Style, roots, and influences
According to music journalist Simon Reynolds, standard musical fixtures of gothic rock include "scything guitar patterns, high-pitched basslines that often usurped the melodic role [and] beats that were either hypnotically dirgelike or tom-tom heavy and 'tribal'". Reynolds described the vocal style as consisting of "deep, droning alloys of Jim Morrison and Leonard Cohen". Several acts used drum machines downplaying the rhythm's backbeat.
Gothic rock typically deals with dark themes addressed through lyrics and the music's atmosphere. The poetic sensibilities of the genre led gothic rock lyrics to exhibit literary romanticism, morbidity, existentialism, religious symbolism or supernatural mysticism. Musicians who initially shaped the aesthetics and musical conventions of gothic rock include Marc Bolan, the Velvet Underground, the Doors, David Bowie, Brian Eno, Iggy Pop and the Sex Pistols. Journalist Kurt Loder would write that the song "All Tomorrow's Parties" by the Velvet Underground is a "mesmerizing gothic-rock masterpiece". However, Reynolds considers Alice Cooper as "the true ungodly godfather of goth" due to his "theatrics and black humor".
Nico's 1969 album The Marble Index is sometimes described as "the first Goth album". With its stark sound, somber lyrics, and Nico's deliberate change in her look, the album became a crucial music and visual prototype for the gothic rock movement. Gothic rock creates a dark atmosphere by drawing influence from the drones used by protopunk group the Velvet Underground, and many goth singers are influenced by the "deep and dramatic" vocal timbre of David Bowie, albeit singing at even lower pitches. J.G. Ballard was a strong lyrical influence for many of the early gothic rock groups; the Birthday Party drew on Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelaire.
In 1976, Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice was published. The main character, although dark, wanted companionship and love. The book, according to music journalist Dave Thompson, slowly created an audience for gothic rock by word of mouth. The same year saw the punk rock band the Damned debut. The group's vocalist, Dave Vanian, was a former gravedigger who dressed like a vampire. Brian James, a guitarist for the group, noted, "Other groups had safety pins and the spitting and bondage trousers, but you went to a Damned show, and half the local cemetery would be propped up against the stage".