One of the earliest entries in the Cherry Red ‘Goth’ remaster series, ‘Last Exit’ collated most of Ausgang’s short and exciting career into one hugely entertaining CD. I bought this when it came out as one of my first exposures to 80s post-punk and Goth; as a born-out-of-time teenager discovering the Cult, Bauhaus and Sisters of Mercy, by 15 I was beginning to move beyond the ‘bigger’ bands into more obscure territory. The mid-naughties were good times for getting into Goth: As Cherry Red launched this series, scene champion Mick Mercer put together his expanded 5-CD ‘Gothic Rock: The Ultimate Collection’. The Mission began their re-issue series, and many of its big names were either reforming or hitting new career highs.*
Ausgang are rarely discussed these days, but should be hailed as an important reference point of the proto-Goth sound: Less pretentious than Bauhaus, less daring than Virgin Prunes, less glamorous than Specimen – as fun and exciting as all. Their comparative obscurity is difficult to pin down, though perhaps in a scene rife with ‘spin’ they simply didn’t stand out enough.
Their brief tenure as Kabuki is included here: The ‘I am a Horse’/’My Hair’ 7 inch is a joyous romp through nascent post-punk structures. Goofy and still completely unique, the a-side recently made the Quietus’s Mick Mercer-helmed ‘The thirty best Goth records of all time’ list – its use of bordello piano is inspired rather than gimmicky. Immaculately coiffured bass player Cub dominates every track with his brittle slashes, on ‘My Hair’ – the band’s paean to the death-hawk – his staccato gallop adds volcanic lift to otherwise by-the-numbers punk. Max Freeth’s skittish delivery takes some getting used to, but something about his barrelling enthusiasm and blackly-comic lyrics has always sat well with me. ‘Weight’ is arguably their best-known tune, appearing on several compilations with a delightfully naff video making the rounds online. I’ll be honest, it’s always bored me to tears. It’s jagged four-note riff never quite takes off, and Freeth’s bizarre yelps are truly cringe-worthy. Fortunately ‘Vice Like Grip’ bulldozes the wreckage with a Theatre of Hate gravitas, managing to stay interesting just shy of 7 minutes. Production-wise the songs are fairly interchangeable with trebly bass, scratchy shards of guitar and tribal pounding at every turn. Only the songs’ musical developments hint at the bands progress – latter-day ‘Manipulate’ material would see the introduction of more conventional melodies and structures. ‘Sink to You’, ‘Head-on’ and ‘Here it Comes’ stake the best claims for the hooky, riffy side of their repertoire – essential listening for anyone new to the band.
The biggest gripe against ‘Last Exit’ is the rather pointless omission of some of the band’s best tracks – with a catalogue not much larger than the contents of this collection, one feels that a 2-CD ‘Complete Recordings’ would have been a more fitting tribute to their legacy. Songs like ‘Is This Your Bat’ and personal favourite ‘Pressed to Your Breast’ still languish in obscurity, with no plans for similar treatment. In spite of this, ‘Last Exit’ is a worthy addition to any rock or punk collection, and absolutely essential in tracing the roots of the Goth subculture in the UK. Make no mistake, it is very ‘of its time’, but the songs’ sheer nakedness and energy belie their age and still thrill three decades later.
*Following the excellent ‘Veil’ and ‘Bastard Art’, Andi Sex Gang released ‘The Madman in the Basket’; one of the genre’s more interesting 21st century artefacts. Alien Sex Fiend continued their twisted electro-punk onslaught with aplomb, and Fields of the Nephilim released ‘Mourning Sun’.