English rockers The Damned are one of the most influential outfits of all time. Although they’re hailed as one of the original punk bands, The Damned are also so much more than that.
They outlived many of their punk contemporaries, and much of this can be attributed to the fact that their creative vision was more unique than simply a safety pin through the ear or a faux-anarchist outlook. One would argue that out of the first wave of British punk bands, The Damned rank right at the very top, giving the Sex Pistols a run for their money.
Arguably, the most significant period of the band’s career started in 1980 with the release of The Black Album, which saw the band make their first foray into gothic rock. This would kick off a four-album run of increasingly dark music, with 1982’s Strawberries, 1985’s Phantasmagoria and 1986’s Anything following this route further.
Thanks to the brilliance of this period, the band are hailed as one of the key influences on the proliferation of the goth subculture, and in addition to frontman Dave Vanian’s vampire-inspired attire, they helped to give the movement some of what are now regarded as its defining features, alongside the likes of Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, The Cure and The Sisters of Mercy.
Whilst there are many outstanding moments from The Damned’s explicitly goth period, ’13th Floor Vendetta’ from The Black Album makes a strong case to be the highlight. An atmospheric piece carried by new bassist Paul Gray’s funky bassline and augmented by the expert use of reverb, the track sounds incredibly fresh today, some 42 years after it was recorded.
As this was, ostensibly, the band’s first dalliance with all things goth, it was only suitable that the song was inspired by a horror movie classic, 1971’s The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Starring Vincent Prince, Joseph Cotten and Hugh Griffith, the film, and its sequel Dr. Phibes Rises Again are cult classics owing to the plot and art deco settings. The film follows the titular character on his quest for vengeance as he murders the doctors responsible for his wife’s death.
Vanian explained the song’s provenance during an interview with Mojo: “13th Floor Vendetta was inspired by The Abominable Dr. Phibes. We watched it all the time. I always loved Vincent Price. It’s beautifully shot and stylised. I had a piece on the piano and Captain (Sensible, bass) liked it. Rat (Scabies, drums) went to bed, ‘Aw forget it!’ and Captain said, ‘We’ll get some work done now…’ We stayed up and finished it at 6am as the sun was coming up. It was the last song done on the album. I had the movie on in the background, writing the lyrics.”
An incredible song inspired by an iconic film, there’s no surprise that The Damned‘s work in the 1980s had a palpable gothic atmosphere, they took their cues from the very best in the genre. For anyone who hasn’t heard it, The Black Album is well worth a listen; it is a masterclass in all things goth from start to finish.