Bohren & Der Club Of Gore – Black Earth
With a name that in English roughly translates to ‘Drilling And The Club Of Gore’, you might expect that the band is probably some sort of metal outfit or perhaps a musical doom unit. You would be half correct in that regard. With the members previously active during the 1980’s and early 1990’s in German hardcore/grindcore bands Macabre Farmhouse, 7 Inch Boots, and the oddly named Chronical Diarrhoea (in which their last albums would be released by Nuclear Blast and distributed by the seemingly omnipresent SPV), the members have collectively traveled many long miles from their aggressive musical origins, to arrive at a darkly comforting designation of ‘doom jazz’.
After their first two full-length LPs “Gore Motel” and “Midnight Radio” (and a five-year gap), guitarist Reiner Henseleit would leave the band and multi-instrumentalist Christoph Clöser would enter, thus the band’s tone would thus shift somewhat. Originally, as stated in the band’s biography, “…they created an unholy ambient mixture of slow jazz ballads, BLACK SABBATH doom and down tuned AUTOPSY sounds”. However, while the music was technically proficient and competent, a common listener complaint was that the music was uninspired overall, with too much emphasis given on meandering counterpoint improvisation, thus falling victim to the frequently heard complaint of ‘too much technique, not enough substance’. These points of concern would be addressed and resolved by their next album, the excellent “Sunset Mission”. Released in 2000, it is somewhat similar to the album that would follow it (Black Earth), the only major difference being that the album is somewhat more upbeat (though much more lethargic than their contemporaries), and reminiscent of various film soundtracks, especially through the very subtle string touches throughout some of the songs.
“Black Earth”, on the other hand, takes the minimalism which the band had previously been approaching, and takes it to it’s logical conclusion. Mellotron, piano, electric Rhodes, tenor saxophone, and double bass are the ingredients to this blackened minimalist concoction. Although each song is unique in it’s own regard, they all follow a basic formula: a menacing double-bass line and slow motion cymbal brushes/hits are accompanied and complemented by mournful Rhodes melodies, funereal piano movements (check out the beginning of the song “Maximum Black”), ghostly Mellotron sequences, and Christoph Clöser excellent sax playing. Gone are the ‘soundtrack-esque’ elements of the previous album. Instead, what remains is a classic release of what has been deemed ‘horror doom’, ‘death jazz’, and a dozen other labels which fail to do the sound justice. Like many other sounds of this nature, it is best to listen to the entire album in one setting, as each song flows seamlessly to the next, as if it were an extended composition. In addition, the audio mix (apparently a complaint in some of their previous albums) is crystal clear, an impressive feat given the dominating presence of the double bass (I recommend listening to this album with a stereo system that has subwoofers, as the sound takes on an intimidating physical presence in the room).
There are very few negatives to this album. Obviously, it is a huge ‘mood album’, thus if you are not prepared and/or in the mood for the type of music Bohren & Der Club Of Gore excels in creating, you might find this album too intense and/or depressive to easily digest (much more so than “Sunset Mission”). However, if you are an open-minded doom fan, a dark lounge jazz enthusiast, or simply enjoy the darker side of music and emotions, “Black Earth” is a landmark recording in all of these regards: a masterful work of a swiftly maturing band (as evidenced on their next album, 2005’s “Geisterfaust”).
PS If you are interested in the history of thrash, here is an interesting (though somewhat cynical) review of the pre-Bohren… band Chronical Diarrhoea’s ‘best of compilation’.
PPS The first video is of the track “Prowler”, from their “Sunset Mission” album. The second is “Midnight Black Earth”, from their “Black Earth” album.
PPS Epistrophy takes a curious stance regarding Bohren’s recent work, claiming that “the following album “Sunset Mission” was going to secure commercial success for the group, but more than obviously this has not been realized yet. their last album “Black Earth” saw no use in any kind of musical innovation.” Perhaps they are because of their subsequent associations with the Wonder and Ipecac labels (in which, especially with the latter, they gained more recognition than they would ever have on Epistrophy)?