Halloween is less than a week away, and that means you need to start thinking about your party soundtrack for the night. Never mind the hackneyed, overripe “Monster Mash” — what you need is some goth. Defined by grim-faced performers sporting pallid complexions, an overabundance of black lace and leather, a fascination with all things olde and macabre, and vocal stylings that more often than not evoke an undead Ian Curtis, no other genre of music is better suited to score the spookiest day of the year.
So what is the most essential goth anthem to blast out of the speakers on Halloween? Popular wisdom would suggest Bauhaus’ debut single “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” since it’s the song that kicked off the whole gloom-laden trip over 30 years ago in the first place. Sure, the nearly-ten-minute-long song has a fantastic eerie vibe and (just as importantly) conjures up visions of the funeral of Hollywood’s most famous silver screen vampire. But it suffers from one major flaw: you can’t dance to it. Anyone who’s ever been to a goth club night can tell you that whatever is playing at any sort of mass gathering of scary-vibe aficionados has to get your feet moving. “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” doesn’t do that, but luckily there’s always the Sisters of Mercy’s pummeling seven-minute-plus goth dancefloor anthem “Temple of Love”, a track that’s not as well-known outside of goth circles but stands toe-to-toe with its spectral predecessor.
Emerging after the initial black burst spearheaded by Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and the Cure, the Sisters of Mercy became leaders of the second wave of goth groups that came to prominence in the British post-punk scene around 1983 and 1984. In contrast to their often-wispy genre forbearers, the Sisters—led by overbearing mastermind Andrew Eldritch, the sort of man who wears a leather jacket and sunglasses at all hours of the day without apologies—made sure that listener were aware that they were a gothic rock band. Early Sisters relied on huge reverberating drum machine beats, foreboding basslines, mesmerizing guitar melodies, and Eldritch’s massive-sounding baritone mutterings to wage war on polite pop and the dowdier end of post-punk in the name of a sort of cartoon rockism. While they weren’t all that scary in person (despite his carefully-cultivated domineering rock god image, Eldritch seems like a guy who wouldn’t last long in any sort of dust-up), the sound the Sisters laid to vinyl evoked a foreboding, bottomless sonic abyss that would swallow you whole if you weren’t careful.
The 1983 single “Temple of Love” is the group’s artistic pinnacle, released after the band perfected its sound but before Eldritch hooked up with Meat Loaf collaborator Jim Steinman to craft grandiose silliness like “This Corrosion”. “Temple of Love” is a lot of things—overblown, repetitive, pretty freaking long, hard to take seriously at times, etc. But that’s exactly what makes it so great. It embraces its own ludicrousness in a straight-faced manner, marries it to some killer hooks, and barrels through regardless, plowing through everything in its path. “Temple of Love” starts with a winding exotic melody that is gradually joined by insistent drum machine thumps and Eldritch’s cavernous intonation of the lines “With the fire from the fireworks up above me / With a gun for a lover and a shot for the pain at hand / You run for cover in the temple of love / You run for another but still the same / For the wind will blow my name across this land”, espoused as if he was heralding the arrival of Armageddon. That turns out to be the case when the full band slams into the mix at full volume about a minute into the track, those faux-strings sweeping back and forth and Eldritch echoing the word “love” as part of the chorus. It’s all pretty preposterous, but fantastically so. Every time the song surges as Eldritch sings “With the fire from the fireworks up above / With a gun for a lover and a shot for the pain”, it achieves an undeniable force of momentum that’s utterly gripping. Just as engaging is the mid-track breakdown, where the guitars, bass, and vocal drop out to let the drum machine pound out some basic patterns that are as effective as any human element of the song before building back to the chorus onslaught. Remarkably for a song that hits with the force of heavy metal (a genre Eldritch has professed admiration for), it’s got a good straight-ahead dance groove, favoring unsubtle four-on-the-floor beats instead of funky syncopation or melodic bass riff to get people moving.
For years “Temple of Love” was out of print, until it and the rest of the group’s independent label releases were compiled on Some Girls Wander by Mistake in 1992. Do take special note that the Sisters rerecorded the song in 1992 featuring Ofra Haza on backing vocals, which became a Top Five hit on the UK Singles Chart. Now, the original incarnation of “Temple of Love” already delicately straddled that thin line between awesomeness and ridiculousness. The 1992 version tips towards pure cheese, managing to come across as even more overwrought than the original. Although it lacks the visceral appeal of its 1983 incarnation, for some reason “Temple of Love ’92” is found in far greater abundance on YouTube. That just confounds me.
Whatever version strikes your fancy, “Temple of Love” is a solid contender for the title of the ultimate goth anthem (that isn’t “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”). It’s easy to craft a menacing front in goth (that’s kind of the point), but here the Sisters showed they had the musical mettle to back it up, rocking hard and aiming for the dancefloors with a tune so loud it demands to be listened to. Amidst all the melodrama, there’s a palpable sense of fun in goth that’s easy to overlook amongst all the po-faced gloom-and-doom mannerisms. And “Temple of Love” is fun, no matter how seriously you decide to take it