Taking its name and inspiration from the Killed by Death bootleg compilations of rare and overlooked punk, Sacred Bones delves into the darkened corners and crevices of obscure ‘80s post-punk, goth, and death rock with Killed by Deathrock, Vol. 1. For the most part, it’s a fruitful and worthwhile pursuit. There are songs here that deserve accolades and adulation, but at least a couple should have been left in the dusty corner without fear of anyone ruining their mascara.
The compilation is a bit of a roller coaster ride, with several high peaks and a few deep troughs. It kicks off with one of those incredible highs, the nervous jangle of Your Funeral’s “I Want to Be You”. This all-female Colorado threesome has a tense energy, reminiscent of the Clean, that makes one wish there was more to their catalog than one 7” single. The bassline burbles, the drum snaps, and the dry reverb on the guitar support a bratty, nasal snarl of a voice. Unfortunately, it’s followed by Kitchen & the Plastic Spoons, whom Sacred Bones describes “as a sort of goof band”; sadly, they sound like it. The truly great synth line does its best, but alas, there’s no saving “Liberty” from poor drumming or cornball vocals.
Luckily, the next song is another rise with the arguably best known band on here, Twisted Nerve. Their singer may sound a bit too much like Julian Cope, but he never had a band this gloriously scuzzy behind him. Driving bass paired with a simply horrendous-in-all-the-right-ways guitar tone make this a lost classic. Yet again, the roller coaster dips into the poor Bauhaus-meets-Joy Division sounds of Move. But back it rises with Bunker’s “My Own Way”, whose drummer takes the medal for the most interesting and engaging work on Killed by Deathrock, Vol. 1. His dub-influenced drum line carries the song past the finish line in medal position while his bandmates seem content with merely getting it over with.
Thankfully, the roller coaster ride evens out as it goes along. Nothing else hits the depths of Kitchen & the Plastic Spoons or Move, but instead enjoyable if unspectacular songwriting levels the latter half of the album. The nigh-galloping Taste of Decay and bouncy energy of Glorious Din keep things moving but leave nothing in the mind, unlike Bunker’s drumming, or the guitar tone of Twisted Nerve, or absolutely everything about Your Funeral. The second half of this 40-minute mix would be a fun but relatively inessential listen if it weren’t for the noisy clutter of The Naked and the Dead, who sound like everything they ever loved in a mash of drum fills, peeling guitars, and affected vocals. This should be a mess, and it sort of is, but it’s a glorious one that triumphs against its own preposterous sensibilities.
In the end, Killed by Deathrock, Vol. 1 is a small triumph. Most of the album is a reclamation project of the highest order. It isn’t Nuggets, but then it isn’t intended to be. That seminal garage rock compilation mixed national top 40 hits with relative obscurities. Like the aforementioned Killed By Death, or the Pebbles compilations of lesser known ‘60s garage rock, this is about highlighting the bands that never broke. Rhino would never in a million years have included any of these artists on A Life Less Lived: the Gothic Box, and as such, Sacred Bones has done the music world a great service. Let’s hope that—as with the obscurities series that inspired it—there are many more volumes to come.