Holy moley! I've been getting all kinds of killer boxe sets lately, but this recent collector's edition set for Only Theatre Of Pain goes above and beyond. Especially since it's all documenting and showcasing a single album. Granted, that album is one my favorite of all time, and an incredibly influential piece of early deathrock that would influence all manner of bands, not the least of which is Celtic Frost. I mean, this is it, the definitive reissue of Christian Death's pioneering debut, the 40th anniversary edition, packed with all of the music, extras, and sledgehammer of a coffee table book. If you're a fan of Theatre, it's the ultimate.
Here's my old rundown on the album proper:
Considered by most to be the very first American death rock album that would be highly influential on the goth sound that would develop through the 80s, Christian Death's Only Theatre Of Pain is a classic of dark, blasphemous punk that has had a significant impact on so much of the music that I listen to and that I carry here at C-Blast. It's hard to imagine black metal taking form the way it did if Christian Death had never infected the underground punk scene with their subversive anti-Christian imagery, their fascination with death and the occult, and the perpetually dark atmosphere and confrontational attitude that exudes from Only Theatre Of Pain, and the influence of this album on bands as diverse as Sixx, Deathcharge, Nuit Noire and Soror Dolorosa is unmistakable.
Released in 1982, this death punk masterpiece is presented with new artwork and layout as well as the addition of bonus tracks, and it's essential for anyone into the darkest strains of punk and hardcore. Coming out of the Southern California hardcore scene, the band combined Adolescents axeman Rikk Agnew's offbeat guitar playing and the driving rhythm section with bizarre haunted house organ flourishes, tolling bells, and a sickly, dread-filled atmosphere that refuses to let up at any point on the album. But the band's focal point was always their flamboyant front man Rozz Williams, who brought a weird glam influence to Christian Death's morbid punk. His fey whining vocal style was totally unique and perfectly fit the disaffected, negative feel of Christian Death's music, and his bizarre, surrealist lyrics and transgressive visions read like sketches of a nightmare, rife with all kinds of perversion, necrophilia, incest and murder. These themes possess Only Theatre Of Pain from the creepy death obsession of the rocking opener "Cavity - First Communion" to the classic heavy death rock of "Figurative Theatre", "Mysterium Iniquitatis", and "Dream For Mother". There are a couple of slower songs where the band drops into a buzzsaw hardcore dirge ("Spiritual Cramp", "Resurrection - Sixth Communion"), the ghoulish black psychedelia of "Burnt Offerings" and "Prayer", and the serpentine, Middle Eastern-tinged devil vision of "Stairs - Uncertain Journey". If this album would ever have had a single, though, it probably would have been the song "Romeo's Distress", one of the catchiest songs that Christian Death ever wrote, and it feels like it could have been a huge hit for the band, if only the lyrics weren't so politically incorrect (despite the lyrics being explicitly anti-KKK and anti-religious cruelty, themes that would appear throughout other moments in Rozz's tenure in Christian Death).
This new reissue of Only Theatre Of Pain is presented as a double LP, and features two different batches of bonus material for historical posterity. The C-side contains the entire Deathwish 12", albeit with a slightly different track order than the recent reissue of the EP that came out on Cleopatra. Recorded in 1981, these six songs were the very first recordings from Christian Death before the band signed to Frontier to release Only Theatre Of Pain. Most of this had been exclusive to the Deathwish 12" (later released on vinyl by the French label L'Invitation Au Suicide), save for the song "Dogs" which appeared on the 1981 punk compilation Hell Comes To Your House. But the whole EP rips: the heavy, almost metallic-tinged crunch of title track "Deathwish", the trippy synth-laden black dirge "Dogs", the lysergic howling witch-punk of "Desperate Hell", along with rougher early versions of album tracks "Romeo's Distress", "Spiritual Cramp", and "Cavity" that appeared here for the first time. In addition, the D-side of the set has rare recordings of the songs "Sleepwalk" and "Invocation" (both from a 1982 demo), followed by alternate studio versions of the album tracks "Cavity - First Communion" and "Lord's Prayer". It's about as exhaustive a document of the first four years of Christian Death that you're ever going to encounter.
The box set also has a huge 24" by 24" foldout poster of Colver's iconic photo that also appears on the book cover. And then there's the book itself. This is a monster. Hardback and casewrapped, Christian Death: Only Theatre Of Pain - Photography By Edward Colver is one of the coolest books on the early dark hardcore / deathrock / avant-garde movement in Southern California that I have ever held in my hands. It's colossal, 220 pages in square coffee-table book style presentation, black endpapers with minimalist imagery, an overwhelming pictorial and written history of the band that captures all of their strange morbid magick through 1982. Colver totally threw open the vault doors for this collection. The book features an intimate introduction by longtime William's collaborator Nico B. (Cult Epics), facsimiles of handwritten lyric sheets and band notes, an interview with childhood friend Victoria Gray (2020), an interview with early bandmate Jill Emery (Hole, Mazzy Star, Shadow Project, Super Heroines ) (2021), interviews with Asexuals bandmates Steve Darrow ( Hollywood Rose, Sonic Medusa, Super Heroines )and John Albert (Christian Death), both from 2020. An amazing talk with legendary performance artist Ron Athey, an early lover who formed the legendary industrial outfit Premature Ejaculation with Williams; an extensive interview with photographer Edward Colver, in-depth talks with Christian Death drummer George Belanger, bassist James McGeary and guitarist Rikk Agnew (also of Adolescents), all new. Talks with Frontier Records founder Lisa Fancher. An incredible chapter of gloriously profane photography with the band shot by Colver in the Pomona Cemetery in August 1981. A live Colver photo shoot from Little Theatre in September 1981, the first ever show with Agnew. A set at Cuckoo's Nest in Costa Mesa from October '81. Al's Bar in L.A. on October 20th, '81 (alongside 45 Grave, good lord). Witching hours. Pics from the Whiskey a Go Go, November '81, first show they ever played with 45 Grave (Meat Puppets were on the bill as well - can you imagine?); the funeral wreaths on the stage were stolen from a local cemetery. Cathay de Grande, LA, January 1982. A February '82 show at Godzilla's with Bad Religion and Crucifix. So many of these show chapters feature lengthy liner notes from the band members (especially Rikk Agnew) reminiscing on the experience. The Brave Dog show in LA from December '81 with Nervous Gender. Al's Bar (LA again) on December 26th, '81 with Super Heroines. More live photo sets from the Whiskey and Al's Bat from early 1982. Photos and stories of Williams' bedroom and shrine. Reproductions of the L'Invitation Au Suicide record covers. Pages and pages of pics of handwritten lyrics. A photo of Williams' personal library (!). Plus concert flyers out the wazoo, artwork and photos everywhere, all beautifully reproduced for this volume. And the whole shebang is housed in a deluxe heavyweight case-wrapped slipcase.
This is the bible, man. If you worship at the Theatre like me, or just deathrock in general, this is the Good Book, draped in lace, vivid and virile, smeared in blood and mascara, ,lit cigarettes and threadbare silk, raw and alive. Limited to 300 copies.