It has been 40 years since Einstürzende Neubauten debuted in West Berlin on the cutting edge of experimental music. Spearheaded by vocalist Blixa Bargeld and armed with DIY instruments built out of power tools and scrap metal, the group became pioneers of industrial music.
Their name, which translates to “collapsing new buildings,” is a very apt definition of their sound. In contrast to the new wave artists of the period, Neubauten took the rapidly advancing music technology of the time and used it to create sparse, chaotic soundscapes populated only by Bargeld’s manic vocals and abrasive percussion.
While the group’s sound has become less abrasive since their debut, it is still wildly experimental, and the group’s position at the forefront of experimental music is one which they have never really lost.
Their latest release, “ALLES IN ALLEM”, while much tamer than Neubauten’s earlier projects, is still an incredibly intricate and unorthodox project.
The opening track “Ten Grand Goldie” establishes the dark, imposing percussive sound of the record as well as the poetic vocal delivery. Bargeld’s vocals throughout the record carry a vaguely prophetic tone as if he is predicting the onset of something terrifying. Spliced between the imposing timpani beat on “Ten Grand Goldie” are distorted female vocals and high-pitched metallic noises reminiscent of their chaotic industrial years.
This imposing opening track is then followed by “Am Landwehrkanal,” whose calming instrumental and lyrics create what seems like a folk song from the distant future. There is even an organic accordion melody and a piano harmony line on this track written over the metallic drums.
“Seven Screws” expands on this fusion of industrial percussion with organic instruments by integrating an orchestral score into the song which swells throughout the piece.
That being said, the signature Neubauten chaos is still present throughout this record.
“Zivilisatorisches Missgeschick” is an incredibly cacophonous track filled with classic Neubauten power tool instrumentals. “Möbiliertes Lied” features a scrap metal beat as well. I could also hear accents of 80s Neubauten in every song, although not nearly as pronounced as they were in the songs I just mentioned.
I found Bargeld’s vocal performance to be the centerpiece of this record. Most of the Einstürzende Neubauten I had been listening to up to this point was their earlier work in which Bargeld delivers his vocals as maniacally and abrasively as possible.
In contrast to those albums, Bargeld’s performance on “ALLES IN ALLEM” is genuinely beautiful. His pivot from poetic prophet of misfortune on “Ten Grand Goldie” to romantic folk singer on “Am Landwehrkanal” was one that I was not at all prepared for. In fact, I was not prepared for the vocals on this record in general.
I never expected the same Blixa Bargeld who screamed over power tools in the 80s to paint such a vivid and otherworldly picture of Berlin streets and capture feelings of sheer terror.
My favorite vocal performance on this record by far is on “Seven Screws,” in which Bargeld reads a poem first in German and then in English as the instrumental swells progressively from the beginning of the track and climaxes with the final English line.
“ALLES IN ALLEM” is an incredible album. It is a marriage of harsh noise and delicate sound combined perfectly with unmistakable Neubauten darkness.
The record’s perfect fusion of such contradictory musical elements has created one of the most complex and engaging listening experiences I have had this year. It is the perfectly ordered rubble of the new buildings the group constructed in the 80s.