Review: Lathe Of Heaven – Bound By Naked Skies

Artwork for Lathe Of Heaven's 2023 album Bound By Naked Skies

Whisper it, Lathe Of Heaven might be bringing goth back.

In his recently published book The Art Of Darkness, veteran musician and writer John Robb traces the origins of the goth movement, citing the formula: “If you did a chemical equation of goth, it’s kind of Jim Morrison plus David Bowie plus punk equals goth.”

There’s a degree of subjectivity to that thought process of course, but Robb’s book was welcome in the sense that few genres have been less analysed and more derided in the last four decades than goth, which was as much a cultural phenomenon as a musical one.

Then as now it represented the means of expression for a tightly knit community, one which deliberately placed themselves on the outside of the mainstream. The ingrained belief that it’s misunderstood is easily tempered by an acceptance of the fact that this was an isolation deliberately engineered from the inside.

So, a new goth band. Where would such a thing come from? Manchester? Berlin? Leeds (the movement’s spiritual home)? Well, in the case of Lathe Of Heaven, the answer would be Brooklyn, New York. Named after a novel by science fiction author Ursula Le Guin, they formed in 2021 and, according to their press feature, ‘members of noteworthy Brooklyn based projects such as Pawns, People’s Temple, Porvenir Oscuro, Android, Hustler’.

Nope, us either. And the sundry backstory to their debut album Bound by Naked Skies also fails to mention the G word, instead describing their music as blending, ‘Elements of British New-Wave and Finnish Post-Punk into a nuanced juxtaposition of 80’s sonic mania’.

Frustratingly, the quartet are also seemingly interview and camera shy, thus letting this whatever-it-is do nearly all the talking and leaving interpretation up to the listener. If only there had been another genre with such a regular pattern of behaviour associated with it.

Joking aside, opener At Moment’s Edge in tone offers touchstone aspects for those familiar, with low-register, Eldritch vocals, cranked up guitar riffs and guttural bass, even if it sounds like somewhere underneath the haze a real drummer is hard at work.

As a host of second and third generation shoegaze bands have subsequently found, it’s one thing to want to sound like your heroes but another thing entirely to make it happen. Formed to swim against the tide of NYC’s, ‘torrent of hardcore punk and synth-driven pop revival’, whilst visual cliches are easy enough to dip into, on tracks like Ekpyrosis and Genome, Lathe Of Heaven lean heavily into goth’s punk roots, both speed-driven and throwing off a reverb drenched sense of gutter alienation.

If anything however this orthodox form is less interesting, dealing with the past so blatantly. Bound By Naked Skies often finds itself caught up in such a loop – even a track named Inertia presents itself at breakneck pace – and where an information vacuum exists, it’s hard to line up in which direction the angst is meant to be projected.

When there is seemingly more consideration, as on closer Heralds Of The Circuit Born and Moon-Driven Sea, the pattern escapes any constricting soundalike envelope, the atmospheric latter of which could be a more than passable extra from The Chameleons authoritatively grand Strange Times.

Lathe Of Heaven are at the moment seemingly within themselves, Bound By Naked Skies a series of tentative steps forward to a destination that wasn’t always a happy last stop for everyone.

They need not speak their music’s name, but it is, and there’s no reason not to believe that in the future that could become a very fine thing.

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