What if I were going to high school now, like the current gaggle of teen-agers that line up around the block for a concert, rather than in the '80s? Instead of walking to the record store for vinyl LPs by The Cure, Depeche Mode and Killing Joke, I'd probably be downloading Walking With Strangers, the newest album by Toronto goth sextet The Birthday Massacre.
Lo and behold, "goth" doesn't mean the same thing it did 20 years ago. Sure, glistening, new-wavey synth melodies stand out in the Birthday Massacre's arsenal of quasi-perky gloom, as does the pigtailed persona of frontwoman Chibi, whose spooky-girl vocals echo the evil side of teen-pop as much as they evoke legendary sirens Siouxsie Sioux and Danielle Dax (not to mention second-gen successors Switchblade Symphony).
But The Birthday Massacre -- who started out in London, Ontario, in 1999 under the name Imagica -- express goth through the filter of growing up in the '90s. That's when Lollapalooza dragged alterna-culture into the mainstream, and when bands such as Orgy, Deadsy and Marilyn Manson merged the masculine allure of heavy, crunchy guitars with dressing up in fishnets and pale makeup to attend the local dark-dance night. Along the line, it became OK for high school goths to cease being loners and to form social cliques like the jocks and the stoners.
Now, chain stores such as Hot Topic benefit from fans buying the flood of related merchandise, as do labels like Metropolis, America's largest goth/industrial indie, which has released three albums for Birthday Massacre since 2004. The band's line of clothing, with the eerie and distinctive "bloody bunny" insignia, is flying off the shelves, and its track "Video Kid" appears on Cleopatra Records' definitive This Is Neo-Goth compilation, alongside current stars like Crüxshadows and VNV Nation. Who knows -- next year you might hear them on WXDX between Korn and Evanescence.
But everything's not just a shallow sales pitch -- there's a method beneath the band's macabre exterior, and serious thought behind the lyrical themes on Walking With Strangers, as guitarist Rainbow told German goth/industrial zine Zillo. "We wanted [the album] to feel like someone wandering through the halls of their childhood elementary school," he said. "The experiences we endured throughout those years have followed us into adulthood and define much of who we are and what we have become."
One foot in the classroom and the other in the nightclub: What pensive, journal-scribbling goth kid can't relate to that?
The Birthday Massacre with Schoolyard Heroes and Creature Feature. 7 p.m. Sun., Jan. 20. Mr. Small's Theatre, 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. $13. All ages. 412-821-4447 or www.mrsmalls.com