Retro Action 38: Post-Punk Legends Theatre of Hate — Omens Box Set Review and More

For those of us who’ve scoured the used record bins since adolescence in search of rare and often discarded punk classics, UK musician Kirk Brandon has unwittingly played a subtle but key role in our searches. The man’s tenure in early, highly regarded post-punk bands Theatre of Hate and Spear of Destiny may not be widely circulated in these parts, but within the overall punk canon, have earned their rightful place alongside other punk pioneers and trailblazers. And over the years, I’ve seen his records nesting blissfully in the bins of countless used record stores since my youth—thousands of miles away in California. 

Brandon’s roots trace back to UK punk band The Pack, a short-lived, but impactful outfit that released a couple of singles from 1978 to 1980 before disbanding. Soon after, Theatre of Hate was formed by Brandon, along with Steve Guthrie on guitar, John Lennard on saxophone, bassist Stan Stammers and Luke Rendle on drums. Opting for a more nuanced and literate approach compared to the Pack’s raucous sounds, the band’s name was inspired by the book of essays Theatre and its Double by avant-garde writer Antonin Artaud. 

Known for its intense live presence and dark, politically charged themes, the band began to build a large following against the backdrop of the somewhat declining UK punk scene and the emerging post-punk movement. The term “post-punk” soon became a catch-all term used to group bands and artists inspired by punk’s original DIY ethic and individuality that began to stretch the boundaries of conventional rock ‘n’ roll with more eclectic interpretations and influences. Bands such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division, Wire, Magazine, and others were some of the earlier stand-outs of the scene.

Theatre of Hate’s jagged, atonal melodies,  jungle rhythms, and off-kilter twists and turns set the band up for success in the burgeoning new scene upon its formation in 1980, and the band would release a couple of promising singles (“Original Sin” and “Rebel Without A Brain 4 My Own Invention”) and independent live albums, while building a fervent following in the clubs. In 1982, it would release its studio debut and finest work, Westworld.

The album was both successful and highly influential and was produced by Mick Jones from The Clash. The opening track “Do You Believe In The Westworld?” sets an ominous tone with busy rhythms, handclaps, and Brandon’s dissonant vocals. Track “63” raises the stakes with an incessant driving beat and minimal horn accompaniment framing Brandon’s incessant melodies, while “Judgement Hymn” opens with an eerie saxophone riff before descending into a galloping flurry of cascading drums and crashing guitar riffs. The dark, erratic sound would’ve also fit seamlessly alongside the early gothic rock bands of the time such as The Cure and Bauhaus. 

Upon the album’s completion, internal problems within the band began to fester and the lineup would shift in 1982, with Nigel Preston (later of post-punk superstars The Cult) replacing Rendel on drums and the addition of a second guitarist in the form of Billy Duffy, who would also later play a key role in The Cult. 

While Westworld was warmly received and would chart at #17 in the UK, Brandon would dissolve the band later in 1982 and soon form Spear of Destiny. Over subsequent years, Brandon would occasionally reform Theatre of Hate, as well as release solo recordings that were not far off from the original vision, satiating fans of the somewhat disparate catalog. 

See Theatre of Hate in action: Theatre of Hate | Do You Believe in the Westworld? | 1982

But now, fans and followers need no longer search and scrape the bins for Theatre of Hate artifacts. UK label Cherry Red has recently released Omens – Studio Work 1980-2020, a 6-disc box set that features the band’s studio albums, including Westworld, Aria Of The Devil (released in the 1990s by the reformed band) and Stone In The Rain, which was initially a Brandon solo album but marketed in the US as a Theatre of Hate offering. Also included, are all the early singles, some with differing mixes, live tracks and sessions recorded with famed DJ and tastemaker John Peel, and a lengthy interview with Brandon. 

The remastered sound and tasteful packaging make this set a must-have for fans of the band and post-punk completists alike. The package comes in a glossy clamshell case and includes a booklet with in-depth notes on the band.


For questions, comments, or something you’d like to see drop me a note. Cheers, Kaz

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