Thursday, March 18, 2010

The art of madness - Einstürzende Neubauten's 'Zeichnungen des Patienten O.T.'

I have been trying and trying to think of a rationale, other than that I just like them so much, for writing here about Einstürzende Neubauten for a record fourth time but, really, the best I can do is to say that I would be writing about them a whole lot more if I didn’t have to consider the strange, and for me totally incomprehensible, possibility that some people reading this might not be quite as enthused about this stunning band as I am. Truly, I could quite easily write an entire post about every track on every album, and still not feel I have said enough.

But as much and all as I have already said about Einstürzende Neubauten, it would be wrong not to at very least also focus on what is arguably their best work of all – their second full album Zeichnungen des Patienten O.T. (Drawings of Patient OT), released in 1983.

Not quite as stark as Kollaps (see 3rd February), its predecessor from two years earlier, Zeichnungen des Patienten O.T. is nevertheless a severe, gruelling piece of music and, every time you listen to it, it seems to dig a little deeper into the darker regions of the human condition, a little deeper into the pits of your own being. There might be hints of melody, even chord progressions, here – but they're rare and you can only decipher them by peering into the shadows cast by the music’s harsh, austere percussion from the trademark bits of industrial debris – scrap metal and power tools – and its creepy snatches and loops of recorded noise, and, of course, the insanely raw and wild vocals of Blixa Bargeld.

The Patient OT of the album’s title, and its seventh track, is in fact Oswald Tschirtner an Austrian artist who developed schizophrenia after serving in WWII, and lived as a psychiatric patient for some 60 years until his death in 2007. And certainly this music plunges right into the heart of madness – a madness that really does seem here to live and to thrive in the shadows of war: and not just the wars that nations rage against each other, but the wars that rage within us, too.

Blixa’s lyrics are unrelentingly nihilistic – full of images of savagery and death – but always brilliant in the ways they grab words and pull them apart and twist them around, deconstructing and reconstructing language just as the band’s sounds deconstruct and reconstruct music.

The album opens with the violent ‘Vanadium-I-Ching’, with smashing and clanging bits of metal against a gruesomely brutal heartbeat, pulsating in some dead-sounding industrial bass drum. It leads into ‘Hospitalistische Kinder/Engel der Vernichtung’ (Hospitalised children/angel of annihilation) with absolutely freaky child-like mutterings, like a nursery rhyme being sung from a lonely pit at the heart of insanity, ushering in more apocalyptic aggression, as the words fight their own demons: “und ich will nicht länger warten/Bis Gottes unendlicher Hoden/Endlich in Flammen aufgeht/Engel der Vernichtung/Engel der Vernichtung/Eingeschlossen in Schlafsaalträume” (and I will no longer wait/until God’s eternal scrotum/finally goes up in flames/angel of annihilation/angel of annihilation/locked in dormitory dreams).

‘Abfackeln!’ (Torched!) pounds with fury, Blixa’s famously raucous, screaming anger calling out for release by the burning of human souls through self immolation, while ‘Neun Arme’ (Nine Arms), creeps along in the dark.

‘Herde’ (herds), with its weird, course horn-like moans, and ‘Merle (Die Elektrik)’, with snatches of pre-recorded speech against saws and drones, helps set the stage, partly animalistic, partly freakily clinical, for the album’s title track, which rages in a chaos of industrial noise, and violent beats, freaked out, it seems, by its own self-exterminating bedlam.

This fever of noise falls and rises over the next few tracks, but it never really stops to breathe properly and then, just as you feel yourself swept up in its pace, almost at home in its crazed and crazy world, everything suddenly turns into an ice-cold black, and you are in the midst of what is surely one of Einstürzende Neubauten’s most stunning pieces of work, ‘Armenia’, with its unrelenting, pulsating drum beat beneath a choir of ghosts humming mournful phrases of an ancient Armenian folk song, echoing in a bottomless pit of darkness, with little snippets of metal clattering and clanging, infinitely lonely, and a power tool whirring somewhere in the background, cutting your soul into a million pieces, and Blixa crying out in the most blood-curdling screams you are ever going to hear, anywhere. “Sind die Volkane noch tätig?” (Are the volcanoes still active?) he asks, in the most haunted of whispers. Whatever the volcanoes represent – the destruction of nature, of humanity, of the mind – yes, the music answers, they are still active, smouldering in the dark.

‘Armenia’ has been recorded a number of times by Einstürzende Neubauten but I think the version that we hear on this album is the one where we hear it at its most spine-chilling, frightening, best. It is an utterly devastating experience.

A track like that is a hard act to follow but, here, it is managed perfectly with ‘Die genaue Zeit’ (The exact time), the final track on the original album (although not on the CD releases which invariably include a few bonus tracks). ‘Die genaue Zeit’ has a kind of barren, empty, cold feel to it, to words that describe a flat, sanitised world that has no soul, no character, no identity. ‘Wie spät mag es sein?’ (What time could it be?) the song asks, over and over, as Patient OT himself may well have done in the aftermath of a lifetime of numbing treatment at the hands of a dehumanising mental health system.

Over the past several weeks, I have found myself so bowled over by the eternally changing, always reinventing, creativity of Einstürzende Neubauten to the point where it is pretty close to impossible for me to consider that anything they do is less than perfect – but, still, even I will admit that even they probably never did anything quite as superb, quite as outstanding, as Zeichnungen des Patienten O.T.

It is severe, savage music, uncompromising, challenging your senses, your brain, your soul at every twist and turn it takes down its hard, clamorous corridors. But if you want see how music can shake you to the core, and leave you aghast at its ferocity and power, built from the carnage of a factory floor, then Zeichnungen des Patienten O.T. is the place to go.

By the way - I'm going to be away for a few days and am unlikely to be able to attend to the blog ... but I'm looking forward to sharing more music with you next week, upon my return. Remember - post something here, too, at any time, and let us all know what you're listening to!!

No comments:

Post a Comment