Life After Death

"I'm afraid of the dark / because that's where I live" — "Lord of the Flies" by Rozz Williams

Most famous for his role as lead singer of seminal California blood-rockers Christian Death, Rozz Williams lived out his life on the dark side of the American rock underground like a character from the most decadent, depraved works of his heroes — Jean Genet, Jim Morrison, Lou Reed and David Bowie. Though his musical influences were many and varied, Williams became increasingly frustrated by his role as the 1990s' King of the Gothic Underground, which, though unwanted, continued to grow, even as he experimented in such non-goth genres as 1997's spoken-word release The Whorse's Mouth, a Genet-meets-Morrison documentation of his battles with heroin addiction and (bi)sexual confusion. Finally, on April Fool's Day 1998, the distraught singer, with a typically black sense of humor, took his own life.

Despite his ongoing problems, the mid-'90s found Williams in peak form on releases such as Shrine, a glam-rock influenced mini-album produced by Bowie/Pop confrere Hunt Sales, and Dream Home Heartache, a collection of cabaret-style ballads performed with singer Gitane Demone. The new posthumous release, Live in Berlin, recorded at Berlin's Pfefferberg club in fall 1993, showcases the singer in his still underratedly fine form as he presides over a set of hard rock with Shrine's backing band, nicknamed Daucus Karota.

The emphasis here isn't on gothic gloom but rather on rocking energy: Songs such as "Love Lies" (RealAudio excerpt) possess the jagged edges that most current goth rock seems to lack. Williams even swaggers through a slinky version of T. Rex's "Sunken Rags" (RealAudio excerpt) with obvious relish; one can picture the puzzled looks of a German audience expecting far darker fare. They finally get their wish, though, on "Red-Handed," a song from Williams' post-Christian Death Shadow Project, and the previously unreleased "Steps" (RealAudio excerpt), which lurches agreeably along on the order of Bauhaus' "Bela Lugosi's Dead." Overall, though, Williams' vision here is more Diamond Dogs -era Bowie than it is Sisters of Mercy — and with a good dash of early Roxy Music thrown in for good measure ( most notably in the singer's often quaveringly Ferry-esque vocals).

Of a much better sound quality than other posthumous releases from deceased underground legends (think Joy Division's Still), Live in Berlin, like the rest of Williams' surprisingly substantial oeuvre, awaits discovery by a future generation of disaffected dark romantics playing in the rubble of a post-NASDAQ world.