The Catastrophic Decomposition Ballet (Of Ashes In Violet)
by Vincent Daemon
For Part 1 Click Here
Pompeii 99 were, quite simply, an awful act, having released an lp and a 7” (best avoided) and being very minor players in a quite varied and altering new mutation of underground sounds. But they had an apocalyptic aesthetic of surrealism that Rozz also shared, at that time, his own fixations turning from Christian hypocrisy and nightmare to Surrealism and Dadaism. Aside from hard drugs, all Rozz was really doing after the demise of the original Christian Death was personal writing (poetry mostly), visual collage art, and performing in the noise-nightmare performance art duo Premature Ejaculation.
P.E. was a complete anomaly, being both thoroughly non-musical and hyper-confrontational. This is stuff that made the screeches and grinds of Throbbing Gristle sound like fukking Bach, and was fully meant to sound/be as such. At one particularly infamous performance, Ron Athey (the other half of the duo) ate a crucified roadkill cat he had come upon before the performance.
(Almost shamefully — not so much so — I admit that I would have paid good money to see that . . . there is a classic photo of the incident, and it is ghastly — and yes, apparently he did contract a weird contagion after this — if you eat roadkill, or fukk it [GG Allin], something bad will happen to you — *Henceforth I am not libel for the health of anyone who may be impressionable enough to try and eat roadkill after reading this article — do so at your own risk, dummy).
After that incident, P.E. was unbookable, officially, though they did continue to release material up until even after Rozz’s passing. Seriously, there is a lot of material. They (Rozz and Ron) even created their own label through with which to distribute the (mostly cassette) releases (called The Happiest Tapes On Earth). The potent, disturbing visual imagery is also very important to the whole of the idea of P.E., but realistically Rozz was stagnating, strung-out and making endless amounts of morbidly disturbing collage art, starving, and far from ready to give up live performance.
Henceforth, it was Rozz who joined Pompeii 99, from whom Yann Farcy (president of L’invitation Au Suicide records) had convinced Rozz and Valor to change the name of, to what Rozz wanted the least association with — Christian fukking Death. The original C.D. had not ended well for Rozz, or anyone involved, and I believe he really wanted to distance himself from all of that. Rozz and Valor both wanted the act to remain Pompeii 99 (I can guarantee you had they, I would not be writing this article right now).
Yann Farcy’s reasoning to Rozz as to why they should keep the name? People were already familiar with Christian Death (far more so than Pompeii 99, whom A&M Records had just signed then subsequently dropped) and it was their best shot for success; people loved their sinisterly gaudy performances; and it was just too good a name not to use (of which he was right). *However, I’ve always viewed Valor himself as somewhat of a . . . master negotiator, if you will (avoiding the much more realistic term of manipulator), and Rozz was notoriously highly impressionable to this (as well as blatant sycophancy). He had apparently been born with a great sensitivity and predisposition to both. *Valor used this to his advantage, I believe, without question, and you’ll understand why in the next part.
Reluctantly, Rozz and Valor agreed. Yann Farcy’s reasons were logical, perhaps given the circumstances, even irrefutable. These are people who lived and were dying for their art, their music, poetry; starving, addicted artists, tortured in every sense, making new and amazing sounds together.
In 1983, the new C.D. appeared on the U.S. public access television program Media Blitz, lip synching “live” horribly to “Cavity” and “Romeo’s Distress,” ending this fiasco by giving a bizarre, incoherent, nonsense interview, of sorts, to the even more bizarre and polyester turtleneck-sweatered goon of a host. It is embarrassing to witness. They needed a desperate change. It seemed as though they were becoming the goth equivalent of Fleetwood Mac in their own scene (something that would only escalate tenfold and eventually again further fracture the band) .
So in late 1983/early ‘84 to Europe they went, booked a tour, and recorded the radically different sounding concept album Catastrophe Ballet, in Monmouth, Wales, at Rockfield studios. It was surreal in sound and word, and soft on the ear. Odd tales of ancient myths and legend transfused with that of the at-the-time Cold War paranoia-terror of Reagan-era nuclear politics, served on a Dadaist platter of swirling, beautiful and different music. It really is one of the most interesting Apocalypse-centered concept pieces ever recorded (and there really are more than you’d think), with a sound of delicacy and words of fierce brilliance that blend together to become the aural Jezebel on the Dragon, so to speak. It is a powerful, classy album; a stark contrast to the deathly anti-christian gloom of the original lineup. Bassist Constance Smith quit just before the tour, being replaced by Dave Roberts of Sex Gang Children fame.
ASHES IN VIOLET
The tour was successful, the performances intense, the Catastrophe Ballet album quite well received in the U.K. They were already legends, per se, in their own right.
But no one was happy. Funds had seemed to become mysteriously misappropriated, they were working incessantly yet were still dead broke, getting tired, and the drug use and general degeneracy had grown ever more intense as they struggled, popular (in their genre) yet still achingly impoverished. Yeah, the whole aforementioned Fleetwood Mac reference from above continued on.
Gitane Demone became pregnant with Valor Kand’s son (eventually named Sevan). The band continued onward, Rozz’s behaviors, chem-issues, and depressions (according to Valor there had been several suicide attempts at this time from Rozz) growing constantly, ever more bizarre, as they went.
After the tour, in Autumn of 1984, they returned to the U.S. and recorded the ASHES lp. This potent, serious masterwork again featured a radically different sound approach. This was heavy, a new and different kind of darkness taking hold, and it pushed the experimentation of previous efforts that much further into the realm of the bizarre. There seems to be no general concept per se, other than decay, sickness, and being forever frozen in those act(s) of said sickness and death, the two perhaps being ultimately one and the same. The band was in that spot themselves, just then, both psychologically and functionally falling to their own mental plagues, crumbling under the gravity of their own demons.
Yet for as much death features on the album, the sickly-sweet putrescence and beautifully rendered rot contains the sounds of newborn Sevan Kand wailing, a fresh soul unto the world, on the final soundscape-track. This lineup knew they were finished as such, and the never-ending gusts (and ghosts) of change blew in once again.
Rozz Williams’ quit the band. But not before a small series of U.S. dates to promote Ashes, which finalized with the live-extravaganza final performance The Path Of Sorrows (not to be confused with later C.D. album of same name, more on that in a later Part), held on April 6th, 1985. It was a full-on live performance-art masterpiece, eventually released on ROIR Cassettes in late 1985 as The Decomposition Of Violets, capturing perfectly the vibe of the affair. The show itself involved several costume changes, various performers, and many an Alice Cooper-worthy antic, from what I understand of the strange tales of this event I’ve read/heard over the years. Hell, they even had whack-job televangelist and “faith healer” Peter Popoff perform his horse-shit schtick as the opener! Incidentally, I wish video of this existed somewhere, as I’d love to see this show. After all, it is the album that started this particular musical obsession that lurks and fascinates me to this very day. But I digress.
The performance (and ASHES lp) also featured one Barry Galvin, aka: Bari-Bari, on guitar, who would go on to play a bit more with C.D. before forming his own amazing project Mephisto Walz.
After the Path Of Sorrows gig, Rozz quit the band, officially claiming that he had simply lost interest, and no longer desired to tour. *My personal opinion of this is that the drugs, and his love life (notorious and sad, legendary in its own way) had temporarily deadened his ability to connect with that most important of the many facets of his being.
And here is where the nonsense with split fanbases comes in.
See, Rozz didn’t just “quit the band,” as it were. They were already scheduled to tour Italy, then work their way across Europe, where their sounds and ideas had really taken off. Quite simply, Rozz was sick, and he could no longer do it at that time. But the tour was already booked, and both his quitting and a severe and sudden name change would have screwed the whole lot over, really. It’s a bizarre issue that boils down to complex psychological issues of both self-preservation (Valor) and intellectual properties (Rozz — long before that idea came into such popular being, if being at all).
So Rozz and Valor made a deal, we’ll call it. Rozz suggested they change their name to The Sin And The Sacrifice. But Valor had a different name entirely in mind for the band, one he was initially against. And it was a familiar name, one that people/fans already knew well. And Valor Kand is Valor Kand, and ever so slyly, he would indeed have his way. After all, it is a name too good not to be used.
Catastrophe Ballet (1984, L’invivitation Au Sucide Records)
Ashes (1985 L’invitation Au Suicide Records)
Decomposition Of Violets (live 85) (1985 ROIR Cassettes)
(All re-released, at some point over the years, through Cleopatra Records)
POMPEII 99 (if you feel you must):
Look At Yourself (1982 Nostradamus Records)
Ignorance Is The Control 7” ep (1982 Nostradamus Records)
Vincent Daemon, writer and rabblerouser, can be followed on FB @ https://www.facebook.com/vincent.daemon.1 , and join his blog The Writings Of A Depraved Mind @http://vincentdaemon.blogspot.com/?zx=e40931ba40511a11