Bohren & Der Club of Gore: Black Earth

Adrien Begrand

Bohren & Der Club of Gore

Black Earth

Label: Ipecac
US Release Date: 2004-03-23
UK Release Date: Available as import

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.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.