The Crüxshadows are the best band in darkwave music. Their longevity and consistency has been an obvious standout for some time, with Rogue’s songwriting expressing unusual depths of introspection and strong statements about the human condition. The songs have Celtic elements and mystical suggestions that can be quite profound as well as deeply existential. After somewhat sporadic touring for the last few years, it was a delight to see them play a Halloween show at the Oriental in Denver for what was no doubt one of the best and most moving shows I have ever experienced.
The band is supporting their new album, Astromythology, which has been a smash success in Germany, where their largest fan base is found. Like every Crüxshadows album, it is filled with a bit of introspection, some spiritualism, a large amount of mythology, and musings on the nature of humanity. Each album manages to be unique though, and this time Rogue has really pushed the mythic into cosmic dimensions. It comes across a bit more universal and less tied to specific places than other releases. The songs have a heavenly dimension and treat people as more than physical earthbound creations, as though we are a part of the larger universe and reach higher planes just like the songs float above mundane things.
Talking to Rogue brought out some wonderful points about inspirations and sources for his work. The Crüxshadows albums are really his ideas, and he is the composer of the songs, but there are bits of collaboration with band members filling in instrumental passages and production, and he has a very strong sense of western history and mythology that factors into the songs. Some of the ideas are universal parts of humanity, and many have deep historical roots.
As a philosopher familiar with historical French and German thinking, I can appreciate this sourcing of the mythic in historical elements. There is a fascinating project of tracing major ideas, whether popular or esoteric, into etymologies, histories, and cultural milieus, and some of these songs have surely done this in a profoundly universal way. There is enough background to some of those elements that it wouldn’t be reasonable to examine them in a space like this, but Rogue has managed to translate them into uplifting gothic sounds with a wide appeal. By doing that, he takes what is really a profound message and experience and opens it up to other people who might not catch all of the intricacies of what he is doing but can well enjoy the beauty of the songs.
This is primarily a work of music even though it is extremely poetic, and it works chiefly for its songwriting even when there is such profound background adding deeper dimensions. Rogue told me that the songs are not meant to work only on the intellectual level, although he worked seriously on that dimension. There is also a physical and emotional appeal, and their music is profoundly danceable. Also, the emotional side of the songs very clearly overlaps into the spiritual. There is a Celtic bent to his songs of very uplifting qualities against adversity, as is also found in the work of VNV Nation and a number of excellent gothic artists. In the case of this band though, the music is able to inspire movement along with inspiration, awareness, and a sort of transcendence.
Ethernaut strikes me as their best mythic work still, with Winterborn being my favorite of their songs. The angel cycle was carried out through a number of works including that one, and it seems unusually anachronistic and sweeping in charting that story. The new album though is a remarkable advance for The Crüxshadows in many ways. These songs are less tied to a specific setting but are very cosmic in theme. While they all stand together, each one also seems more fitting for standing alone, but without seeming disjointed or having any weak songs. This is presumably the result of focusing on a theme rather than telling a long story, and the songwriting style and arrangements fit this very well with a bit more freedom of creation between songs. It creates a bit of space for pure sound and consciousness to emerge a bit more, and this reminds me somewhat of what Epica did on their excellent album, The Holographic Principle.
I’ve generally been very impressed by the last decade in gothic sounds seeming like a bit of a new flourishing of these sounds and ideas, but it seems that this is only getting stronger with established bands like this doing some of their strongest work on newer releases. Rogue’s lineup reflects that. JoHanna Moresco has played in the band for 11 years, and her electric violin is both exalted and haunting at once. It captures the mythic sweep of Rogue’s songs very well and is able to draw a lot of emotion alongside Jen’s keyboards and David’s accompanying violin. It’s quite an underused instrument in rock that is very appropriate for this band. The songs are so mythic and ethereal that guitar isn’t really sufficient for their performances. The violin parts add an emotive force and transcendent quality and glide alongside Rogue’s electric sounding voice. The vocals placed alongside the violin allow for ethereal sounds to emerge and makes the lyrics far more magical.
Rogue’s wife Jessica has taken over electric drums for some time now, and she captures the danceable rhythms very well, while Jen’s keyboards create beautiful points of emphasis against the violin. Victoria’s guitar is appropriately rock but light and rhythmic, and she captures some nice emphasis against the other strings. The mix of two violins with a guitar instead of the traditional bass is really a powerful way to open a different range of darkwave sounds which are much more angelic and create a truly unique experience.
As a performer, Rogue is a very intense but friendly and connected person who is able to convey his ideas with great drama and movement. He dances to the songs, but in a way that is part drama and acting to tell the story of his compositions. It’s an excellent performance technique, and the band manages to create a powerfully uplifting experience that stays fundamentally gothic and dark and very expressionistic. In keeping with gothic art, The Crüxshadows’ shows are really designed to be inclusive experiences where the audience is very much a part of what happens rather than commercial spectators. It is one of many ways in which the band stays very genuine about the things they represent.
Beauty is a predominant theme in The Crüxshadows songs, and on the the new album this takes on dimensions of astronomy. Beauty is found in less physical aspects of human existence and in the cosmos itself. It’s treated as a counterpoint to frailty, but broken things also have beauty in Rogue’s artistic world. So death and cosmic collisions lead to new creation, and all things are fundamentally beautiful underneath, or can be. This is a powerful perspective, because there is a vastness and harmony to the universe that defies simple reduction or description, a bit as though the album wants to state something about the unsayable.
Industrial music has a strong sense of mechanics even though it touches on many other things, and Rogue avoids this with a darkwave sound that is more sensual and fluid, designed to be an expression of things above and things within. It’s a fundamentally mystical approach to art that is meant to be fun, stirring, and expressive. Industrial sounds sometimes reach a similar result through mechanistic rhythms, but the Crüxshadows take a different approach of reaching within.
The song Home expresses a beautiful sense of loss and a desire to return literally, metaphysically, and metaphorically to a starting point. The impossibility of going back to who one was, or who others were, or what a place used to be is profound, though other interpretive senses of returning home are left open. It’s a keyboard heavy song, and Jen’s keys sound a bit like teardrops, while Johanna’s violin sounds particularly soaring and heavenly, as though the sky is open to Rogue’s thoughts. It’s an enormous statement as is the band’s entire career and where they came from all the way back with Telemetry of a Fallen Angel and songs like Marilyn, My Bitterness.
Winterborn has always been a standout song of The Crüxshadows to me and is a personal favorite. It’s particularly dramatic and apocalyptic but with a very strong message of transcendence. The spiritual element of Rogue comes through clearly in the idea that dying or living are either one fine as long as one fights for the right thing and becomes something good. The song is a battle cry played out in mystical guises. Angels feature prominently in the entire album, and sacrifice can make someone better. This is a profoundly deep song when all of the context is played through. There are pagan, Christian, and temporal aspects to the song as well as elements of love and mysticism. Whether taken as a mythic struggle or a present moment, selfhood is found through adversity and striving and refusal to be sucked into superficiality or negativity. The nihilism of death is certainly present, but as an overcoming of selfhood it’s a song that Nietzsche could be proud of but that also is undeniably spiritual in tone.
The band’s name is itself a play on pagan elements within christianity. It refers to the idea of being in the shadow of the cross, which is really made of much earlier pagan influences, with all the resonances of sacrifice and a play between temporary and lasting things that go along with that. It’s really a brilliant band with more going on than most people will get, but the dance beats get loads of people to love it.