As far as world music goes, Germany never gets a fair hearing, does it? All of my acquaintances who dig “world music” gush relentlessly about, y’know, Baaba Maal or Astor Piazzola. They’ll head straight for the remote corner of the record shop searching for didgeridoo field recordings or Bulgarian chants, and they groove blandly to the exotic and idealized sounds that suffuse their collection. Right on, I can dig it too. But what about Germany? Surely the strange electronic hell-beasts that bellow forth from North German Plain and the shores of the Elbe are “world music” too? Rammstein is just as hip and incomprehensible a musical rep for local culture as Youssou N’Dour, if you ask me. If the supposedly “pristine” local sounds of underdeveloped areas can be so dynamite, why can’t we also clinically appreciate the hyperdetermined electronic tunes of an overdeveloped nation? Well, I say all this in preparation for the cultural detachment I need to adopt in order to review :Wumpscut:‘s latest release, Wreath of Barbs. Because, really, any album that draws attention to the phrase “We will all die in the line of corpses” is not going to get a fair hearing in the post-terrorist era.
Rudy Ratzinger is the mastermind behind :Wumpscut:—and I use the word “mastermind” with all of its comic-book overtones intact. The guy’s been kicking around the German electronic scene for damn near 15 years now, and his :Wumpscut: project first surfaced in 1991, not that anyone noticed outside of Industrial Dance Night at your local campus club. Over the years this mad scientist has recorded several albums (representative titles: Embryodead, Eevil Young Flesh, Dried Blood) that combined seismic bass, fuzzbomb fake guitars, dinky new-wave keybs, and comic-book-villain vocals for a relatively indistinguishable industrial-petrol stew.
Wreath of Barbs is being marketed as some sort of retro-industrial nostalgia album (for fans “who remember when music had soul”), but it just means that Rudy R. is just doing the same old thing. You get goose-stepping beats, some phenomenally dull “hooks”, and distorted vox that are about as frightening as Dr. Doom calling from his sickbed. The “soul”, as far as I can tell, comes from the occasional contributions of one Aleta Welling, whose deadpan “singing” makes Neil Tennant sound like Al Green in comparison. Otherwise, you are confronted with possibly one of the most soul-destroying, nasty, nightmarish, and unintentionally comical albums of recent memory.
The lyrics, which I guess we’re supposed to ignore (I hope), offer such tender bromides as “we’re searching for the final solution”, “our fate: hopeless”, “we will all die in the line of corpses”, “bleed in silence”, and my favorite: “his smile stretches for a mile across his bloody mask down the white coat spilling”. There are some surprising moments, such as the Roger Troutman vocoder effects on “Wreath of Barbs (Album Mix)”, and the genuinely joyous danceability of “Eclipse (Kaelte Container Remix)”. “Christfuck” and “Opening the Gates of Hell” are as hilarious as their titles, and I’m not sure whether Rudy laughed while composing them the same way Hollywood sitcom writers mock the idiots who comprise their audience. “Dr. Thodt” does not seem to be about a kindly Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor, that’s for damn sure. And some B-Movie monsters (Frankenstein and Hellraiser‘s Pinhead, sounds like) step up to the mike on “Deliverance (Album Mix)” and “Hate is Mine”, both of which are rather too slow for industrial dancing.
So. If you’re a big fan of that spooky growling industrial music of the late eighties (think a more comical and boring version of Land and Rape and Honey), then Wreath of Barbs is right up your alley. But really, why is this stuff is still coming out of Germany? Is there something about Germany that makes this music resonant on their own turf (despite that it’s sung in English)? Maybe the stagnant overregulated economy, bloody past, and constrained future of the country makes this claustrophobic music somehow necessary for their sanity. Hopefully as comic relief, anyway. Me, I think the music mostly sucks, if only because it deletes everything that’s fun and unique and human about us just to create some pseudo-sociological wasteland of corpses and blood. But then, I’m over my cultural-relativist phase by now.