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Album Review

Die Oberherren – ‘Die By My Hand’ [Album Review]

The revival of a more rock-oriented expression of goth is well overdue in a post-darkwave era; and Die Oberherren may just be an essential aspect of the face of that reinvigoration.



Die Oberherren ‘Die By My Hand’ album artwork

Goth is a contentious space. With its wide array of clashing musical preferences and genres, its equally diverse crossovers within fashion, and its tenacious (perhaps even stubborn) refusal to compromise in the face of more positive world perspectives, it’s a constant source of wonder that it hasn’t imploded in a shower of (black) leather-and-lace infighting. If anything, it defies conventional wisdom and keeps coming back, like a Power Rangers villain in slightly better makeup.

And maybe it’s this ongoing evolution, or maybe it’s just a physiological reaction to the greater morass of unthinking optimism colouring the world, but either way, goth is here to stay, no matter what form it takes. The brainchild of Swedish musician Joakim Knutsson, Die Oberherren, is a prime example of this: goth in a new musical wrapper but unmistakable in its expression of world-weary ennui and melancholic darkness. In his endeavour to put together a band that is “an occult mix of The Lords Of The New Church, Adam and the Ants, John Carpenter and Billy Idol” (his words, not mine), Knutsson can claim mixed success, but Die By My Hand – his debut record featuring artists from well-received acts across the dark-and-gloomy spectrum like The Coffinshakers, Ghost, The Mobile Mob Freakshow and Gehennah – is nevertheless a very clear statement of commitment to goth-ness.

Album opener, “The Horned One Stabs,” makes the band’s position and loyalties clear from the get-go.

Musically, there’s a lot happening on Die By My Hand. Sure, there are the minor key, melody-driven riffs you’d expect from the Gothic Rock tradition, favourably recalling genre giants like Nosferatu or The Merry Thoughts, but more often than not, the nod is towards the Southern darkness narrative best exemplified by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds or Those Poor Bastards. There is also a fair proportion of vocal experimentation to take into account – far more, in fact, than the majority of ‘classic’ goth employed in their predominantly monotone mumbling. The end result is one of eclecticism rather than focus, but that’s really not a bad thing: the whole still remains cohesive in its straightforward ‘rock ensemble’ instrumentation, tone and theming – not to mention its die-hard appreciation of ’80s tropes. I refer, among others, to the inevitable ‘girl’s name song title’ in the tracklist – in this case, “Catrine.” I say inevitable in the face of the overwhelming body of historic evidence: The Sisters of Mercy had “Marian”; from Fields of the Nephilim, “Laura”; The Wake gave us “Christine”; Big Electric Cat’s “Christabel” or Clan of Xymox’ “Clementina,” just for starters.

Other vital fundamentals in the Goth primer (not to be confused with the recently-published “The Art of Darkness – The History of Goth” by John Robb from the Membranes) that Die Oberherren cleave closely to include the subtle arts of vampirism (“The Blood or the Wine”) and pagan ritual (“The Horned One Stabs”), but where the band truly shine is when they adopt a more political approach that errs slightly on the side of post-punk caution rather than all-out goth. For example, “Guns and Pills,” easily, the best arrangement and catchiest hook on the record, not to mention the most authentic societal commentary.

“The Blood or the Wine” may be a thematic cliché, but the song itself is catchy enough to overlook this.

While the total package Die Oberherren offers us with this record is not in actuality gothic rock in the strict (read: elitist neckbeard) sense, it is one hundred percent authentic in its appreciation of gothic rock sensibilities. On the Andrew Eldritch scale, it scores eight Carl McCoys. To contextualize, Die By My Hand comes in slightly below The Mission’s God’s Own Medicine and just ahead of Sex Gang Children’s Medea. As an aging proponent of the genre myself, and therefore old enough to know better but still willing to commit my identity to it, the revival of a more rock-oriented expression of goth is well overdue in a post-darkwave era; and Die Oberherren may just be an essential aspect of the face of that reinvigoration (resuscitation?) of the quintessential undead scene.

Die By My Hand Track Listing:

1. The Horned One Stabs
2. By the End of the Shore
3. Catrine
4. The Blood or the Wine
5. Clans of Darkness and Smoke
6. Guns and Pills
7. Black Nightshade
8. Something Wicked

Run Time: 35:21
Release Date: January 27, 2023
Record Label: Svart Records

This is Dayv. He writes stuff and makes being an aging goth cool again. Actually, nobody can do the latter, so let's just stick to him writing stuff. Predominantly about black metal, tattoos and other essential cultural necessities. He also makes pretty pictures, but that's just to pay the bills.