Goth rock, or simply goth—this dark, moody music genre crawled out of the post-punk movement in the UK. Not too long after, a whole cultural goth movement sprouted and grew.
The genre is atmospheric, gloomy, melancholic, dramatic, sad, nihilistic, and obsessed with death and tragedy to the point of romanticizing them.
The lyrics tend to be poetic, the vocals deep, rich, and even tortured; and the music is often layered and smoldering. While most goth rock isn’t necessarily hard rock, some is.
However it’s defined, goth rock is an experience. Turn the lights down low, light a couple of candles, paint your nails black and take a tour through this list of 13 of the greatest and most famous goth rock bands of all time. Read on!
Goth rock music started with Bauhaus, the English rock band featuring Daniel Ash, Peter Murphy, Kevin Haskins, and David J formed in Northampton 1978.
They were only together for six weeks before recording their demo. One of the songs on that demo became their first single and best-known song, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” Other well-known songs are “Dark Entries,” “She’s in Parties,” and “All We Ever Wanted Was Everything.”
Bauhaus’s debut album, In the Flat Field, is widely regarded as the first goth album, and throughout their on-again-off-again career, they have released five studio albums.
In March of 2022, they released their first new song in over a decade. “Drink the New Wine” was recorded by each band member separately during the COVID-19 lockdown.
2. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Our next band, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, was formed in the wreckage of Cave and Mick Harvey’s former band, the Birthday Party, in Australia in 1983. Blixa Bargeld soon followed, as well as many instrumentalists through the years.
The band and how it expresses its goth rock soul have undergone many changes and evolutions in its four decades, pulling from post-punk, blues, folk, and piano ballads. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are known for their profoundly emotional and poetic songs about death and loss.
Their debut, From Her to Eternity, was released in 1984. They’ve recorded and released 17 studio albums, settling over a million records worldwide. “Red Right Hand,” “Into My Arms,” “Where the Wild Roses Grow,” “Stagger Lee,” and “Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow” are considered their greatest works.
3. Joy Division
Another famous goth rock band, Joy Division, formed in England in 1976. The members were Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris, and vocalist Ian Curtis.
Their self-released debut EP caught the attention of television personality/indie record company owner Tony Wilson, who signed them to his Factory Records. Joy Division’s debut album, Unknown Pleasures, came out in 1979, which was followed by their second and final album, Closer, in 1980.
Unfortunately, Curtis, who suffered from depression and epilepsy, took his own life that year. The band disbanded, but then regrouped soon after, naming themselves New Order.
Despite a short career, Joy Division sold over 600,000 copies. Their biggest songs include “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” “She’s Lost Control,” and “Shadow Play.”
4. Siouxsie & The Banshees
British band Siouxsie and the Banshees were a highly influential goth band who’ve left a mark on many other genres, including alternative, shoe-gaze, and trip-hop.
Formed by Siouxsie Sioux and Steven Severn in London in 1976, the group was known for their dark themes, wild sonic experimentation, and on-stage personalities.
They had their first live appearance on Tony Wilson’s television show So It Goes. Their third album, Kaleidoscope, reached #5 on the UK charts, and they hit it big in North America with the release of 1988’s Peepshow.
Before disbanding in 1996, Siouxsie and the Banshees released 11 studio albums. “Spellbound,” “Cities in Dust,” and “Hong Kong Garden” are among their well-known hits.
5. The Cure
Formed in 1978 in England, The Cure was initially called Easy Cure and went through several lineup changes at the beginning. Robert Smith became the band’s vocalist, lead guitarist, and primary songwriter and has since remained in that role.
The Cure’s debut album was released to moderate success, reaching within the top 50 of the UK Albums chart. However, 13 years after their start, they had their first #1 album with Wish, which topped not just the UK chart but also Australia and peaked at #2 in the US.
“Lullaby” and “Friday I’m in Love” are some of their best works, both winning the band awards. As one of the definitive bands in the Goth genre, The Cure was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019.
6. Depeche Mode
Featuring the original members Dave Gahan, Martin Gore, Andy Fletcher, and Vince Clarke, Depeche Mode was formed in England in 1980. They got their big break when approached by Daniel Miller from Mute Records after a show and were signed on to record their first single, “Dreaming of Me.”
Since then, they’ve released 14 studio albums and sold over 100 million records worldwide. “Enjoy the Silence,” “Personal Jesus,” and “People are People” are some of the songs they’re well-known for.
Depeche Mode was one of the 2020 inductees into the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame. Through lineup changes and deaths of members, Gahan and Gore are the only remaining original members.
7. Type O Negative
Formed in 1989 in Brooklyn, New York, Type O Negative was one of the most famous goth rock bands in the late ’90s and early 2000s. Members were initially Kenny Hickey, Josh Silver, Sal Abruscato, and low-voiced, imposing frontman Peter Steele.
Steele had a contract with Roadrunner Records with a previous band that had broken up. After hearing a bit of Type O Negative, Roadrunner decided to sign them. Their atmospheric and heavy metal music was immersed in death, depression, and dark romance, which gained them a huge following.
Type O Negative recorded seven studio albums and sold over 1.5 million records. Not many of their songs charted, but “My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend,” “Everything Dies,” and “I Don’t Wanna Be Me” are among those that did.
8. Sisters Of Mercy
English band Sisters of Mercy was formed in Leeds in 1980 by Andrew Eldritch, Ben Christo, and Dylan Smith. They took their name from the Leonard Cohen song.
Sisters of Mercy have recorded three albums, 1985’s First and Last and Always, 1987’s Floodland, and 1990’s Vision Thing. The band remains active and touring but hasn’t released new material since 1990, which started as a protest against their record company.
Despite this, Sisters of Mercy have sold over 1.5 million records, with “This Corrosion,” “Dominion,” and “More” among their greatest releases.
9. Christian Death
Singer-songwriter Rozz Williams formed Christian Death in Los Angeles in 1979. After a couple of lineup changes, including Williams’s departure, the current members are Valor Kand, Maitri, and Jason Frantz.
Frontier Records signed them in 1982, then released their debut album, Only Theatre of Pain, later that year. Also considered death rock and punk, they have a reputation for writing anti-religious songs with effects-heavy guitar and ambient synths.
Christian Death has released three studio albums, and though their works were highly acclaimed, these three did not chart. Still, the band continues to create moody music, with their latest album, Evil Becomes Rule, released in 2022.
10. London After Midnight
Despite its name, London After Midnight was formed in 1990 by Sean Brennan in Los Angeles, California. Brennan is basically the sole member, but he has a revolving roster of musicians added for live performances.
Though known for their gothic themes and industrial rock sounds, Brennan has resisted the genre labels, feeling that having a label pigeonholed and limited their creativity.
The band has released seven albums, one EP, and two demos, though none have charted. Still, London After Midnight has remained popular in the goth subculture, with their songs “Sacrifice,” “Spider and The Fly,” “Kiss,” and “The Black Cat” among the favorites.
11. The Cult
Next, we have The Cult, an English band formed in 1983. Current members of the band include original members Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy, as well as John Tempesta, Charlie Jones, and Damon Fox. Until 1984, the band was known as Death Cult.
Their debut album, Dreamtime, had moderate success but was followed by four top-10 hits—Love, Electric, Sonic Temple, and Ceremony—over the span of six years.
Love contains “She Sells Sanctuary,” their first double-Platinum single, while Sonic Temple has “Fire Woman,” another Platinum hit. The Cult has since continued releasing music, with their latest album released in 2022.
12. Cocteau Twins
Scottish band Cocteau Twins began in 1979 with members Robin Guthrie, Will Heggie, and Elizabeth Fraser. They signed with the British label 4AD in 1982, releasing their debut album, Garlands, later that year.
From the onset, their albums ranked high on the UK Indie chart—the first four were in the top five. “Pearly Dewdrops’ Drops,” from their EP The Spangle Maker, is considered their best hit, topping the UK Indie chart as well.
The Cocteau Twins broke up in 1997 due in part to the failure of the romantic relationship between Fraser and Guthrie. A reunion was planned in 2005, but that, too, was canceled soon after.
13. Skeletal Family
And finally, we have an influential goth band you might have yet to hear of. Skeletal Family was formed in England in 1982 by members Anne-Marie Hurst, Stan Greenwood, Roger “Trotwell” Nowell, Ian “Karl Heinz” Taylor, and Steve Crane. The unique name of the band was taken from a David Bowie song.
They were signed to Red Rhino Records after the label heard Skeletal Family’s debut single, “Trees.” Their first album, Burning Oil, was recorded over four days on a shoestring budget. When it was released in 1984, it hit and stayed in the top 10 of the UK Independent Chart for the rest of the year.
The group has had an on-and-off activity over the years, and after several lineup changes, they are still performing and working on a new album.
Summing Up Our List Of Great Goth Rock Bands
Goth rock might have emerged out of the UK in the late 11970s, but it has had a long-lasting effect on culture.
Not only is the goth look still a thing, but the music itself has influenced hard rock, metal, and more.
We hope you have enjoyed the list as much as we had fun making it. Goth music is a bit moody and dark, but go ahead and check out the rock bands above. Who knows? You might find a few new favorite songs to add to your playlist.