California’s music underground has had a certain strain of Gothy Synthpunk running through its veins for over a decade now. In the late Nineties and early Aughts, bands like San Francisco’s Phantom Limbs and Subtonix and LA’s New Collapse delivered heavy doses of frenetic, trashy and dark Synth-based punk heavily influenced by 70’s seminal LA groups like The Screamers and Nervous Gender with liberal dashes of O.G. LA Deathrockers Christian Death, the UK Batcave scene, and a noticeable pull from 90’s West Coast Post-Hardcore and Punk. Picking up this torch left dwindling for some years is the LA-based one-man band, BIRTH! AKA Douglas Halbert (also of Industrial noise-purveyors Elephant Skull). BIRTH!’s full-length debut, I Will, is an exemplary addition to the pantheon of California Deathrock and Synthpunk – raw yet compelling anthems soaked in funeral organ and cutting old-school Hardcore vocals.
I Will’s opener, “Value,” is a classic Deathrock stomper in the vein of Christian Death’s “Face” or Subtonix’s “Black Nails In My Coffin” with an extra dose of bile. On “Arms Crossed,” Halbert simultaneously skewers the apathy of a prospective lover and the affected apathy of punk-show spectators over a filthy Sci-Fi dirge. However, despite the throat-destroying, incendiary vocals, there is a sensitivity and creeping light at the heart of this seemingly vicious animal of a record. “My Home To Keep” is what one might call a “Deathrock power ballad,” -- if one can imagine such a thing. Over a downright pretty synth melody, Halbert characterizes childhood traumas following a mother’s death, but even with such intense subject matter and the general crestfallen atmosphere, Halbert’s lyrics still have a defiantly positive outlook. On “Value” he ends his rant with the line “I'll look inside myself and find a life I can value!” and one can truly believe his insistent tone on “Free of This” when he bellows, “I am free of this!” I Will, indeed, seems to be Halbert’s will --his sigil--for a better life.
Halbert brings BIRTH! To LA's Silver Factory Studios tonight (February 28th) for what he promises will be his last LA show for some time. Amoeba Music Hollywood has quantity of BIRTH!’s I Will on CD for the bargain price of $6.98.