The basic musical features of the genre are having monotone and gloomy vocals, dark subject matter, melodies carried by the bass guitar, the electric guitar being used often as "just another instrument" rather than the dominant instrument, sparse percussion, and (often) use of synthesizers.
As an evolution of Post-Punk, Goth Rock's essential features were codified by the Post-Punk artists. What differentiates Goth from Post-Punk is a more theatrical style (and arguably more Glam Rock influence) and (most of the time) more elaborate songs with more frequent use of electronics. The theatrical style, with its connotations of artificiality, resulted in a situation where most of the bands closely identified with Goth vehemently denied being Goth bands, notably The Cure and The Sisters of Mercy. Sister genres include Deathrock (which is characterized by a much greater rock influence and a more theatrical presentation that often takes heavy influence from '50s kitsch; there is occasionally some overlap with psychobilly or industrial rock in later acts) and Gothic Country (which is essentially Alternative Country mixed with Gothic Rock and frequently Gospel and Folk as well; the more experimental acts tend to overlap with Neofolk).
Arguably, the Trope Codifier for the genre is one specific song: "Bela Lugosi's Dead" by Bauhaus. All the primary elements of Goth Rock are there: Sparse drumming, guitars used for texture rather than being the dominant instrument, the bass guitar carrying the melody, dark lyrics, monotone vocals, and lots of reverb on everything.
- David Bowie - His vocal stylings and darkly theatrical music and aesthetics were a massive influence on virtually all aspects of gothic music and fashion.
- Marc Bolan: Like Bowie, he was a major vocal, musical, and aesthetic influence.
- Iggy Pop - Especially The Idiot due to that album's sound as well as the vocal style used by Iggy. Furthermore, Iggy's physical appearance at this time resembled that of an emaciated vampire.
- Leonard Cohen
- Alice Cooper - Some music journalists have pointed to him as influential on the genre due to his theatrics and dark humor.
- The Doors - The term "Gothic Rock" was first used to describe their sound (in 1967!◊). Jim Morrison's vocal style influenced many Gothic Rock singers
- Nico - The Marble Index proved to be influential due to it's dark sound and Nico's change in her appearance.
- Roy Orbison
- Van Der Graaf Generator - Known for being Darker and Edgier than other Progressive Rock bands. Peter Hammill's vocal style has been described as a "male Nico".
- Velvet Underground
- The Damned - Helped pave the way with a theatrical vampire lead singer and the name of the band itself. Mixed gothic stylings with Hard Rock and then later became a full-on Goth Rock band themselves.
- Gloria Mundi - A rather obscure Ur-Example. Known for being ahead of their time with their dark stage imagery. Also reportedly inspired Bauhaus to alter their image.
- The Cramps - Similarly dark and theatrical, but with a distinct '50s kitsch feel.
- Adam and the Ants - Adam Ant was a big influence on gothic fashion, and Dirk Wears White Sox, while not a Gothic Rock album, had a lot of musical elements that gothic acts would later pick up on.
- The Birthday Party - Although they disliked the term gothic, they were very influential on Deathrock bands, and members formed bands that are definitely gothic leaning. They're fairly popular in the goth scene, too.
- The Church
- Echo & the Bunnymen
- Joy Division (Trope Namers)
- Killing Joke - Started out as abrasive Post-Punk that started taking a gothic direction on Revelations and became a full fledged gothic act on Fire Dances, though they moved out of this and towards Industrial Rock with Extremities, Dirt and Various Repressed Emotions.
- The Smiths
First Wave Goth Rock
- Bauhaus (Trope Codifier with "Bela Lugosi's Dead")
- Blood And Roses
- The Cure - Their first album was something akin to Pop Punk or early New Wave, but the three albums following it grew progressively towards Goth Rock. Seventeen Seconds began the trend as a pure Post-Punk album, Faith followed it with strong Joy Division influences, and the third in the "trilogy" Pornography, was pure Goth Rock. After Pornography, they moved more towards New Wave for many years (and most of the rest of their career), with a few exceptions such as the theatrical second wave goth of Disintegration. They never fully abandoned Goth; each of their post Pornography albums contain a few Goth Rock songs or pop songs with some Goth Rock textures.
- The Danse Society
- Depeche Mode - Their first four albums were closer to New Wave (although with a slight Industrial bent). Then Black Celebration and Music for the Masses took them into full on Goth Rock. They are closer to Dark Wave or Alternative Dance in general.
- Songs of Faith and Devotion is one more example of that.
- Flesh For Lulu
- Gene Loves Jezebel
- Lords of the New Church (had members of The Damned)
- Play Dead
- Siouxsie and the Banshees - For some albums, at least- they started out as a Punk Rock band (albeit one with an experimental bent), evolved into a Post-Punk / Goth Rock band by the time of their third album Kaleidoscope and then gradually became a kind of Goth-influenced, poppy Alternative Rock.
- Southern Death Cult (eventually the singer formed the band The Cult, but they're not really the same band).
- Theatre Of Hate - An unusual saxophone-driven example. Later provided their guitarist to The Cult.
- UK Decay
- Virgin Prunes
Second Wave Goth Rock and Batcave
- Alien Sex Fiend - Known for their Industrial-leaning sound.
- Clan of Xymox (from The Netherlands, also one of the earliest Dark Wave bands)
- Dead Can Dance (also darkwave and neoclassical)
- Fields Of The Nephilim (some psychobilly elements)
- The March Violets
- The Mission UK
- Red Lorry Yellow Lorry
- Sex Gang Children - One of the three prominent bands associated with the Batcave nightclub along with Specimen and Alien Sex Fiend
- The Sisters of Mercy
- Skeletal Family
- Specimen - The house band for the influential Batcave nightclub.
- This Mortal Coil (also Dream Pop)
- Blood (1991)
Third Wave Goth Rock
- Garden Of Delight
- Inkubus Sukkubus
- Love Like Blood - Early material only. Later shifted towards Gothic Metal.
- Rosetta Stone
- Swans - Although not a straight-forward example, they started incorporating elements of the genre into their sound starting on Children of God. Later jettisoned all traces of Goth Rock on Soundtracks for the Blind.
Contemporary Goth Rock
- The Birthday Massacre (also Dark Wave)
- The Divine Madness
- Lebanon Hanover
- Midnight Resistance (also Dark Wave)
- Mono Inc.
- Queen Adreena
- She Past Away
- Chelsea Wolfe (mixed with neofolk, industrial, and Doom Metal)
- Violet UK
- X Japan is tending to move in this direction in their post-1996 work. See Violet UK above for why.
Deathrock / Horror Punk
- 45 Grave
- AFI- "Black Sails in the Sunset" and "Art of Drowning"
- Christian Death: Particularly earlier works with Rozz Williams at the helm — Only Theatre of Pain, Ashes, and Catastrophe Ballet.
- The Horrors - Their first two records: The Horrors EP and Strange House.
- Kommunity FK - Mixed with Post-Punk.
- The Misfits - Mixed with Hardcore Punk.
- Samhain - Glenn Danzig's second band.
- Rudimentary Peni - Mixed with Anarcho Punk.
- Schoolyard Heroes
- Creature Feature
- The Dresden Dolls
- Voltaire - He likes to switch genres a lot though, even releasing a country album at one point. His 2015 album Raised By Bats is straightforward goth rock though.
- Stolen Babies
Goth Americana / Gothabilly (i.e. Goth Rock mixed with Alternative Country)
Tropes Common in Goth Rock:
- Alternative Rock: It's usually considered a subgenre of this, and some Goth Rock artists (The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Love and Rockets, and The Sisters of Mercy) were pretty popular on College Radio back in The '80s.
- Darker and Edgier: Than most other Post-Punk and Alternative Rock.
- Lighter and Softer: Some individual bands headed in this direction, however.
- Echoing Acoustics: Common, though by no means universal. It tends to add to the dark atmosphere.
- The '80s: The genre's heyday.
- Goth: Obviously.
- Lead Bassist: Lots and lots of Type D examples, owing to the inverted roles of guitar and bass (bass is usually a lead instrument, guitar's role is generally textural).
- Misblamed: The genre (and the Goth scene as a whole) is often blamed for things like school shootings — never mind that most school shooters haven't been known to listen to the genre (the oft blamed so-called "Goth" bands, such as Rammstein or Marilyn Manson, generally are not actual Goth Rock artists), or that which music they listen to is largely irrelevant anyways.
- Mohs Scale of Lyrical Hardness: Usually on the higher end of things here, though not always. Some bands have a satirical bent to take into account, as well (Alien Sex Fiend, for example).
- Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Typically in the 3-5 range, but songs that are lower are not uncommon, and songs that go up to 6 occur from time to time as well (usually in so-called "Deathrock" bands like Christian Death or 45 Grave).
- Nobody Loves the Bassist: Usually averted — the bass is often quite important to the overall atmosphere of the genre, and bassists like Simon Gallup, Steve Severin, and David J are both well known by fans of the genre and highly regarded.
- Post-Punk: Originated as a subgenre of this, before gaining a life of its own around the time Post-Punk as a whole began to decline (mid-'80s).