Goth Via Space City
In Hebrew mythology, Asmodeus is the king of demons who is as evil as he wants to be. Sometimes, though, Asmodeus is seen as the impish deity who brings carnivals, fashion and music to mankind. This latter description is appropriate for the goth band Asmodeus X, not only because the band is non-satanic, but because the band, which has major-following potential, is located here.
Houston does not have the decadent old-world charm of New Orleans or the dank industrial appeal of Chicago. There are no grandiose Victorian-style neighborhoods. No rusty smokestacks. No creepy legends. No bats. This makes Houston a weird place for goths; especially for the two guys from Asmodeus X who were once part of a successful goth act, Morphine Angel, headquartered in Chicago, home of the revered goth label Projekt.
Asmodeus X's Paul Fredric and Brad Marshal are content starting anew in Houston, and the timing couldn't have been better. Because of the concerted efforts of many, the goth-industrial scene in Houston is growing (see "Gothic Houston," by Sande Chen, October 28). Local label Kathodik Records is releasing debut CDs from Underground Netwerk Intelligence (a.k.a. UNI), Closedown and the Virus. Likewise, local goth label ToneZone plans to record albums from Processor and Flower & Machines while expanding e-commerce on its Web site. And other local bands are self-releasing material. Freshly signed to a local label, Asmodeus X plans to start playing live and working on a full-length album called Mission: Holy Fire. The single "Holy Fire" will be released in March.
The origins of Asmodeus X begin with Morphine Angel, the goth band with an old-school sound. Morphine Angel worked hard for its kudos and fan base, but later got bogged down with concerns about markets, management companies, labels and personality differences. Marshal and Fredric's departure from Morphine Angel left the band to limp along without them. "I know that I fell in love with myself," says lead singer Johnny Lee of Morphine Angel. "And I learned that with everything you do, there is a price."
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Marshal agrees: "With Morphine Angel, it was 'Let's get our name out there as quick and as fast as possible and risk everything to do it,' and I think now we're at a position where we know it was foolish. It cost more than we received." Nowadays, both Marshal and Fredric are pleased to be self-managed, rid of external influences and free to work on Asmodeus X just for personal fulfillment. But it has taken a while to reach that realization.
Back in 1993 Lee and guitarist Mike Ferrar recruited Fredric from a local punk band in Lincoln, Nebraska, and kicked out their current bass player and drummer to become Morphine Angel. Lee had known Fredric for years as a friend of his younger brother's. Ferrar soon left and was replaced by Barton Wolf, and keyboardist Marshal joined the band after Wolf left during the tour for 1995's self-released album Project ISA. The band members then relocated to the Kenosha, Wisconsin-Chicago area, where they hooked up with guitarist Dominic St. Charles.
A second album, Lovenest + Murderfest, released in early 1997 on the Alabama-based label Delinquent Records, was successful enough that Delinquent wanted another. The South intrigued the band, and with the help of Shawn Barusch at Houston's Hollowpoint Management, Morphine Angel toured Texas for the first time. Following a Halloween gig at Instant Karma in 1997, the band began to pack its bags for Houston.
Fredric dismisses goths who would leap at a chance to move to Chicago. "The people down here that go, 'Why did you leave that wonderful, wonderful, mystical gothic mecca?' need to spend a winter up there some time, and then they'll understand," he says. "It's not gothic. It's just miserable."
However, it was soon apparent that not all the members of the band felt the same way. While Fredric and Marshal oohed and ahhed over the Rothko Chapel, Lee couldn't stand the heat and decided that "Houston has about as much soul as a dead fish." Lee moved back to Lincoln in May 1998 because his mother had cancer, and St. Charles left for Pittsburgh. Initially these moves were supposed to be temporary, but Lee and St. Charles never made it back to Houston. It was during this time that Fredric and Marshal started work on a two-man project, known informally as Cult of the Naassarene. A cassette tape of the same name, filled with dark, ambient neoclassical electronic music, was privately distributed among friends.
Still, even with members of the band scattered in different states, Morphine Angel persisted, playing gigs in Chicago and Houston, such as the seventh annual Vampire Ball sponsored by ToneZone. In March 1999 Fredric and Marshal officially called it quits from Morphine Angel. Fredric explains: "We were going through all this effort, as much effort as you go through to launch a tour, just to go someplace and do one show, and it was just wearing on everyone."
For Fredric, his passion for Morphine Angel was dissipating, and the Cult of the Naassarene project, which would later morph into the band Asmodeus X, just seemed more appealing, more fun, more reasonable. Besides, says Fredric, "The bigger we got, the less we individually had any control on what was going on anymore. All of a sudden, this word 'market' was a concern in Morphine Angel, which it really hadn't been in the early days. We didn't talk about markets." Says Marshal: "We talked about making rock and roll." (Incidentally, the new Morphine Angel, sans Marshal and Fredric, has laid tracks for an eventual third record, reworking material from the album recorded for Delinquent but never released.)
Now with a new sound and in a new band without a fan base, Fredric and Marshal, or Asmodeus X, nevertheless still found resources and thrust themselves into the developing Houston goth-industrial scene. Both Cult of the Naassarene and the single "Holy Fire" were recorded in 1998 at ToneZone Studios. St. Thomas Records, which had worked with Morphine Angel before, signed Asmodeus X last summer and rereleased Cult of the Naassarene as an EP.
Asmodeus X's music is conceptual, which, like conceptual art, begins with an idea and follows through to natural conclusions. There also is, in Asmodeus X's image, meticulous attention to detail, down to the icon of the Egyptian deity Set on "Side Night" (instead of the usual "Side B") on the Cult of the Naassarene cassette. Asmodeus X recently expanded to a quartet, with the addition of reverend TiG, formerly of Bamboo Crisis, and guitarist Gary Flieskar, both of whom joined about two months ago.
While the upcoming single is definitely a dancey number, perhaps because of TiG's influence, other songs on the EP are not so up-tempo. Overall, the music expresses a dark, mystical spiritualism, which is a unique quality in industrial music. There's less of the stereotypical ranting and more of a focus on atmosphere. At the same time, it's not so esoteric that one couldn't just enjoy the music without delving into books of Egyptian lore. Or even knowing who Asmodeus is in the first place.
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