The art of a primed and ready music compilation is a fine one. It’s akin to building the perfect party guest list. A tricky recipe that could collapse the whole shebang if you invite two or three bores who think Smash Mouth is high musical art and refer to films from the 1990s as “really old.” No one has time for such dull swine, much like how a great idea for a compilation can sink with a handful of meh to why-have-I-been-forsaken-by-my-absent-gods songs.
The reverse of the musical worst-case scenario is when the chosen theme gets pulled off beautifully with nary a hitch in sight. When you can click play and be fully absorbed into the medley of songs, it’s a beautiful thing. Especially when the theme in question is one that delves into realms of the supernatural fantastic: sensuality, death, blood drinking, and melancholy. Using vampirism as an aesthetic direction is something that is rife with all kinds of gloriously gothic, sinister, and occasionally cheeky potential. While there are multitudes of comps that have had all of the above themes, only a small handful have been released with a specific vampire theme in the past thirty years.
Among this micro-genre of comps are two albums that truly encapsulate the multitudinous shades of black bleeding vermilion ribbons that are the creative-sonic soundscapes for the vampires we love, dread, and perhaps even want to be. In 1996, the Canadian release of A Delicate Dependency: Music for Vampires set the absolute bar on both what vampire-themed music compilations should aspire to but mix-albums in general. (Not to be confused with Rhino Records’ 2010 Music for Vampires compilation, which has some great songs but is comparatively more generic.)
Compiled by Steve Cranwell, A Delicate Dependency sports its legitimate stripes before even cracking the physical case open. Its title comes from the late Michael Talbot’s cult vampire novel, 1982’s A Delicate Dependency. Going for a somewhat literary deep cut is always a richly plumed feather to put in your compilation cap! Then there’s the artwork, which eschews any fang-bearers for a simple close-up of the downcast face of an old graveyard statue. It’s elegant in its funereal beauty and definitely speaks more to the school of the melancholy romanticism of being undead than to the more old-school monstrous devils of legend and lore.
How disorienting and isolating immortality must be, and how strong he must be to weather it.
Michael Talbot’s A Delicate Dependency
The music itself fully lives up to its title and aesthetic trappings. The first track, “Finally I” by Pieter Nooten and Michael Brook is a swerve of beauty, instantly setting the tone for the rest of the album. This instrumental piece is ethereal, layered-in-loveliness, and is like a rich blanket of emerald moss covering a long-forgotten tombstone. No shock that it’s so good, since the musical pedigrees of both Nooten, who was an early member of Clan of Xymox, and Brook, who played on the exquisite live David Sylvian and Robert Fripp album, Damage, are bar none. (If you love this track, do check out the album it originally comes from, 1987’s Sleep With the Fishes.)
The next two tracks, the Cocteau Twins’ “Domino” and Love & Rockets’ “Saudade” mirror each other’s exquisiteness, bringing a vibe of otherworldly magical realism and exquisite European tonal paganism. (Though the Cocteau Twins song is a slight misspelling since the track is actually “Donimo” from their 1984 album, Treasure.) Both bands rarely, if ever, created less-than-fascinating works and having them side-by-side begs for a cloud of clove smoke and scribbling fantastical words. Also, kudos to Cranwell for taking the time to utilize several instrumental pieces, with the aforementioned “Finally” and “Saudade” (one of Love & Rockets’ most overlooked but cherished pieces), as well as an excerpt from Schubert’s “Trio in E Flat.”) All of them gel so beautifully with the other tracks on the album.
Speaking of which…
In the discipline of our ways and in the passing of momentary stillness/
We see our chaos in motion
“In the Kingdom of the Blind the One-Eyed are Kings” Dead Can Dance
Continuing the use of artists from the 4AD label which on this comp alone includes the Cocteau Twins, The Birthday Party, Pieter Nooten & Michael Brook, and with track four, Dead Can Dance and their song, “In the Kingdom of the Blind the One-Eyed are Kings.” From their classic 1988 album, The Serpent’s Egg, this song is sweeping and mystical in ways that feel as firm as they do obtuse. (Which is also a descriptor of my own relationship with this band’s work as a whole and I mean it resolutely with love.) The other cult favorite record label that gets well represented here is Beggar’s Banquet, with Love & Rockets, Bauhaus, Nico, and Peter Murphy all making great bedmates with the 4AD artists.
In fact, with Peter Murphy, one of the most striking and storied godfathers of goth rock and darkwave, we get his song “Wish.” Another trend of A Delicate Dependency is that out of the twelve songs that play on this album, only two of the tracks have lyrics that directly use vampiric imagery and even those feel like they are more nebulous and less literal with intent. This is a fantastic thing because you don’t always need ribbons of blood and silken black wings to paint a rich horror picture. “Wish” is a charcoal smudged song of longing, with Murphy plaintively crooning, “Wish I was a nomad/Living in your land/An Irish tinker/ Drinking juice of rose/From your hand.” Gorgeous lyrics and sad longing combined with Peter Murphy’s voice and phrasing is a gift so golden that it feels undeserved.
Baleful sounds & wild voices ignored/Ill luck disaster the one reward/Violated
sanctity of supermen’s hills/So sad, love lies there still
“Hollow Hills” Bauhaus
The gifts continue with both Nico’s smokey cover of the Rodgers & Hart show tune, “My Funny Valentine” (from her brilliant final album, 1986’s Camera Obscura) and Bauhaus’ “Hollow Hills” serving mottled romance and apocalyptic decay in an aural one-two punch. The former has Nico performing musical alchemy by turning an old standard into something else entirely and transforming all of the original’s shininess and sun into something aged and full of a love rife with strange juju and possible loss. “Hollow Hills,’ like so much of Bauhaus’s work, is evocative in its merging of beauty and eerie, between the ashes of lyrics like “…lament repent oh mortal..”, Murphy’s vocals, and the majesty of sporting players like David J, Daniel Ash, and Kevin Haskins.
The interconnectedness of many artists on A Delicate Dependency continues with “Nothing” by David J. and famed poet, artist, and member of Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar, Rene Halkett. (Insert observations about Bauhaus meeting Bauhaus here.) Halkett reads his poem of the same name, which has some hauntingly on point lines like, “…Nothing exists. Not even past to be remembered. If no one can remember no one can tell…” with equally astonishing and inspired musical backing from J. Think about the eternal truth in such a line. Why is our species continually cutting its own limbs off every time they threaten to regrow? There are few comps that would have the stones to feature such a song and bless Cranwell and company for possessing such dedication to creating a pure and one-of-a-kind atmosphere.
While the CD release only lists ten tracks, the album sports two bonus tracks in the form of Bauhaus’s “Crowds” and The Birthday Party’s “Release the Bats.” “Crowds” is another smart choice, with A Delicate Dependency being that rare vampire/horror themed comp that uses a Bauhaus song that isn’t “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” (That comes later…but not that much later.) It’s a vicious song with beautiful piano accompaniment that has Peter singing, “…What do you long from me? A slim Pixie, thin and forlorn. A count, white and drawn..” (Writer’s note. Yes, please.) before he launches the attack of “…You worthless bitch! You fickle shit! You would spit on me, you would make me spit!” It’s such a great tune and one that most don’t typically associate with Bauhaus, though maybe they should.
“Release the Bats” on the other hand is arguably the most famous Birthday Party song, though to quote Nick “Frankenstein Lounge Lizard” Cave, “Here’s the song you love the most and that we hate the most!” It’s the most expected song on this album but hey, far be it from me to deny any song that has one of the greatest hearts and voices in music ever, the late Rowland S. Howard, playing in it. “Release the Bats” is raucousness defined with Cave rock-shrilling, “…SEX HORROR SEX BAT…” My personal choice of The Birthday Party’s would have been “Nick the Stripper,” because the image of a vampire that could be described as “…a fat little insect…” is terrifying.
A Delicate Dependency: Music for Vampires is a stunning compilation that could serve as a soundtrack not only for its literary namesake but for a rich-in-the-old-soil and black-in-the-heart horror film. It’s sadly been long out-of-print but can still be found online, both in slightly pricey used copies and via YouTube and torrent sites.
One year after A Delicate Dependency’s release, Cleopatra Records, which was a veritable touchstone for multitudes of budding goths and darkwave lovers during the 1990s and 2000s released Vampire Themes. Sporting the tagline of “Featuring Music from and Inspired by Vampire Films” and Caroll Borland’s lovely predatory face from the 1935 film, Mark of the Vampire, Vampire Themes is so much more than what it seems. Which may be a turn off for some, but for others, it’s a black-velvet box wrapped with red ribbon to both cineastes and fans of goth, punk, and electronic.
Vampire Themes opens with a track simply titled “Intro” and credited to the late and eternally great Christopher Lee. While it might be doubtful that Lee himself orchestrated the catchy electronic chamber music behind the beautifully chosen quotes from Jess Franco’s gem, El Conde Dracula (1970), it’s a fantastic and unexpected way to open the album. Plus, El Conde Dracula does not get enough love, so getting to hear Lee speaking lines like, “I shall await you with pleasure” is the ginchiest for us fans of both Franco and Stoker.
After that, we get the live version of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by Bauhaus, which while we all knew was coming, is still so mighty and perfect. The studio version is great but it is the live one that reigns firm and steadfast as the superior iteration of the classic. The track was used, quite beautifully, in Tony Scott’s 1983 adaptation of the Whitley Strieber vampire novel, The Hunger, complete with Peter Murphy on screen singing. Who better to follow Christopher Lee himself?
Following is The Electric Hellfire Club’s cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” Wait, why is this on a vampire-themed comp? Well, due to Guns N’ Roses’ cover which was used for Neil Jordan’s 1994 adaptation of Anne Rice’s famous novel, Interview with the Vampire. Which is better? While technically Laibach has the best cover of the tune, Electric Hellfire Club absolutely bests GNR here, retaining the original song’s sinister purpose while putting their own spin on the classic.
Can’t you see all the shadows hanging over?/ As your world turns from stone to dust.
“Graveyard Shift” Nosferatu
The next track, by underrated British gothic band Nosferatu, “Graveyard Shift,” is itself inspired by the equally underrated 1987 film of the same title. (Not to be confused with the wholly unrelated 1990 Stephen King adaptation movie of the same name.) This is some high-quality gothic rock, bringing in equal elements of shadows, crunch, and melody. It would have been beautiful to hear alongside the film itself, which was far more original than most ever gave it credit it for.
Next up is Leaether Strip’s cover of the track of “Vampire Hunters,” from Wojciech Kilar’s masterful soundtrack for Francis Ford Coppola’s muddy with bright spots, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). The Danish group does a wonderful job covering such a striking track, making it one of the many highlights of the comp. Also, side note but Kilar’s work for this film is beyond stellar and should be heralded more like the masterpiece that it truly is. Coppola’s adaptation has some high points but none that are higher than Kilar’s work, which Nosferatu honors quite nicely here.
He was brought across in 1228/Preyed on humans for their blood.
Now he wants to be mortal again./To repay society for his sins
On the strong-track train, we have both Ex-Voto’s fun-as-glow-in-the-dark-fangs cover of the theme from Jim Wynorski’s 1990 horror-comedy, Transylvania Twist and Bell, Book & Candle’s rendition of the theme song for the cult TV show, Forever Knight. Ex-Voto captures the whimsy and Diet-Castlevania tones of their source material, while Bell, Book & Candle conducts a faithful ode to Fred Mollin’s work for the criminally underrated show. The only thing lacking is hearing actor Nigel Bennett’s melodious voice read the opening lyrics, which is resplendent in the original. But it’s far from a deal breaker and overall, is an iron-strong cover.
Feel my blood enraged/It’s just the fear of losing you
Don’t you know my name?/You’ve been so long.
Cat People (Putting Out Fire)
Continuing on the cult-culture current, there is Finland’s Two Witches’ “Dracula Rising,” tied to the 1993 Fred Gallo film of the same name. This by far is one of the best tracks on the comp, with the vamp-friendly gothic stalwart band creating something mysterious, melodious, and unearthly. Then there’s Big Electric Cat, a classic goth band who shares a name with a fantastic Adrian Belew song. Here, they cover David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting Out Fire),” which was used for Paul Schrader’s 1982 remake of the Jacques Tourneur’s 19402 gem, Cat People. Neither film or song has anything to do with vampires, but Schrader’s emphasis on eroticism and shrouded supernaturalism plus anything Bowie-related in general lends itself quite well to the theme. On top of that, Big Electric Cat does a phenomenal job of covering an already great song.
Vampire Themes is such a great compilation. It’s not perfect but is pretty close, giving ample atmosphere, nods to much genre cult culture while featuring some of the strongest goth and darkly inclined electronic acts of the 1990s. It’s an album whose first impression is good and only grows more and more with each subsequent listen.
The power of both A Delicate Dependency and Vampire Themes is that not only are they musically standout, both also paint some layers and shades upon one of the oldest and continuously riveting supernatural creatures. The beauty and power of the vampire are not what you think is obvious, but instead lies within the rust-colored nooks and musk-scented crannies of what you often overlook.