Wumpscut: Body Census


CD Review by Gregory S. Burkart

Since being sired nearly 20 years ago by German DJ Rudy Ratzinger, doomy electro outfit Wumpscut has stood firm as one of the pillars of darkly-themed dance music, with an output that is consistent, dependable and incredibly prolific... so much in fact, it's hard to catalog exactly how many releases Ratzinger has unleashed on the Goth clubs of the world (although I'm sure someone out there has a tally), but it seems like they must number in the hundreds by now. Standouts like ?War,? and ?Soylent Green? are familiar fixtures in the European EBM scene many years after their inception, and have inspired countless other acts to this day.

Needless to say, if you don't groove to the pitch-black paradigm of what has been affectionately dubbed ?Hellektro,? and are turned off by the colon-seizing pulsations of an analog drum sequence or the sandpaper grit of heavily distorted lead vocals, this won't be the album to win you over. Although it comes across as somewhat softer and less aggro in tone than the band's earlier work, Body Census represents business as usual, and is not a significant departure from any preceding Wumpscut album. Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing; to the anointed, it's downright essential. In other words, this one's for the fans.

Not that the fans have received all of Rudy's unfolding works with loving arms; each subsequent cut, album and remix has become the object of furious debate among genre purists. Some have described this latest release as a creative step backward after bold ventures like the preceding Cannibal Anthem. But how quickly they forget the contention surrounding Evoke or Bone Peeler ? two albums to which Census bears a more than passing stylistic resemblance.

Ironically, one element I found refreshing this time around was the artist's eloquent use of genuinely Gothic elements ? and by Gothic, I mean in the classic sense of that word: somber choirs, organ and washes of strings sheathed in immense, cathedral-sized reverb call to mind the gloom-laden atmosphere of perverse antiquity so perfectly conjured by the album's hand-drawn art (courtesy of Francois Launet, also known for his excellent Lovecraft-themed works). From the dirge chanting and string swells of the opening track ?The Beast Sleeps Within You,? an apocalyptic seed is planted which grows and creeps through many (but not quite all) of the subsequent songs, peaking with what has become one of my new Wumpscut faves, the manic harpsichord-infused ?My Dear Ghoul.?

Speaking of ghouls... also interesting is Rudy's sudden and humorous lyrical acknowledgment of his core audience in the identically themed tracks ?You Are A Goth? and ?Homo Gotikus Industrialis? - two witty anthems that appear to gently poke fun at the fishnet-clad folk who certainly have at least a half dozen Wumpscut tracks permanently etched into their black hand-painted iPods. So is the Dark Prince of Aggro-tech developing a playful side? Not bloody likely.

The anthemic fist-pounder ?We Believe, We Believe? is sure to be a club hit, but the no doubt similarly intended ?Adonai, My Lord? is, although catchy, not nearly as thrilling. The heavily distorted mid-tempo rhythms of the title track call to mind some of Skinny Puppy's early works; it also makes excellent use of layered vocal lines, which lends the production an epic feel, and features some goosebump-inducing synth sweeps that merit playback on the biggest sound system available.

Though I wouldn't go as far as to accuse Rudy of softening his style (as some have criticized), I'll admit I did detect a somewhat gentler edge to some of the work here... instrumentally, ?Remember One Thing? has a certain Tangerine Dream-esque quality to it (the aging synth-nerd in me considers this a pretty good thing), as does the instrumental interlude ?Hide And Seek.? ?The Fall,? with its deep, rich female vocals replacing Rudy's characteristic rasp, closes out the album on a surprisingly peaceful vibe. If that's the path he's seeking, fair enough... there's lots of new sonic territory in that direction, even if the old-school clubbers are loath to admit it. Besides, Ratzinger has always found real emotional content in the darkest of places, dispelling the stereotype of staid, soulless techno of gut-rumbling kicks and detuned sawblade synth-stacks.

Maybe Body Census isn't quite on par with early masterworks Eevil Young Flesh or Embryodead, but it's a strong release, and excels where it counts in this genre by creating a dark, funereal mood that turns that little shudder of unease into something you can get up and dance to. What more do you want?