but Iggy Pop changed all that. This album reset everything and sent me spinning back to first principles. This revelatory moment goes a long way to explaining the persona of Terminal Gods as a struggle between a snobbish goth band and an extremely obnoxious rock band. Around this time I also got heavily into Motörhead and The Ramones, the latter introduced to me by Jake Griffiths, the bartender at the restaurant in which I worked for my first full time job after graduating. He couldn’t believe I’d got to something resembling adulthood and had never even listened to The Ramones, so he leant me their first 4 albums there and then. Needless to say, Jake is now one of my most trusted friends. My favourite Stooges album is actually Funhouse, and my favourite Iggy Pop album is Blah, Blah Blah, but Raw Power was the record that blew the world open for me, yet again.
Ulterior – Wild In Wildlife
I discovered Ulterior in 2009, around the time they released the 10″ single Sister Speed. Up till then, my music taste had been entirely retro – I’d come to terms with being an anachronism and that modern music just didn’t do it for me (although looking back, there’s loads of stuff that came out around those years that I overlooked because of this retromania). Ulterior were the first band in the here and now that I became really obsessed with. They had such awesome power and attitude and were just everything I wanted to be. They screamed into my life like a great leather and chrome juggernaut and their delirious machismo informed nearly all my tastes over the next few years. They turned me on to all sorts of amazing electro rock n roll, especially Suicide and A.R.E. Weapons. I also developed a serious hard-on for Big Black and James Rays Gangwar around this period, both of whom embodied a particular brand of techno and amphetamine infused guitar noise that I have loved like an addiction for the entire subsequent decade.
Leonard Cohen – Songs of Love and Hate
My infatuation with Leonard Cohen began in earnest only a few years ago, and represents something of a coming down from the extended high that filled the 10 years between my Rosetta Stone and Ulterior obsessions. Cohen’s songs were the first that didn’t have to have a solid backbeat going at 110mph for me to get sucked into them. I also simultaneously started getting seriously involved with Nick Cave and David Bowie around the same time. Although this period represents a serious mellowing out in my tastes and lifestyle in general, it also represents the introduction of complexity into my artistic horizon and self doubt into my self perception. Everything before this point had, more or less, been simple. I was into bold colours, high contrast, metal and monochrome. I was into self satisfaction, self realisation and ignoring the opinions of others. Although I sometimes miss being that guy, I’ll happily sacrifice a bit of lunatic self assurance for a bit of dignified introspection if that’s what it takes to be an adult.
Laibach – Nova Akropola
“You’re not going to like this album at first, its really unmusical, but I want you to persist with it“.
Forewarned is forearmed! I’ve listened to this album several times a week, and some weeks daily, since it was bought for me as a Christmas present by Stacy Picard in 2016. It’s not only opened my mind to how much enjoyment can be got out of seriously abrasive music, but how perfectly a band can be grafted onto a much larger artistic and political message. Over the last few years, I’ve begun to have a serious crisis of faith in rock music as an answer to complicated questions posed by society and politics. Having invested a lot of my personal identity in my artistic choices, I find myself wanting and at a loss to explain the world. Consuming niche cultural products in an attempt to accumulate social capital is hardly a heroic achievement in the great scheme of things. I’ve been finding both Laibach and Einstürzende Neubauten incredibly soothing in this context, as I feel like their struggle to make sense of the late Cold War world mirrors something of my own confusion at the late capitalist one. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Public Enemy, who’s assaults on the racial and class fault lines in American society are equally compelling. My top recommendation for an album which suits the mood of our current moment is Alex Cameron – False Witness (which I talk about in depth here), which captures the ironic self awareness and earnest radicalism of the social media generation.