A refreshing departure from the cold digital feel of hard EBM, while retaining all the dark menace
Review by Gregory S. Burkart
Man, how time flies? it seems like just yesterday I covered the album Body Census from Wumpscut, alias Rudy Ratzinger, Germany?s one-man specialist in dark electronic dance music ? or ?Hellektro,? as they like to call it over there. But Rudy?s one of the most prolific artists in the genre, and lately has managed to crank out an album per year, not to mention countless remixes and various other collaborations, so actually I guess he?s right on time with his latest spin ? an impressive 12-track opus titled Schädling.
Even for Wumpscut, this is a pretty ambitious release in terms of marketing strategy, with the album available in many different fan-friendly formats, including a gigantic limited-edition box containing the main album paired with a second CD of remixes (most selected from an online contest), and about a cubic ton of goodies on top, ranging from shirts to fridge magnets. In today?s mega-competitive music market, even if you?re a well-established artist with a sizable fanbase, you?ve got to come up with pretty inventive methods of promotion and packaging to boost your profile, and Ratzinger knows all about this ? having spent many hears as a DJ in Europe?s underground dance clubs, I?m sure he?s well aware you?re only as good as your last dance-floor hit, and there?s lots of would-be alpha dogs snapping at your heels, just waiting for you to stumble.
Case in point, the European release of Schädling was met with a rather blasé initial response among many music bloggers, many of which repeated the oh-so-predictable phrase ?not as good as his earlier stuff.? Call me hopelessly out of touch (it wouldn?t be the first time), but I actually consider Schädling a step up in many respects, and more involving than many releases that went before it. Sure, there's admittedly fewer obvious ?get on the floor? club anthems this time around? with the exception of ?Rifki,? which has one of the best EBM bass lines I've heard in a while, and some radical beat-changes that stand the whole thing on end (and there's some wicked remixes of this track out there too), but personally I?ve always preferred Ratzinger's more menacing and surreal-sounding material, especially from his earliest full-length work Music for a Slaughtering Tribe and its successful follow-up Wreath of Barbs... the spirit of which this album reminds me a lot.
The production level of Schädling is extremely high ? which may alienate some hardcore aggro-tech fans who prefer a dirty, minimalist technique ? but this release demonstrates a technical and creative evolution in the artist's career that I found promising, and I'd like to hear more like this. The songs are consistently higher tempo, well-sequenced and flow smoothly together, with a good coherent arc, sometimes linked by key or time signature, or just in overall sonic tone, which really showcases Ratzinger's DJ skills.
The standouts include ?Foretold,? an epic cinematic track that combines orchestral surges and drones with eerie vocal sampling; ?Break the Seal,? which is reminiscent of early-era Skinny Puppy; the aforementioned fist-pumper ?Rifki?; and ?Moloch,? with its black-mass atmosphere and scary metallic stabs. But my favorite here is the definitely ?Voodoo Void,? which features a crystalline synth lead structure underpinned with impressive orchestral samples that make it prime soundtrack material for a dystopian sci-fi epic. The sampling of organic instruments like the conch shell (at least I think that?s what I?m hearing punctuating the closing track ?Nest?), as well as symphonic elements (strings, grand piano, horns and various percussion) mark a refreshing departure from the cold digital feel of hard EBM, while retaining all the dark menace. In fact, many of the expected kick-and-high-hat electro percussion elements seem less inspired this time around, often coming across flat, lifeless and lacking punch in the mix. That being said, this is still one of Rudy?s stronger releases in years, and a creative step in the right direction.