Album: The Tribe + Black Axis


Label: Southern Lord

Release Date: January 18, 2019


When the Caspar Brötzmann Massaker appeared in the late eighties, there was no real precedent for what the Berlin trio was doing. The son of German free jazz icon Peter Brötzmann, Caspar wields his guitar like you’d expect the scion of an energy music pioneer to do – bluntly, using riffs like bludgeons and solos like scythes to cut down anything foolish enough to stand in his way. But there’s a stentorian vibe to his music as well, a kind of Teutonic grit that gives the trio’s rhythms – provided by bassist Eduardo Delgado Lopez and a series of drummers – a machine-like cadence reminiscent of industrial music. Drawing equally from Sonny Sharrock and Einstürzende Neubauten, the Massaker made one hell of a noise.

The CBM was originally introduced to a wider audience through 1993’s Koksofen, a rumbling, roaring powerhouse that was the band’s first LP to get a wide issue outside of its home country. But there were three albums that came before, and underground metal label Southern Lord has done old school fans – indeed, anyone who loves avant-garde rock – a favor with a new reissue campaign.

Originally released in 1988 only in Germany, The Tribe presents the trio in formative form. “Paul,” “Bonkers Dance” and the title track feature a healthy postpunk influence and more of Brötzmann’s flattened Eurocroon that would appear in future. “The Call” eschews singing completely, but it too betrays its Reagan years creation, especially with its chorused guitar tone. “Time” and “Massaker” again put the leader at the mic a bit too often, but musically they move into the hallmarks of the CBM: epic song lengths, repetitive structures and a brutal attack based in noise, jazz and doom metal. The sound of the band’s early efforts might be a something of a surprise to fans who only know the group’s American releases – the relatively accessible rhythms and frequency of vocals would make it seem like someone else if not for the raging guitar solos. Diehards might not consider them prime CBM, but they’ve still got power and style to spare, and when Brötzmann puts plectrum to Strat they’re difficult to resist.

Black Axis, again released only in Germany, this time in 1989, is where it all snaps into place. Leadoff “Die Tiere” filters Jimi Hendrix through a machinist filter, but “Hunter Song” puts it all together: drillbit lead lines, jazzhammer drumming, howling feedback, angry muttering and a relentless atmosphere of doom, gloom and ka-boom. “Böhmen” and “Tempelhof” follow suit, consolidating the group’s vision into tracks that flow between foreboding and freaking the fuck out. An odd break in the action, “Mute” absorbs a rhythmic attack that, in another light and angle, might be mistaken for funk, before Brötzmann’s axe overwhelms it. But it all comes down to the title cut, a  near-fifteen minute, pitch-black distillation of six-string chaos and doom-laden rumble makes nearly everything the band had done before sound like practice.

Given the band’s improvisational, live-in-studio recording, you’d think there would be outtakes a-plenty that could be used as bonus tracks. That’s not the route Southern Lord took, however, preferring instead to present the records as they were when first issued thirty years ago. A fair tack, since these records were difficult to find by American fans turned on by Koksofen. Easy to find at last, these opening salvos make clear that the Caspar Brötzmann Massaker hammered out a distinctive sound even in its formative beginnings.

DOWNLOAD:  The Tribe (3 stars): “Massaker,” “Bonkers Dance,” “Heavens Gate”

Black Axis (4 stars): “Black Axis,” “Hunter Song,” “Templehof”


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