Continuing to pay homage to legendary noise/metal/improv trio Caspar Brötzmann Massaker, Southern Lord Records have now reissued the next two albums in a five-album series, 1992’s Der Abend Der Schwarzen Folklore and 1993’s Koksofen. With these two albums, we see the line-up solidify, with Danny Arnold Lommen permanently taking over what had been a rotating position behind the drums. Now the trio was complete and could began focusing their energy on the further progression of their sound.
A newfound sense of rhythmic agility is immediately apparent on opening track “Schwarze Folklore.” Massaker still sounds every bit as feral and atavistic as before, and despite once again conjuring a free-form take on early Swans, there is a sense of confidence in the ebb and flow of the beats on this piece. There are still stretches of quiet, the menacing whispers narrating some sort of unknown nightmare, but every time the drums and bass kick in, the pummeling is more nuanced and nimble.
Also obvious is an increasing comfort with high levels of noise, not that they were lacking before. Those bouts of rhythmic intensity are often erupting from beds of harrowing scrape and drone, often carried out far longer than most outfits treading similar territory would dare. “Sarah” waits until nearly the eight-minute mark to engage in a steady beat, and then it is merely a platform for Brötzmann’s guitar to shower fiery sparks of noise all over the listener.
For all its impact, Der Abend Der Schwarzen Folklore is composed of only four tracks, and clocks in at about forty minutes. The shortest tracks are still more than eight minutes long. The album is challenging and abrasive, but definitely rewarding for those who have the time and ambition to undertake the journey.
Massaker was quick to return the following year with Koksofen. On this powerhouse release, the drone and noise elements are still very much present, yet somewhat reined in compared to its predecessor. Meanwhile, their rhythmic evolution continues to barrel ahead.
Album opener “Hymne” is perhaps the band’s most accomplished composition. The first half of the song plays with a loud-soft dynamic, the quieter sections punctuated by a hypnotic bit of muted string work. When the volume explodes, we find what had sounded like a psychedelic workout on the early albums transformed into pure industrial throb. The back half of “Hymne” sees the trio exploring new territory, however, as Killing Joke-ish tribal drumming gives way to a steady dub-like beat. Brötzmann solos over the top in one of the most accessible yet satisfying moments of the group’s discography thus far.
The second track, “Weige,” is less direct, but still finds itself eventually exploring bass-driven postpunk territory. This is followed by “Kerkersong,” which also hints at postpunk in the beginning, but subverts that with Brötzmann’s odd-time signature guitar work. As the song progresses, the gears start to click into place and an almost danceable, yet menacing groove once again takes over. The result hints at Public Image Ltd.’s most experimental work, but is even more challenging. What is fascinating about this phase of the trio is even though it is on the surface more accessible, it is still extremely experimental, and ultimately enthralling.
The fourth track,”Schlaf,” starts as a circular and hypnotic drum and guitar workout before veering towards more abrasive territory, finding the middle ground between cult-favorite drum troupe Crash Worship and the extreme freakout of Last Exit (a quartet that featured Brötzmann’s saxophonist father Peter alongside guitarist Sonny Sharrock, bassist Bill Laswell, and drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson). The album ends with the title track, which begins with a spoken word section complemented by ominous electronic textures. As it progresses, the soundscape becomes even more threatening. At times, “Koksofen” seems to presage the dread ambiance of Lustmord, while at other times, the sound is reminiscent of Hermann Nitsch’s massive and harrowing Orgien Mysterien Theater works. It’s an interesting move for the trio, known up until this point for their instrumental prowess, to eschew their usual weapons of choice in order to spend fifteen minutes reveling in such a stark and menacing piece of experimental sound.
These two reissues from Southern Lord, both on their own and with the others in this five-album set, show just what a powerful and stunning force Caspar Brötzmann Massaker were. As stated in the previous review of The Tribe and Black Axis, the work of this trio certainly points a way forward for those looking to push against the accepted norms of extreme music. There is a sheer heaviness that is equal to any contemporary band, and an idiosyncratic approach that is timeless. These reissues are highly recommended, and for anyone lucky enough to catch the handful of reunion shows scheduled in Europe, the rest of us are extremely jealous.