The Guilty Have No Past compiles tracks from The Guilty Have No Pride (1983), the singles "Heaven Street" (1981) and "State Laughter" (1982) and one track from Burial (1984). Featuring the original lineup of Douglas Pearce, Tony Wakeford and Patrick Leagas, this material documents the harsher industrial-Goth orientation that preceded the band's exploration of synth-enhanced neo-folk on their strongest '80s releases. The claustrophobic menace of "All Alone in Her Nirvana" and the cascading rhythms of "Holy Water" match the bleak intensity of the Cure's Pornography; elsewhere, dark, driving numbers like "In the Night Time" and "State Laughter" justify favorable comparisons with Joy Division. At the same time, however, a tendency to favor more expansive, dramatic arrangements -- complete with austere horns, ominous tympani and relentless martial drumming -- gives Death in June's music a unique signature. The ambiguous treatment of the Holocaust on "Heaven Street" and the harrowing "Till the Living Flesh Is Burned" highlights the fundamental problem facing Death in June's listeners: the impossibility of discussing the music without addressing its politics. The two are inseparable since the group's dalliance with Nazi aesthetics is central to its identity and sound. Death in June's logo is an SS Totenkopf symbol and visual, lyrical and musical references to the Nazi era abound in their work. (Moreover, the fascination with extreme nationalism isn't merely historical: Pearce supported the Croatian paramilitaries during the Balkan conflict.) One interpretation is that the fetishization of fascist iconography is an edgy intellectual move, forcing the recognition that we can derive pleasure from unsettling or disturbing art. Alternatively, this game of are-we-or-aren't-we-fascists? is facile, dangerous and nowhere near as clever as Death in June imagine. The fact remains that this question hangs over the band and they do nothing to resolve it.
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AllMusic Review by Wilson Neate