an autopsy on Germany’s best death metal jazz band BOHREN & the CLUB of GORE
Ever since the cover of Deloris captivated our collective imagination back in 2008 — with its shining gothic title and the mellow, darksided artwork — we here at Samson & Press have been casually obsessed with all things Bohren und der Club of Gore, the jazz outfit from Nordrhein-Westfalen. Simply put: Bohren (which means “drill” in German) is the best film noir you’ve ever heard. When a movie is made that equals the atmosphere and vibe of any one of their records, the genre will be complete. After I’d personally dug in, I remember thinking, “fucking hell, I’m so glad someone actually makes this kind of music.” And while some have commented that der Club are as formulaic as a Raymond Chandler novel, the difference in their catalogue, while subtle, is significant and worth noting. Especially if, like us, you’re obsessed with mystery as atmosphere. If you never quite want to get to the end of the rainbow, or if you think the best part about a good conspiracy is starting all over again, check out these 3 classiques by Bohren (in chronological order by encounter). They’ll have you sippin coffee at all hours of the night & cybersleuthin in no time.
Black Earth (2002)
Although Delores began the black seduction, it was 2002’s Black Earth where the affair turned fatal. It was the first record that popped up when I searched on the YouGube, and I remember distinctly choosing the song “Midnight Black Earth” because of the video. It was a fan vid; the song was set to a scene from Tras el cristal, a 1989 psychological horror film from the Spanish director Agustí Villaronga. Already my world was expanding… and darkening. The scene the youguber had set the music to (the vid btw has either been taken down or banned since then, I just performed a eugoogle on that badboy and it’s gone!) portrayed the devious protagonist playing cat and mouse with the lady of an obscure mansion. I had to figure out all of this stuff later, at the time I didn’t know anything about what I was watching, however one thing was certain: the music had me hooked, and the music was Bohren. There was a certainty in it, that I think is at the root of Bohren’s appeal: the certainty of Night, the certainty of darkness. The certainty of our Demise. The killer in the house eventually hangs the maid (or governess, or possibly the owner’s wife perhaps, I don’t recall) by the neck from a second floor bannister. We see her dangling feet and just as the song — which has been building for about 6 minutes by now — crescendos… The final shoe drops. What is it about that particular image? It might be the essence of noir. Something about it strikes like a knife to the heart of our uncomfortable, oedipal desires. The image and the crescendo sealed it. Bohren was an instant classic. Alas, I digress from the album; it’s just that this was my first real encounter with Bohren and it still haunts me to this day.
From that experience I went on to the peep the entire record: tracks like “Maximum Black”, “Grave Wisdom”, “Art of Coffins” greeted me; and I sighed, yes, finally some unadulterated noir, the liquid smoke darkness I crave in art but which is so often watered down, besides the point, completely wasted. The titles alone told me I was going to be served up a fatty of the primo darksided vibes from the start. No fillage. No good guys or morals butting in to ruin everything. Again, it is the truth that makes it. That the world is a fucked-up place; thus finding some dopamine appreciation of this fact might be the only truly revolutionary act available to us. Then we have the all-out bangers, songs I could listen to every day, that I will never get tired of: “Constant Fear”, crushingly brilliant track, “Destroying Angels”, purest film noir, “Crimson Ways”. This was music I could understand. This music acknowledged the beauty of my all-consuming anxiety and turned it into a kind of mobile simultaneous bliss. Driving around town, through parts of a megalopolis that was once thriving, even ritzy, but had now become tent cities or forgotten slums, tracks as bleak as “Skeletal Remains” held within them not only an accepted truth — about us, about society — but an inescapable pop temptation. Yes, Bohren is high style. More importantly, they are style by restraint. A refusal to speed up the tempo at any price keeps the listener in the pocket, allows the night-blooming blossoms of the sparse, traditional jazz instrumentation to bloom into the most beautiful of poisonous flowers. Piano, bass, drums, Fender Rhodes, Mellotron. That is the complete list of ingredients, and we’re left to ask: who needs more? This is minimalism at its finest, perfect to listen to at any time day or night. It is instantly produced atmosphere that is not so much retro as transportational: we are taken back to the place itself, LA circa ’34, or Neo-Tokyo III 3034; we can see and feel and taste the cigarette with that old skool tobacca, the dark Hawaiian coffee, the single malt scotch. We look out of the window of a highrise (perhaps we’ve just finished making love, or remain at the scene of a crime): The cars, the skyline, the essence of mystery… well, it’s just like it is today.
Sunset Mission (2000)
Next, after the merest of investigations: what’s this? They have another album? What’s it called? Sunset Mission. Oooohh…. yes! Again, the title alone gives you everything. Reassures you to the bone. The cover art too sets the tone. A cityscape at the titular sunset. What city? Could be Baltimore. Could be Berlin. The pervasiveness of noir. Bohren is an attitude. Bohren is a lifestyle. And these guys don’t skimp: we don’t just have the everlasting “Prowler”, but we have “Midnight Walker” as well; because they couldn’t leave out a track title that awesome, because walking at night in this environments feels too good. There’s this constant state of optimism with Bohren, that not only will the bangers last you forever, but that even the B-sides are good. The bangers on Mission are “Prowler”, “Painless Steel”, “On Demon Wings”, and the endless, most comfortable, smoothest “Nightwolf”, a track that goes on for sixteen minutes and thirty-one seconds and could go on and on and on (and actually does; there’s a 10-hour version of it on the Gube). Mission is also a little less stark than Black Earth: if the latter is true crime then Mission is a more accessible North by Northwest; it’s living in your favourite episode of Mad Men with your friends and you’re all kitted out in the swankiest attire. It is the primordial taste, smell, mouthfeel of whisky & the seething inhale of black licorice candy. It can’t be overstated how good Sunset Missionis. Listen to it a couple hundred times yourself. Pay attention, doze off. Drive around town and just think about it all. Let the music lead you to a darkened corner of a dive bar, where you can sit back and watch it all unfold, or a vacant park in the high heat of the day, where you can lie in the yellow grass & disappear.
Midnight Radio (1995)
Imagine coming across this record in 1995. Could be in a Virgin Megastore in Picadilly Circus, a Warehouse Records in Paris. It’s raining outside and you’ve ducked in for an americano and suddenly you see it: A river of fire runs down the cover. Elsewhere it’s dark but not entirely black, more burnt caramels & gold lava. The name of the band is strange, but that’s a good thing and the title of the record is — and you can barely believe it because you’ve always dreamed it could exist — Midnight Radio.
When you can’t sleep you’ve often paced your flat, turned on a single lamp, made yourself a fresh pot, put about a dozen funfetti cookies in the oven to cook. You’ve turned on the radio before, hoping for a show that doesn’t exist, hosted by the coolest of cats, someone who can tell you something dark and horrible in a way that makes you relax. But till now it’s been only static. At times of the night like this you’ve often felt that something was missing in your life. Well guess what? You’ve found it. You are certain of it just by holding the object in your hands. You take the 2xCD home. You don’t need to preview it. There’s no such thing as an iphone yet. Shit, the internet isn’t even real at this point. All you have to go by is the cover, the name, and the promise: Midnight Radio. Tracklist on the back gives you nothing: two-discs (remember those???) with 5 and 6 tracks respectively. The titles? Track one is called “1”. Track two “2”. And so on. You are intrigued. You can’t wait to put it on the Sony System TA-AV431, the machine that plays your cassettes, your CDs and your videotapes (you’ve recently stumbled upon Michel Haneke down at the obscure video rental…) What is it you hear first? Not the thunk of a standing bass G, nor the ice-pick tickle of any ivory piano key (electric or otherwise…) but a guitar. Wow, not expected. If Black Earth and Sunset Mission are slow, Midnight Radio is beyond downtempo. So Bohren actually sped things up when they made the former two records (which come later, but whatev :P); what I mean is that the lads progressed into what would be considered by modern standards to be very slow music. This isn’t entirely intuitive: the members of Bohren came from the hardcore punk scene, performing in bands with names like 7 Inch Boots and Chronical Diarrhoea [sic] (Wikipedia.com). So what you get on Radio might not be exactly that comforting late-night conversation you were hoping for, but rather a hypnotic, wormwood & Underberg-tinged psychedelia, that works just as good. You settle into your insomniac existence. During the hot day you get a little light headed. It feels good. At night you listen to Midnight Radio.
These are just 3 of Bohren’s releases, the ones I’ve listened to most. I haven’t worn them out yet — but fittingly, the band has many more that are probably just as good (I just can’t let go of these perfect classics). They just released Patchouli Blue in 2020, which takes up a style they arguably began with Dolores and have been perfecting ever since (the intervening Beiled EP and Piano Nights are quality as well). If you can find their early splits anywhere you’ll experience a bit more of their thrash-punk origins (a juxtaposition that works given the undeniable presence of their purposefully tranquilized jazz); and if you’re lucky enough to ever see them live, based on videos, you shan’t be disappointed. Bohren & der Club of Gore has quietly amassed a permanent body of work. We at S&P urge you to investigate the corpus yourself, before the files disappear, and all that’s left are the proverbial lines of chalk…