Graded on a Curve: Einstürzende Neubauten, Kollaps

Celebrating Blixa Bargeld on his 63rd birthday.Ed.

At long last, a rock album capable of shattering my nerves. I’ve sat through all manner of horrible noise for decades, but the sheet-metalheads and industrial music pioneers Einstürzende Neubauten are the first to make me wish I was deaf.

Einstürzende Neubauten may translate as Collapsing New Buildings to English speakers, but they don’t sound like an architectural disaster to me. They sound like the foundry where I worked during my summer years at college only worse, because Einstürzende Neubauten are both foundry and insane asylum, and the lunatics have taken over the machinery.

Is Einstürzende Neubauten’s Industrial Revolution clang and clamor a negative commentary on the robotic dehumanization celebrated by the futurists in Kraftwerk? A conservative retreat to the glory days of steam power, when manly men forged manly things with their manly calloused hands? The final revenge of metal shop kids over the pencil-neck geeks destined for lucrative jobs in the towering high-rises of the private sector? All are questions worth pondering, but having just listened to Einstürzende Neubauten’s 1981 debut Kollaps, I have too much of a headache to think clearly.

Theirs is, I must admit, a novel concept–establish rhythmic din by means of building tools, scrap metal and sundry other detritus of the machine age, then set Blixa Bargeld to the task of barking, growling, muttering, moaning, shrieking, bellowing and ululating all over them. It works wonders, that is if your idea of a good time is having ground augers shoved in your ears whilst being beaten over the skull with a 2-1/2 inch split head hammer.

Blessedly, Einstürzende Neubauten keep most of the songs on Kollaps short. Any longer and I’d be an adult version of my girlfriend’s son, who is constitutionally incapable of listening to a song for more than 15 seconds. Still, I find it therapeutic to follow each of the LP’s song with a dose of the Carpenters. Take it from me, four minutes with Kollaps and you’ll be eager to soak your sore eardrums in a warm bath of smooth.

At its worst, the music of Einstürzende Neubauten is every bit as pretentious as King Crimson, and it doesn’t hold a candle to dadaist composer Antonio Russolo’s “Corale and Serenata.” But Kollaps has its moments. The title track’s sinister drone brings to mind the early Velvet Underground, while the intermittent bursts of white noise on “Hirnsäge” evoke fond childhood memories of twisting the dial on my cheap transistor radio. As for “Tanz Debil,” it’s the best dance song (next to their classic “Yu-Gung,” that is) ever produced using construction material.

I also like the rivet gun drumming of “Steh auf Berlin,” whose added shrieks make it the perfect soundtrack for the fall of Berlin. And fans of the jump scare will love “Negativ Nein”s transition from underwater gurgle to ungodly shriek, just as Beatles’ fans will appreciate its salute to “Revolution 9.”

On “U-Halt Muzak” a whistling man trods the floor boring me stiff, while“Schieß Euch Ins Blut” is the sound of a man trapped in a plunging elevator pounding on the walls in vain. Other tracks include the sheet-metal bongo solo that is “Rohrbombe” and “Futuristischer Dub,” which far from being futuristic brings to mind a member of the Von Trapp Family blowing on an alp horn to alert the others the Nazis are coming.

As the immense factory graveyards of America’s Rust Belt attest, the Industrial Age is going the way of the dinosaurs, making Einstürzende Neubauten a kind of nostalgia act. Indeed, they were a nostalgia act the day they banged on their first radiator. I can almost see the band’s members being handed severance checks, along with the sage advice that they to go back to college for degrees in the computer sciences. It’s time to put down the die grinders, boys–we’ve got robots to do your work now.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B-

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  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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