Screamo and post-hardcore, or skramz if you prefer, is a bit of a hard sell for me. It’s off the strength of the praise of our PR dude Toni that I claimed this album for review and I’m really glad I did. An intriguing, hooking name gives way to emotional, catchy songs, which gives way to a theme I can’t help but ride into battle with. Death Goals label themselves as queercore, a sub-sub-subgenre of punk focused on the queer experience, skewering the hands of oppression and repression, and, ultimately, liberation.
Really, when it comes down to it, queercore isn’t much different from other hardcore and skramz – you know, kind of like how queer people aren’t much different from cishet people. It’s full of raucous moments, deep chasms of passionate and heartrending screaming, and an urgent tone that demands attention. A Garden of Dead Flowers is all of this and more, and doing it with half as many people as usual.
Death Goals is made up of Harry (sung vocals/guitars) and Grog (yelled vocals/drums)… that’s it! Two pals coming together to bring unabated amp feedback, hellacious guitar passages, and slamming drums tailor-made to make people move in a pit. Despite its rougher modalities, it’s wonderfully approachable. The title track early on in the album is remarkably catchy using relatively simple means. The guitars mean business, but don’t even step near overwrought, mathy territory like some stuff in the genre does (not that I mind that). If you need something a bit heavier on the -core, then I’d start where the album itself does – “Genderless Clones Of Games Show Hosts” is a captivating song about gender dysphoria, wracked with all the anxiety and pain it comes with:
‘Life is neither a blessing or a curse
I’m trapped inside this body
And it’s only getting worse
I am not a man
I am not a woman
I am nothing’
Next, I must shout out “P.A.N.S.Y.”, a track with some pop punky swing to its melodies. It’s actually a beautifully affecting track about the limbo between requited and unrequited love, coming to terms with feelings you feel you can’t act on, and a tryst in the woods. You can feel the pangs of regret and loss in the vocals so much – it makes me think back on feelings I had for others I never could fully act on because of various reasons, in one case chiefly because it was between me and another man. I hate that I had to feel that way, I hate that society has conditioned people to other queer relationships, and how it’s often in your best interest to hide yourself. The final verse of the song cuts especially deep:
‘For what it’s worth
I’m sorry I kept from you
I was just so scared
Of accepting my own truth
Our love for each other
Is buried in those woods’
A Garden of Dead Flowers doesn’t stray away from the tougher topics and that’s part of why I like it so much. Now, more than ever in my lifetime anyway, so much hateful rhetoric exists against people simply seeking to be themselves, not hurting anyone. Death Goals faces this head-on in “I Wouldn’t Be Caught Dead (Taking A Bullet For You)”, addressing the Western world’s culture of hate, apathy, and individualism. I love how intense the vocals are – guitars match it as well with searing, off-kilter riffs. The end of the song is a bleak but truthful reminder of where we stand with each other: ‘There will be no survivors/For there is no love in this place/The hatred of mankind/Will send the children to their graves’.
Death Goals don’t just fucking sit back and wallow in the despair though, they’re a band of action and value taking a stand. This is where “Year Of The Guillotine” comes in; a fiery, short track asserting the humanity of queer people and stamping the ignorance of bigots onto their foreheads (‘We’re not valid, we’re not real/But we have everything you lack‘). My absolute favorite, though, is likely “Faux Macho” which has an almost satirical, absurdist take to things, like The Blood Brothers used to do in their prime especially with the gang vocals and harmonies. The wabbly melodies are killer and the UK duo just goes all out for this closing track. The video is a total love letter to gender expression across the spectrum as well.
I think the reason A Garden of Dead Flowers is so affecting is because of how based in reality it is. This is queercore for a reason – it makes no excuses, apologies, or qualifications for its existence. It simply is, because queer people simply are. If you ever wondered why your movie and video game characters are increasingly becoming queer, if you wondered why you can’t scroll through Twitter without seeing a pride flag or pronouns in a bio, it’s not because queerness is spreading or becoming part of some mainstream agenda – it’s because people that have had to hide themselves for years, decades even, are finally feeling comfortable living their true lives. It’s because communities are growing and thriving, protecting and loving each other, and we’re well past due for it to be as normalized as whatever you grew up with in your head. To quote the band, ‘you can’t erase our existence’.
I really love what Death Goals accomplished here. Their lovingly honest, uncompromised look at queer life is tough to swallow, but every bit as needed as we rally our communities for tough times ahead. Not to end on a depressing note, but it’s absolutely unavoidable to label what is happening in the US as trans genocide with gender affirming care being banned in some states for adults, and for kids in even more states. Once again, a renewed era of queer scapegoating has arrived, even though our mass shooters, sexual assaulters, pedophiles, and general abusers are overwhelmingly cis, straight, white men or any combination thereof, usually holding positions of power like clergymen, police, politicians, and, of course, right-wing talking heads with large audiences (eat shit, Steven Crowder, you fucking abusive bigot prick). I’m of the opinion that music like A Garden of Dead Flowers keeps the soul of the people alive, and never lets us forget who we are and what we need to achieve.
Trans rights are human rights. Death to fascists here and abroad.
Band photo by Gobinder Jhitta