In 2019, the Southern Lord label began reissuing the discography of the legendary noise/metal/improv trio Caspar Brötzmann Massaker, with the albums The Tribe, Black Axis, Der Abend der Schwarzen Folklore and Koksofen all emerging over the course of the year. The project now culminates in 2020 with the reissue of Home, the group’s final release.

All of the songs on Home are reinterpretations of songs from The Tribe and Black Axis. One might surmise at least part of the motivation was to re-record the songs with drummer Danny Arnold Lommen, who did not appear on the original recordings, and one does sense that this release finds the trio at the apex of their considerable power.

Despite being reinterpretations, Home does not engage in any truly radical departures from what came before. The album begins with “The Tribe,” which also kicks off its namesake album. The tempo here is a bit slower, but not radically so. The production is a bit warmer, yet heavier. Played side by side, though, meaningful differences begin to reveal themselves. In the original version, the trio sounds like a more conventional rock band, at least compared to their later selves. They play a riff until it’s time to play the next, and when Brötzmann solos, the rhythm section maintains a standard supporting role underneath. In the later version, though, each section sounds just a bit looser, particularly in the number of drum rolls and guitar squeals and various flights of noise. Now the members sound like they are leaning more into their improvisational acumen rather than being a rock trio coloring outside of the lines. The more freewheeling approach is even more evident when the song reaches the solo section, where Brötzmann really lets loose, contributing to the latter version’s nearly three minutes of extra running time.

“Tempelhof” also runs about three minutes longer than the earlier version, due to extended improvisation. The piece as a whole sounds more taut as well, each cadence snapping a bit harder than the already impressive original. The reinterpretation of “Massaker” almost doubles in length from eight and a half minutes on The Tribe to over sixteen minutes on Home. The tempo is slower, the quiet parts are quieter, and sonic events are generally more spread apart. When the track is at its most maxed-out, it sounds like Sonny Sharrock soloing over the top of Filth-era Swans.

Home possesses a laser-like intensity that you didn’t know was missing from the previous releases. In fact, it wasn’t really, but the performances here verge on perfection, and one could speculate that this album displays a finely honed aesthetic forged on stage. Musicians often speak of material becoming “road tight,” meaning that songs open up to new dimensions only after they’ve been performed in the live environment ad nauseam, and that is what Home sounds like. Rehearsals aren’t enough, recording isn’t enough. When it comes to more improv-oriented material, only walking that tightrope will do the trip.

Like the other tracks, “Hunter Song” stretches from almost nine minutes to nearly fourteen. The twists and turns of the composition are harrowing, like stalking some great megafauna beast in the wild. “Böhmen” closes the album, and while the track length doesn’t vary as much as some of the others, the feel is worlds apart from the original as it appears on Black Axis. The performance here is so powerful that what is essentially a noise-driven piece of improv is almost danceable. It’s utterly hypnotic yet menacing at the same time.

It would be great to claim Caspar Brötzmann Massaker as a huge influence on musicians nowadays, but sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Southern Lord’s reissue series show that they feel the same way, and they should be praised for drawing attention to the trio’s formidable discography. So many metal bands nowadays are drawing inspiration from jazz and improv, and so many jazz musicians are admitting their fascination with metal as well, it seems the time has come for a reassessment of this forward-thinking group. They walk a fine line between pulse-pounding atavism and intellectually stimulating avant-garde techniques, and they did these things well before today’s crop of adventurous musicians explored such territories. With this series complete, it is time to give Caspar Brötzmann Massaker their due.

Todd Manning

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