Welcome to The Lazarus Pit, a biweekly look at should-be classic metal records that don’t get nearly enough love; stuff that’s essential listening that you’ve probably never heard of; stuff that we’re too lazy to track down the band members to do a Hall Of Fame for. This week, we celebrate another sunny Christmas with the one-man prog jam of Golgotha and their/his 1990 debut, Unmaker of Worlds (Communiqué).
Golgotha are awesome almost by accident. If this had been performed by a full band, or had decent production, it wouldn’t be nearly so notable. Fortunately (or unfortunately at the time), they had neither of those things. Even though the band as an entity had been around since the early 80s, by 1990 it was basically just bandleader Karl Foster, a hired hand drummer, and some heavy-duty synthesizers and samplers. When you combine that high technology with the bargain-basement recording, courtesy of a guy best known for producing Monty Python albums, you get a pretty bizarre dichotomy.
Really, this thing sounds practically alien, a symphony in the cathedral of the damned. Foster sounds like Peter Gabriel Beyond Thunderdome, conducting bleeps and whooshes and steampunk guitars and, according to the back cover, the MASSED CHOIR OF THE APOCALYPSE. It’s an ugly collage of sounds sometimes (especially on the title track’s chaotic dissolution of existence), but everything is underpinned by strong melodies. Despite all the electronic tricks, this isn’t industrial. Foster was influenced by classical music, Yes, and Iron Maiden. Although the shortest of the four songs on here goes for 9 1/2 minutes, each tune is distinct and memorable – even if it’s hard to keep the whole extended suite in mind, pieces certainly jump out.
The title track is the nastiest thing on display here, but the other three offerings balance it out. The opener, “Counter State Directive” tells a militaristic (and quite timely) tale of revolt against autocracy, using synthesized organ blasts and Third Reich samples to really nail home the message. “Another Sunny Christmas” is unsettling with its descriptors of a verdant winter before it descends into baroque passages and the narrator talking of how “there’s something down there, something that frightens me.” And then everything wraps up on a note of melancholy beauty with the descriptive “Raining on Still Waters.”
Pretty easy to figure out why Golgotha never made it – released on a label whose biggest artists were Samson and Girlschool well past their primes, performing a deeply uncool style of metal, and sounding rather cheap at that. And it still sounds pretty cheap, but bands like Ayreon have gone on to find (relative) success with the same formula and a bigger budget. It’s a singular vision of a guy without the means to fully realize his dream, but the resulting nightmare is a fascinating one.