Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Thermidor, 1982; reissued by Mute; available
14 tracks, 43:18
While I'm not the first to review it (see http://thetintinnabularium.blogspot.com/2009/02/spk-leichenschrei-1984.html , for example), I feel the need to assure everyone that this is indeed one of the finest early industrial releases.
Australia's SPK* were one of the first industrial bands. For this nightmare of an LP, SPK were Oblivion (a.k.a. main instigator Graeme Revell; various instruments), NE/H/IL (Neil Hill; electronics), and (James) Pinker (percussion). LEICHENSCHREI was their second LP, following some intense singles** and the primitive INFORMATION OVERLOAD UNIT album. Members allegedly worked in the mental health field, a theme that carries over to the music. A heavily percussive mass of sound is the result, with disturbing soundbites and samples weaving in and out of the mix. It's all very structured and rhythmic compared to most contemporaries, but that's the ONLY concession to accessibility. This is every bit as disturbing and grotesque as Throbbing Gristle, with the prominent rhythms doing little to blunt the impact of the other sounds and noises. Well, pehaps it's not COMPLETELY devastating; things calm down slghtly towards the end of the album. Highlights are hard to pick out, and the initial LP release was divided into two sides with no distinct tracks (one side ended in a lock groove). With that in mind, while it's harrowing, this is best experienced from start to finish. Be warned it's still every bit as paranoia-inducing as it ever was, and definitely be sure you're in the right frame of mind before playing this. I'd hate to see what could happen otherwise.
It's worth mentioning SPK's DESPAIR video here. This is essentially concert footage mixed with some truly nightmarish imagery. The parts with Revell tearing chunks off a skinned horse's head and chewing them onstage is one of the less disturbing images on DESPAIR, and while it's not grosser than many FACES OF DEATH-type collections, the atmosphere is absolutely nerve wracking and I've never been able to stomach the whole thing. If you think you can handle it, watch it, but be absolutely sure you know what you're getting into.
Revell would continue SPK with a revolving cast (plus his wife Sinan), eventually lapsing into fairly unexciting synthpop*** before disbanding. He currently does soundtrack works for major motion pictures, which isn't as surprising as it might seem. Hill took his own life two years later. Pinker appeared with a few other bands (most notably Dead Can Dance) and is apparently still active in music.
*For what it's worth, SPK stood for Sozialistisches Patienten Kollektiv for this album; the "Socialistiches" on the reissue is a misspelling. On other releases it's spelled out as Surgical Penis Klinik, SoliPsiK, SePpuKu, and System Planning Korporation.
**The compilation AUTO DA FE collects most of these tracks (including the particularly vicious "Slogun") along with some of the better synthpop-era tunes.
***With the exception of the excellent ZAMIA LEHMANNI: SONGS OF BYZANTINE FLOWERS, which shows Revell and company succeeding at ambient music.