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Bohren & der Club of Gore - Black Earth

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Artist: Bohren & der Club of Gore

Album: Black Earth

Label: Wonder

Review date: Jul. 1, 2003

The muted spirits of beyond have always found willing vessels in the muses of the flesh. From serial automata to searing heavy metal, death becomes whomever accepts the charges, and there’s never been any rule as to who can and cannot pick up the phone. In the beginning, after using science to capture sound, Thomas Edison temporarily turned to and tuned into the supernatural, trying to raise the dead via shortwave radio. The quest of Latvian scholar Konstantin Raudive, documented on a recently released Sub Rosa compilation (reviewed here), also crossed inter-rational borders; Raudive would record the sounds of silence and release, upon playback, encoded epistles donned in din.

Fast forward past fellow Styx soundboards like Harry Smith and Leonard Cohen to Bohren & der Club of Gore, an unlikely quartet from the Blackest forests of Germany. Led by Morten Gass, the group is an ideal example of doom’s repertoire. Along with Thorsten Benning and Robin Rodenberg, Gass used to play dead in a grindcore metal band before seeing the light, so to speak, in 1992, when he exchanged his extreme sound for a significantly smoother style – slow, plodding lounge jazz.

Bohren’s inner spirit sounds nothing like the fiery sermons of Albert Ayler or John Coltrane. Gass, Rodenberg, Benning and 1997 addition Christoph Clöser instead opt for a subtler séance. Over the course of four full-lengths, the group has used sustained saxophone, double bass and an eerie Fender Rhodes to pulp effect, preserving the steamy evanescence of film noir by laying bare the eternal evil in the hearts of its participants, like Raymond Chandler and Edgar Allen Poe combining to score the soundtrack to their inspirations.

On their latest creation, Black Earth, Gass and Co. have tapped into a darkness that resonates with absolute dread – a mood so entirely convincing, it reeks of a deal with the devil. The quartet spent a year in the studio crafting the album, a testament to Bohren’s other-worldly devotion, and the results are nigh-perfect. Benning’s suspense-soaked snares and Clöser’s ’Round Midnight reed work steadily tug on twilight’s thread, as if the spirits of the night might come bursting forth at any second. Titles like “Grave Wisdom” and “The Art of Coffins” drive a stake through the heart of any mistaken ambiguity – Bohren and his Club breath deeply for those who no longer can.

The mood descends quickly enough on “Midnight Black Earth”, the album’s foreboding nine-minute opener. Gass’s Mellotron drones enter unadorned, setting the stage for Rodenberg’s harrowing, minimalist work on the double bass. Benning keeps the beat, alternating between the bass drum and high hat at 20 bpm. When Clöser’s sax enters the voids, the desolate landscape begins to take form. This is scorched countryside under a new moon where dead souls wander aimlessly in perpetual woe. “Crimson Ways” extends the unease another seven minutes and showcases Gass’s Hitchcockian production skills.

The horror flick is reliant almost entirely upon formula and Bohren’s song is not exclusive to the same restrictions. Yet, part of the sound’s deadly appeal is the manner in which it uses artificial ingredients to concoct a truly moving experience. The minor keys and smoking guns inherent to Bohren’s methodology may not boast distinction, but after a year’s worth of meticulous attention, these stock characters have developed personalities, as if governed from beyond the grave. If slow truly is the new loud, then Black Earth is a deafening testimonial to the power of afterlife amplification.

By Otis Hart

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