Death Rock

Death Rock (or deathrock) is a subgenre of punk rock and post-punk that emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the West Coast of the United States that is characterized by its dark, macabre, and often gloomy lyrics, as well as its heavy use of horror imagery and themes. Deathrock bands often incorporate elements of goth rock, horror punk, and glam rock into their sound, and their fashion often includes black clothing, leather, and dramatic makeup.

See also Deathrock Goth


Death rock relies heavily on a driving, repetitive rhythm section, with the bass and drums providing the foundation within a 4/4 time signature. Guitars may play simple chords or effects-driven leads to create atmosphere. Lyrics typically explore dark themes such as isolation, gloom, disillusionment, loss, life, and death in an introspective and surreal way. The style can range from harsh and dark to upbeat, melodic, and tongue-in-cheek. Death rock often incorporates campy horror and sci-fi film themes, but it has no connection to death metal, a subgenre of heavy metal.


Early Influences

Death rock developed in American post-punk alongside British gothic rock. Meanwhile, American death rock also drew on hard and shock rock , which was less evident in British gothic rock. In addition to Iggy Pop and David Bowie, the Cramps and David Letts, who performed as Dave Vanian with the British punk band The Damned in Los Angeles in 1977 , were essential pioneers for both styles and the aesthetics of the burgeoning scene with his vampire outfit and cemetery aesthetics influenced.


In the early 1980s, a subculture emerged from the Los Angeles punk rock scene, consisting of those with an interest in darker horror themes. One popular theory for the emergence of this group attributes it to the 1980 suicide of Germs vocalist Darby Crash, which led to a period of mourning and eventually a fascination with the macabre. As a result, bands began to form that merged the sound of Los Angeles punk rock with these darker elements, giving rise to death rock. Some of the most prominent death rock bands included Christian Death, 45 Grave, Super Heroines, and Kommunity FK. These bands often performed and congregated at the Anti-Club, a club night in Hollywood that changed venues every few weeks. Theatre of Ice, hailing from Fallon, Nevada, also independently developed a sound that some sources consider to be pioneering death rock.


As death rock emerged as a distinctively darker subgenre of punk rock in the United States, other subgenres of punk and post-punk were independently developing in the UK. By 1980, a wave of post-punk bands, such as Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, and The Cure, had abandoned the intensity of punk music in favor of a more elaborate style characterized by moody guitars, dark droning bass guitar patterns, and romantic and morbid themes. This style of rock became known as “gothic rock” or “positive punk”. A second wave of bands coalesced a few years later, headed by acts such as Sex Gang Children and Southern Death Cult, along with Brigandage, Blood and Roses, and Ritual. Many of these bands featured tribal drumming, high-pitched vocals, scratchy guitar, and bass guitar as a melodic lead instrument, along with a visual look blending glam with Native American-influenced warpaint and spiky haircuts.

The scene was brewing at the London gothic rock club Batcave in 1982, where the two main bands that debuted and performed frequently, Specimen and Alien Sex Fiend, developed their own different sounds strongly influenced by horror in British pop culture. In 1983, Gun Club toured in Europe, as did Christian Death in 1984, leading to cross-pollination between the European gothic rock scene and the American death rock scene. By 1984, California death rock band Kommunity FK toured with UK gothic rock band Sex Gang Children (and the following year with Alien Sex Fiend), continuing the trend of American and British movements intermixing.

Influenced more by the British scene than California, death rock bands began to form in other parts of the United States, such as Samhain (1983) in Lodi, New Jersey; Holy Cow (1984) in Boston, Massachusetts (and later Providence, Rhode Island); Gargoyle Sox (1985) in Detroit, Michigan; and Shadow of Fear (1985) in Cleveland, Ohio. The fertile New York scene featured Scarecrow (1983), Of a Mesh (1983), Chop Shop (1984), Fahrenheit 451 (1984), The Naked and the Dead (1985), Brain Eaters (1986), the Children’s Zoo (1986), the Plague (1987) and the Ochrana (1987).

Gothic Rock & Death Rock

In the mid-1980s, the gothic rock genre shifted towards a more serious, rock-oriented approach and away from its punk and post-punk roots. The dominant and most influential gothic act was the Sisters of Mercy, as Bauhaus broke up and Williams left Christian Death. As a result, the term “gothic rock” replaced “death rock” as the preferred term. The term “death rock” was seldom used except in reference to the Los Angeles bands 45 Grave and Christian Death.

In the mid-1990s, a third wave of gothic rock emerged, which incorporated many elements of the industrial music scene of the time, moving away from experimental noise and into a more dance-rock oriented sound, as well as the more repetitive and electronic sounds of EBM. Some clubs even dropped death rock and first generation gothic rock from their setlists to attract a crossover crowd.

Revival Era

In 1998, Release the Bats, a monthly club night dedicated to goth and death rock, was launched in Long Beach, California. It quickly became the most popular goth night in southern California and the longest-running club night in Long Beach, and it helped launch the careers of death rock bands such as Mephisto Walz. The club’s success led to the establishment of many other death rock club nights in subsequent years. This, combined with the rise of online music piracy, contributed to a renewed interest in older death rock bands and the emergence of new international death rock groups such as Bloody Dead And Sexy, marking the first death rock revival. During this time, bands such as the Phantom Limbs and Black Ice began to merge death rock with elements of no wave and synthpunk. Many groups from this era, including Tragic Black, embraced an aesthetic heavily influenced by Batcave fashion.

Death Rock Bands


  • 45 Graves
  • Burning Images
  • Christian Death
  • Castration Squad
  • The Flesh Eaters
  • Community FK
  • Pompeii 99
  • The Speed ​​Queens
  • super heroine
  • Theater of Ice
  • TSOL
  • Voodoo Church

Revival Era

  • Astrovamps
  • Bloody Dead and Sexy
  • Cadra Ash
  • Chants of Maldoror
  • Christ Vs Warhol
  • Cinema Strange
  • Devil’s Whorehouse (later Death Wolf )
  • Diva Destruction
  • Frank the Baptist
  • Murder at the Registry
  • Scarlet’s Remains
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