Friday, April 23, 2010

Nitzer Ebb, "Industrial Complex"

It definitely isn't easy to reform a band after fifteen years and to follow up with the release of a new album. Fans still adore the classic old stuff, which is presumably a big reason for the reunion, but the band wants to show that they've evolved and can fit into the current musical climate.

The balancing act is probably even more difficult when you're Nitzer Ebb. Critics never had much respect for industrial/EBM, and goth/industrial/darkwave fans are notoriously fickle. The sound and style of the music remains stuck in the same comfortable ruts for years, it's what their fans prefer. I think metal fans are the same way -- they expect an adherence to a certain "classic" aesthetic, and bands are encouraged to recycle whatever they like as long as they don't stray too far from the template. I say this as a longtime fan of both industrial and metal.

But wait, did Nitzer Ebb really call their new album "Industrial Complex"? Sadly, they did. Have the clothes, posturing, and spastic dancing from the "Fun To Be Had" video really aged this badly? NOTE: Do NOT watch this video if you've never heard of Nitzer Ebb. If this is your first exposure to the band, you will never be able to take them seriously.

"Promises" opens the album with a nod to the band's earliest work. It's the sound of "Murderous" and "Let Your Body Learn", a fury of looped bass sequences, percussive noise, and catchy caveman chants. Since they've been away, Nitzer Ebb tracks like "Join In the Chant" have become something of a secret weapon in techno sets thanks to the efforts of DJ's like Richie Hawtin. "Promises" feels like Nitzer Ebb's attempt to close the circle, taking its rhythmic cues from the hard, driving techno tracks that they influenced.

Unfortunately, most of "Industrial Complex" consists of the type of noise-tinged hard rock that has been a staple of every Nine Inch Nails album from the past decade. Nitzer Ebb went through a number of phases -- the EBM/war chant phase ("Join In the Chant"), the funky perverted darkwave phase ("Hearts and Minds", "Lightning Man", the finest work of their career), the epic crashing emo with eyeliner phase ("I Give To You"). At no point did I ever wish that they would rock out more.

I doubt that there's anything on this album that will convince newcomers that they were anything special, but fans of this music will find at least a few of the tracks to be irresistible. "Once You Say" was a good choice for the first single, as it does the NIN/darkwave rock thing better than anything else on the album. The chorus quite noticeably cribs from Depeche Mode's "I Feel You" (the song even starts with the chorus, exactly like "I Feel You") but that's a criminally underrated DM single, so I wish that more bands would find ways to steal from it. I cringed when reading an interview that revealed that there would be a ballads on this album, but dammit if "Going Away" isn't arguably the finest track here. Full of analogue warmth and featuring one of Douglas McCarthy's finest ever vocal performances, it's the kind of ballad that Depeche Mode remembered how to write again on their past two albums (e.g. "Nothing's Impossible").

It's obvious that "Industrial Complex" owes a huge debt to the music that NIN and Depeche Mode made over the past decade, and that blatant lack of originality hurts the album a lot. But Nitzer Ebb were never a particularly strong albums band. There is undoubtedly enough good material here to start filling an overflow disc for an updated edition of "Body of Work".


Amit said...

nitzer ebb ! reminds me of some of the other industrial/political bands from that time, like renegade soundwave and consolidated

Barry said...

Yeah, those bands all got lumped together somehow even they don't really sound too much alike. I never really cared for Consolidated, but RS were great.