Lyrics are very important. If there is any mention of vampires, that is pretty much a dead givaway (with some notable exceptions, such as Draining You of Life by Sacred Reich or This Is Not An Exit by Anthrax), as is any reference to the welcome of Death's embrace ("The Reaper's at my door now/ He's come to take me home"--SACRIFICE by London After
Midnight). Gothic lyrics often delve into the Arcane and Mystical. Where as Death Metal lyrics sometimes feature Satanic or outright Magickal.
Imagery, Goth occaisionally delves into the discussion of obscure, forgotten deities or the outright glorification of Wicca. Quite commonly, Gothic lyrics deal with the rather messy areas of tormented emotions (the entire albums SLOW,DEEP, AND HARD and BLOODY KISSES, both by Type O-Negative, whom I believe I mentioned earlier), the pain of
loss, or a stab in the back (Pictures of Betrayal" by Nosferatu).
Also a key (perhaps the greatest determining factor) to what makes a song Goth is the mood of the song. You can't, first of all, buy an album by a band you "know to be goth" and assume all of it to have the Gothic feel. "Detonation Boulevard" by The Sisters of Mercy is in the
middle of one of the best Goth albums ever written (VISION THING), but the song itself is bloody roadhouse BLUES, complete with shred guitar solo (well, sorta). The Goth feel can best be described with three words: MELANCHOLY, MELANCHOLY, MELANCHOLY. Gothic should at first frighten the listener, but over time, as the music becomes more
familiar, it should make the listener feel FRIGHTENING (comments, anyone?). The
song "Bloodletting" by Concrete Blonde is a nice example of this ("You were a vampire, and baby, I'm the walking dead"). The band is well known as bluesy rock, but the song is smooth and dark, with lyrics evocative of the imagery in an Anne Rice novel. As one listens to it over time, one begins to picture one's self in the stuations that the song describes (a coven dance in the rain, a dear one gone missing, a broken mirror in a bedroom), and gets a very . . . smug . . . feeling, a sort of dark exuberance like you can project this mood throughout a room or over a
street. It is very empowering.
While I'm at it, I should mention very quickly that there are two
schools of Goth: metal-based and post-punk. Metal based Goth, such as Type O-Negative and Paradise Lost, traces its roots back to Black Sabbath (listen to the opening song on their first album, and you'll see what I mean). Post-punk goth, like (I'd suppose I'm going to get a LOT of reply mail from this one) Rosetta Stone and The Mission get their influence from bands such as Joy Division or other bands from the Factory label who rose to prominence after the demise of punk rock (no, I don't consider the popularity of Green Day and the Offspring a renaissance!).
But we're getting away from the point here. The truth is, you can't pigeonhole Goth and you'll get in trouble if you try to. What is Goth to me could be senseless noise to the next dark listener. I like the darker, smoother side of metal, like Sanitarium by Metallica, or
Intro to Reality and Black Lodge by Anthrax. I know of Goths who like industrial stuff like NIN and Front 242, but the stuff sounds to me like it was written by a machine. In addition, there are bands who don't consider themselves gothic but are followed by the Goth listenership,
such as Dead Can Dance, Human Drama, and Miranda Sex Garden.
It all comes down to individual perception. You may like Carcass, you may like the Machines of Loving Grace, you may like the Cocteau Twins, and other people may disagree with you. But if its Goth to you, that's all that matters.