[23 June 2004]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
A group of friends in Germany, all former members of such grisly-named hardcore acts as Chronical Diarrhoea and Macabre Farmhouse, meet up, looking to take doom metal into a completely different direction. They choose the name “Bohren” (which is German for “drilling”), and as a tribute to Dutch instrumental group Gore, one of their biggest musical influences, they tack on “& Der Club of Gore” for good measure. The new band releases three albums, including a lengthy double album called Midnight Radio and the 2000 release Midnight Radio, featuring such titles as “Prowler”, “On Demon Wings”, “Nightwolf”, and “Dead End Angel”. Their album Black Earth is released in their home country in 2002, to much critical acclaim, eventually landing a North American distribution deal early this year with Ipecac Records. So just what are these guys playing that has listeners so intrigued and critics clamoring for their thesauruses? Why, jazz, of course.
Yes, jazz. In fact, this just might be a variation of jazz you might never have heard before. Remember Angelo Badalamenti’s music for David Lynch’s great TV series Twin Peaks? That slow, slinky, playful, minimalist blend of ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll and lounge piano, how hearing a single movement in the soundtrack instantly hit you with the mental image of Audrey Horne coquettishly walking across a room? Well, the music on Black Earth is just as simple, but instead, this music sounds more like a corpse clawing its way out of a grave, lumbering in the moonlit night, with creaky joints and a half-decayed face, in search of human flesh to feast on. Sure, there are times when you are hit with a mental image of a cherry-lipped femme fatale, but it’s always only for a brief spell, as the music pulls you deeper and deeper into a dank pit of nasty, monstrous, ambient jazz.
Bohren & Der Club of Gore’s great strength is in their extreme simplicity, as the quartet base each song around Robin Rodenberg’s massive double bass playing, which slowly, lugubriously creeps along, holding down the rhythm with single thrums on the strings, which are tuned so low, you can hear the vibrations in your gut. Morten Gass and Christoph Closer provide accompaniment on piano, Rhodes piano, and tenor saxophone, displaying only the barest minimum of improvisational flair, while drummer Thorsten Benning accentuates the basslines with subtle beats, sounding more atmospheric than rhythmic, like a somnambulistic Elvin Jones. The overall effect is hypnotic, enthralling, sounding like a demonic hybrid of the Bad Plus and Candlemass. These musicians could easily be Satan’s own jazz combo.
Black Earth is very dark, and very gloomy, but most surprisingly, it’s incredibly beautiful, and Morten Gass’s production on the album is immaculate, the bass dominating the mix, resonating and full. Gass admitted in one interview that they spent most of the studio sessions trying to perfect the sound of Rodenberg’s bass, and on the final product, they indeed pull it off. The album’s sound is deep, warm, and full; instead of being bombarded by solos and overproduction (the closest the album gets to orchestration is with subtle touches of mellotron), you’re left to just sit back and lose yourself in the long, low, sustained bass notes, the haunting notes of the Rhodes, the soft, sultry sax solos.
With song titles like “Maximum Black”, “Constant Fear”, “Skeletal Remains”, “The Art of Coffins”, you immediately expect something as campy and over the top as Cradle of Filth, but that’s anything but the case. There’s a dignified air to this album, something best exemplified on the sensual “Maximum Black”, and although the album’s gorgeous, embossed, black-on-black skull cover art will immediately get the attention of metal fans, Black Earth has the potential of being a crossover success, as the music can easily appeal to fans of dark, theatrical metal, goth rock, and yes, even jazz aficionados. This album is simply too beautiful for words, a perfect companion to Fantomas’s near-great metal/free jazz experiment Delirium Cordia (also released this year by Ipecac). Don’t hesitate, seek out this astonishing record, and make your nights even darker.