The 69 Eyes – music review

The 69 Eyes – music review

The 69 Eyes are one the best goth bands to ever grace music. They are the only great goth rock band besides the classics of Bauhaus, The Cure, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. That is a large role to fill and an amazing accomplishment. Coming from Finland, the band has managed to be very unique for being in such an isolated northern part of the world compared to the concentration of gothic rock more towards England. This has likely been a part of how they manage to stay so high quality with such unique inspiration, existing in their own icy secluded world of beautiful strangeness.

The gothic themes are thick on their songs, but what is really great about The 69 Eyes is that they actually get the entire trajectory of goth rock. Unlike so many people in clubs who take themselves far too seriously, The 69 Eyes see rock tradition in what they do, and they express irony and humor in their songwriting. The songs are about death, excess, darkness, and fatal romance, but they are more aware than the vast majority of bands that all of that is proper rock and roll. It’s rock music brought back to its subversive and pessimistic roots of wanting to live in the dark in clubs with beer and likeminded people without much desire to make mainstream society happy, and that is true rock and roll.

Jyrki with The 69 Eyes
Jyrki with The 69 Eyes in Denver, Oriental Theater, 4/23/19

In many respects, that is the actual point of having a gothic art scene in the first place. The artistic intent behind the better people involved has been to offer intelligent avenues for uniqueness and weirdness in a way that is safe, silly, and in tune with musical traditions of exploring culture. The love of rock itself comes first with the band, and they master gothic trappings to show that while less successful acts have tended towards making themselves take subculture too seriously as its own end or a commercial enterprise, there is real art, beauty, and even vital musical tradition at stake in what gothic rock can express.

The development of goth rock is a fascinating story. It grew out of the pessimism and anarchy of punk but crossed that with a dark romanticism and love of being underground and different. While punk grew out of anger over the collapse of idealism in classic rock with its hopes for peace, love, and freedom, goth rock decided that life is fatalistic anyway. So artists might as well enjoy living underground rather than hoping to fix much of anything or being angry enough to break things the way the punks wanted. Bands like The Cure, Bauhaus, and Siousxie and the Banshees embarked on serious creative sonic experiments that mixed the core of rock with dark romantic guitar riffs and atmospheric simplicity into a new sound focused on dark aesthetics and an embrace of oddness.

Jyrki with The 69 Eyes

Siouxsie used extremely weird vocal techniques to mix beautiful singing with intentional disruption while Budgie brought simplicity to drumming but with very odd masterful rhythms. It captured the beautiful simple but profound catchiness of The Beatles and added post punk skepticism, darkness, and weirdness, and they have always maintained that few other bands have ever understood anything gothic. The Cure brought melodic guitar with dark psychedelia on top of the basics of punk and a continual reverie on tragic romance. Bauhaus filled things out with pseudo mystical nocturnal sounds layered over punk with disruptive sounds and gentle harmonies sometimes seeming on the edge of madness but allowing music to break through to a new and weird place that is too original to be called a trend. All three bands are quite literally works of genius. To give even more emphasis to the importance of goth rock, Peter Murphy and Siouxsie Sioux are two of the best vocalists ever to work in rock.

With The 69 Eyes, we see the only successful attempt to fully create goth rock afterwards. There are good minor bands around, but the sound is very hard to create properly. Besides the basics of dark themes and nocturnal sounds of dark against light that make almost every gothic project, the classics in the movement have had profound inspiration and execution along with beautiful experimentation that really can’t be copied. The Cure playing live is indescribably beautiful for Robert Smith’s guitar melodies and flights off into dark psychedelia that make The Grateful Dead seem conservative. Gothic really did break new artistic territory in its best days, and the challenge of true rock and roll doing this is a hard one, because rock instrumentation is basic compared to industrial music and much harder to take to an effectively gothic place without simply being a pastiche as often happened with later attempts.

Jyrki with The 69 Eyes

Jyrki 69, Bazie, Timo-Timo, Archzie, and Jussi 69 have managed to create a true goth rock path that is the equal of the best the genre has managed to create. Each song is a nocturnal canvas with surprising sounds and haunting creations that stay tongue in cheek enough to emphasize that rock and roll is the point of the entire exercise. What I find important here is that if we do think the classic styles of goth rock are so radically important, then there is a need to link this to the larger rock tradition. The 69 Eyes do exactly that by paring things down to the basics with overwhelming atmosphere, beautiful playing, and focused composition. Each song is its own story of dark rock. 

For my money, their most important album is the great Paris Kills, which should be counted as one of the most important rock albums ever made. It’s among the most nocturnal recordings anyone will ever hear. Dripping with dark streets, shadows, haunted atmosphere, and glistening guitar riffs with velvety dark vocals, it’s a perfect album. Crashing High opens the album with an instantly fatalistic view of romance, a frequent idea in their songs. The refrain of, “So why, you wanna fall in love. Crashing high, from high above,” is pessimistic but not depressing. It encourages fun and connection without expectations of a fairy tale. Realism to The 69 Eyes is fatalistic fun while we are alive and not a search for perfection in love or anything else. Dance D‘Amour follows it with the idea of simply dancing and connecting all night as a nocturnal way to get away from yourself. Betty Blue is a love song about running away, but it’s about the meaninglessness of life causing us to seek to fall into each other for enjoyment and meaning. It’s not fake idealized love, but connecting in the dark with passion. Grey slows things down and is about darkness from a personal perspective and not wanting to lose someone. Jryki sings for her to stay and asks the night not to fall on a couple, with darkness turning to blue. “Please stay. Don’t let it burn away. You stay. Let it turn us grey,” is about staying with someone forever, but it’s a gothic statement, because forever means into night and even death eventually. What’s great is that they are able to take the trope of so many cheap love songs and twist it to gothic fatalism without all the frills.

with Bazie from The 69 Eyes
with Bazie from The 69 Eyes

The album slows down a bit with Radical and seems to be heading into twilight with a beautiful gothic ballad that is too weird and dark to be a sappy song. It stays true to gothic vision by finding beauty in death and proposes not wanting to be young forever, but wanting to change and eventually be past life. Don’t Turn Your Back on Fear is about not being afraid to do things. Never turning your back on fear means facing excitement and being bold enough to live, and it’s maybe the most haunting song on the album, encouraging us to go and live in the night. Stigmata sounds wet all over in the night time. Forever More is about being close enough to feel a heartbeat, but that has stirring intonations of life, love, and death all at once. It is a beautiful and perfect metaphor. Still Waters Run Deep is a sad slow song with sweeping sounds of echoing vocals about intimacy. In the calm part of a relationship, there is room for recognizing depth. Dawn’s Highway is about the path to the light basically being death, abandoning the night to face the destructive harshness of light. It makes us yearn for beautiful darkness. You’re Lost Little Girl is the album’s most haunting song. Being lost is left open and metaphorical here. It could be anything that leaves a person lost and searching, and that makes it a gothic song to the core, because it’s an existential depiction of not knowing exactly who or where we are. 

With that remarkable classic being properly given its place in the live performances of the current tour, the new album Universal Monsters is solidly on form and a fiery return for the band. It’s a bit more upbeat and aggressive, and it also has some nice bluesy sounds. I’m very enamored with different ways that the blues are present in dark and heavy music of late. The Gospel by PIG is a great example, but MXMS also use deep dark soulful blues influences, and Zakk Wylde with Black Label Society is playing more blues than people realize in his metal songs about sin and redemption. I have little doubt that the dark and sometimes evil potential of the blues being at the grounding of rock music has something to do with how a band like The 69 Eyes can capture rock so perfectly through a genre that has sometimes unfairly been written off as just a subculture. Rock and roll was always supposed to be dark to some extent as even great classic rock bands like The Rolling Stones have shown on songs like Sympathy for the Devil. The 69 Eyes seem to be taking their very well perfected dark tendencies and joining them with a bit more metal and blues than normal on the new album, and it’s a great move, because it gives them hooks into a very creative current scene and provides an important foundation for the goth sounds they create so expertly.

Timo-Timo
Timo-Timo

Lady Darkness is a lovely song that starts off with a gentle groovy drumbeat from Jussi, and then turns into a smoothly rolling song with some of Jyrki’s best velvety vocals. It’s metaphorically caught in between going home with a girl and being taken by the night, but the beauty is unmistakably nocturnal. Shallow Graves is a nice song about the fleeting nature of life. For anyone who thinks that gothic songs are superficial, please notice that life is very transient and impermanent. So building our own graves for ourselves by focusing on tedium is probably less helpful than being nihilistic enough to accept that we all die eventually so that we might as well live in the meantime. Jerusalem is an underrated and beautiful song that has to be one of the band’s oddest creations. It’s about the mythical city and really does treat it as a myth, as in a place of dreams rather than a tangible location. By combining past and present descriptions, time literally does seem to disappear on the song. The later Peter Murphy albums with semi mystical tendencies are the best corollaries I can find. The album closes with the great Rock & Roll Junkie which has simple lyrics but beautiful bluesy guitar. It’s perfect to play live, and it sums up the importance of rock and roll for the Helsinki vampires.

On tour, they are a great live band. Touring with MXMS is especially exciting, because they are maybe the most nocturnal band around, making this the most gothic tour of the year. Gothic is supposed to be dark, friendly, and weird, and The 69 Eyes and MXMS both fit that vision to the core. They are very willing to experiment but always in ways that make sense within larger rock aesthetics. Both bands are an exciting underground mix of tradition meeting very dark and esoteric tendencies, and both bands favor beautifully airy sounds. It happens on Bazie’s guitar playing offering pauses and tempos that allow for his sounds to be absorbed and felt instead of continually shredding, opening up some true mystery. With MXMS Ariel’s vocals are beautifully airy and capture so much subtle perfection that her range and available styles are deceptive. When she croons into Salvation Hurts, the velvety vocals give way to a soaring and beautiful attack. Jyrki is a master though of velvety sounds, and he makes them seem like a complete vocal canvas with all the variations he finds on that style.

Jyrki with The 69 Eyes

The instrumental quality of the band is very high. Much like The Cure, everyone is very seasoned at playing together and making beautiful and subtle sounds with perfect rhythm. Bazie’s guitar stays more focused on the songs than Robert Smith’s heavenly melodic tangents, but it has a powerful and focused tone that is very moving and a way of carrying the listener into dark airy gothic places with more mystery than any other guitar. He is focused on traditional rock with dark intonation and lovely harmony. He is also very fun to drink with. Jussie is an anarchic drummer for such a focused band with nice tempo adjustments to build emphasis at different parts of the show, and Jyrki is simply a great singer and performer. There is too large a cliche of guys not having to be able to sing in rock bands, and then there are great exceptions to that like the enormous vocal talent of Peter Murphy. Jyrki is a great rock vocalist with a velvety delivery of classic rock turned into deep expressions of nocturnal melody.

If there are any true rock vampires around, it would be either Peter Murphy or Jyrki 69. Peter Murphy is nearly mystical in his reverie for gothic oddness and weird perceptions, but Jryki is a nocturnal vampire of sound. He catches soft and subtle sounds and sighs in his vocals, and is possibly the vocalist who is the most similar to the style that Ariel uses in her beautiful airy sounds with MXMS, making it a remarkably interesting turn of events that they are touring together. The friendliness of the band is also unmistakable. There is no rockstar ego at all with The 69 Eyes. They simply love what they do, and they are a joy to connect with. Bazie was one of the nicest people to be in a bar with after the Denver show. He was relaxed and cool and just loves rock and roll. The band deserves a huge following and a lot of appreciation for what they have done with genuine goth rock songs and with showing that this is a rock and roll enterprise to the core, and a very dark one.

The 69 Eyes
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