Monday, October 25, 2010

New Wave for the New Week #89

The first part of the 1980's saw two important musical movements happening in and around Germany, both of which were loud, sharp, coarse and minimalistic.  If you preferred your music on the noisy, heavily percussive side, there was the Industrial scene.  Bands like Einsturzende Neubauten, Test Dept., Laibach and Young Gods created an awesome racket banging on metal pipes, crashing cement blocks and using chainsaws as instruments.  For those who wished at least a semblance of melodic structure to be present, there was a subgenre that came to be referred to as Neue Deutsche Welle (often abbreviated as NDW; literally, "German New Wave").  NDW bands such as Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft (DAF), Der Plan and Xmal Deutschland rarely strayed from the minimalistic, percussion-based style of their Industrial counterparts, but they chose to stick with more traditional instruments - with a heavy reliance on the synthesizer.  However, while the New Romantics in the UK and the American Synthpop bands coaxed bright, sunny, plinky sounds from their electronic keyboards, the NDW bands found the darker, harsher side.

One of the best examples of the NDW sound was a trio from Dusseldorf who called themselves Belfegore.  Meikel Clauss, Charley T. Charles and Walter Jaeger released their self-produced and self-distributed debut album A Dog Is Born in 1983.  Though pressed in limited quantities, the album became a highly sought-after import in the UK.  The all-German lyrics in near-monotone and cold, impersonal synthesizer lines snaking through each track appealed greatly to the Goth scene; the music was heavy enough for the Punks to accept; the New Wave clubs were happy to program the music for its danceability.  Long out of print, the album is an NDW classic.

A pair of 7-inch EPs appeared soon after. Nacht In Sodom and In Roma continued in the same vein, although moving towards an even heavier, closer sound.  Jaeger was on his way out of the band, soon to be replaced by Raoul Walton, and Belfegore caught the ear of Elektra Records, who signed them by year's end.

1984 saw the release of the band's only internationally distributed album, Belfegore.  Boasting a fuller, more polished sound and Clauss's best vocals yet (in English this time around!), the album is simply majestic.  Cuts like "Questions," "Comic With Rats Now," and "Wake Up With Sirens" are moody, trance-like and stunning, but the crown jewel here is the single "All That I Wanted," which became a fairly big underground hit and remains the song for which the band is best remembered.

None of Belfegore's material remains in print, and the world still awaits a proper CD reissue of either album.  In the meantime, both LPs and both EPs turn up with fair regularity on eBay (although if you want A Dog Is Born be prepared to shell out plenty!) and Belfegore can be had reasonably cheaply on as well.  All are recommended.

To give you a taste of Belfegore's sound, this week's clip is the video for "All That I Wanted." Enjoy!

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