Most musicians have a similar story about that band they were part of during their formative teen years – that first venomous and infectious taste of performing in a garage, basement, or perhaps even onstage, with the kind of friends one never really has in adulthood, when dreams of conquering the world usually involve hanging out on weekends without a care. Such was the case for Pitch Black Manor – the trio of Joshua Bentley, Lyle Erickson, and Chad Fifer – as from 1990-1995, the band made as many waves in the clubs of East Moline as they did making prank calls, watching horror movies, and all kinds of adolescent antics. Even after the band’s dissolution due to the inevitable tides of life washing over them, the three continued to collaborate and participate in each other’s creative endeavors. With the world now in the grips of pandemic, the stars seemed right for Pitch Black Manor to make an unprecedented return, resulting in the debut album Monster Classics.
Indeed, true to its title, the record plays out like a soundtrack album to the greatest Halloween party known to man, where all kinds of spooky revelry abound while a marathon of horror cinema masterpieces plays on a continuous loop in the background. Songs like “BITEFIRE,” “Past Haunt,” and “The Dancin’ Fiend” resonate with dark yet poppy synths and unyielding dance rhythms that showcase the band’s new wave influences, strident layers of bass and guitar keeping things firmly in the realms of goth/rock and post-punk with a funky edge; the latter track especially almost sounds like David Bowie on a spook trip with the “Can’t stop what you can’t kill” line proving very catchy. The same can be said of “Ghoul Fever,” which sounds like a funky cabaret or a haunted psychedelic romp gone wrong, but so awfully right, while the booming percussion and organs on “Castle” evoke aspects of Fifer’s work in soundtrack composition. Throughout the album, Bentley’s voice oscillates between unhinged and melodic, moving effortlessly from a baritone croon to terrifying screeches and shouts as he does on “Blasphemy” and “Just Another Werewolf Song,” the latter noteworthy for its touches of keyboard and sparkling acoustic guitar to evoke an appropriately moonlit haze. “Going Down” might be this writer’s favorite song on the album as its melodic and angular bass and guitar lines set to a rocking beat present tried-and-true goth/rock at its finest, the harmony vocals in the chorus and the light horns and spoken word adding a nice tale-by-firelight quality that is just delightful. As a Bandcamp bonus, the album concludes with a new recording of “1692,” whose slow and bluesy ambience feels reminiscent of Nick Cave crossed with Concrete Blonde, while the additional live recording from 25 years ago reveals a more upbeat and primitive version of the song that wonderfully indicates the band’s musical evolution and live energy.
After a quarter-of-a-century, Pitch Black Manor has lost none of its youthful exuberance, which is a rare thing indeed; such stylistic and creative potency makes for a wonderfully engaging listen on this first album that has been well worth the long wait. Perhaps not as belligerently ghastly as The Misfits, and certainly not as morose as Joy Division or The Cure, Monster Classics is still a darkly vibrant offering of post-punk and proto-darkwave mania that is sure to appeal to genre fans, and should provide some seasonal eldritch pleasure for your next Halloween celebration.