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Einstürzende Neubauten: Halber Mensch

June 11, 2010

 Today’s roll: 1 – 11 – 18.
Result:
Halber Mensch by Einstürzende Neubauten.

By 1985 German industrial music progenators Einstürzende Neubauten had made some devastatingly challenging music. Their third studio album, Halber Mensch (“Half man”), displays an evolution in the sophistication of their compositions, but not a lessening in the relentless assault of their sound. Neubauten will will forever be famous as the band that uses scrap metal and power tools for instruments (along with the more traditional guitars and bass), but their legacy is that of fearless social and political commentators—though sometimes the commentary is incomprehensibly buried under a mound of art-debris. By the time Halber Mensch rolled around, they were clearly intent on expanding their horizons, the results are mixed.

The album opens with the electronically enhanced a capella title track, a churning chant which rolls like a collapsing juggernaut over your senses. There’s something disconcerting about the pitch-shifted chorus of voices which evokes a wrongness in the soul of the listener while at the same time demanding its cooperation. Its a ritual induction into life in an industrialized society, beckoning the listener to be enfolded in an iron blanket. It’s not easy listening, it’s not even pleasant listening nor is it truly enjoyable listening, but it’s effective.

The album then takes a few, in hindsight, missteps. I say “in hindsight” because the use of drum-machines and samplers in “Yü-gung” and “Z.N.S.” might have been cutting-edge in 1985 but now sound like what they are—the blueprint for stereoyptical 80s EBM and 90s techno-industrial. “Z.N.S.” especially sounds like an early Revolting Cocks (or perhaps later Pigface) track. If the reversed “clank” samples hadn’t become a staple of every industrial band’s tired rhythm sequences, these tracks might not sound so dated and silly today. Now they come off as slightly hackneyed. It’s unfortunate because they’re highly successful at achieving their goal. It’s just a goal that would be scored far too often in the following ten years.

The album hits its stride on track five with “Seele Brennt” and a return to a more live approach which carries through, much more successfully, for the rest of the set. Percussionists N.U. Unruh and F.M. Einheit are allowed to really explore textures and turn in some inspired performances.

Blixa Bargeld, as well, steps to the fore as a dynamic vocalist. Never one to be accused of crooning, or perhaps even singing, Bargeld whispers, screams, shrieks, bellows, mutters and intones with the arresting expression he’s known for.

Neubauten had always been as much a performance art piece as a band, but here they bring an added sense of theatre to their art. The sister film to this album, shot at an abandoned industrial site in Japan (and well worth tracking down), highlights this theatricality with Butoh dancers in some truly disturbing image sequences.

The music here is also beginning to sound tighter, more restrained and composed. It ventures away from pure noise and feedback, towards the work of minimalist composers. It’s not surprising since modern composers had been using industrial machinery in music long before Neubauten picked up their first power drill. The progression feels natural, one the band is more suited to than the techno flavours earlier in the album, and it’s a direction they’d continue to explore more in the future.

This CD edition contains a handful of bonus tracks including the essential “Das Schaben”, a nine-minute epic of, as the title suggests, scraping metal. The live version of the track in the film is perhaps one of the most relentlessly visceral and rewarding experiences you will ever endure, should you choose to. A truly bizarre cover of Lee Hazelwood‘s “Sand” is also tacked on as well followed by an even more dated-sounding (though perhaps more listenable because of it) Adrian Sherwood remix of “Yü-gung.”

A bit of a mixed bag in the Einstürzende Neubauten catalogue, showcasing some of the best, and worst, music of their career.

Originally published at Simply Read, November 17th, 2009

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