A Token of My Extreme: Einsturzende Neubaten- Halber Mensch (1985)
1985; Some Bizarre Records/Potomak
Einsturzende Neubaten's name means "Exploding New Buildings" in English. As early pioneers in the art of brainpan-eviscerating industrial noise, this West Berlin act has lived up to their name while steadily refining their sound over the past thirty years. Their performances have always been a combination of highbrow Euro performance art, improvisational insanity and the joy and freedom of making a huge goddamn racket, and even though they've actually discovered an excellent sense of melody and subtlety over the years (probably adopted from frontman Blixa Bargeld's other band, Nick Cave's Bad Seeds), they are still determinedly unconventional as evidenced by their predilection for makeshift instruments such as pneumatic air tubes, sheets of metal and barrels used for percussion, power saws and drills, etc. If you ask dyed-in-the-wool EN fans where the evolution from brutal clanging sonic terrorism into nuanced songcraft started, they may point to 1989's Haus der Luge (whose "Feurio!" became an underground club hit and the topic of several remixes) or they may cite later opuses such as 1993's Tabula Rasa or even 2000's Silence Is Sexy (which remains my favorite album of theirs).
However in this reviewer's opinion it starts right here with Halber Mench. Early EN recordings before this were basically straight jackhammering with no melody whatsoever, with found objects, construction implements, rudimentary synths, even Blixa's voice, all reduced to a single role: percussion. It's fun stuff, albeit in small to moderate doses. While there's still plenty of crazy scraping, clanking and crackling noises in Halber Mench, the core membership of Blixa, Alexander Hacke, Mark Chung and crazed percussionist FM Einheit had discovered how to incorporate a sense of structure into their junkyard madness, and there was even some prominent guitar in a recognizable state of tune (!), a semi-melodic pop song with noise solo (!!) and a borderline dance tune (!!!). Blixa's voice was no longer all harsh Teutonic screaming, either--on songs like "Seele Brennt," "Letztes Biest (Am Himmel)" and "Sehnsucht" he revealed a menacing whisper and some poetic, baritone singing--elements that he would expand on over the course of his career. These art school kids were growing up, as were their musical ambitions.
The album begins very strangely even for these guys. The title track is a haunting, shamanic chant, completely a capella. Its alien quality carries across the rest of the record, even as the vocals yield completely to sheer mechanical clatter as they do on "Das Schaben"--a nine and a half minute noise bath that is the clear centerpiece of the album and hour-long movie (also named Halber Mensch) depicting their 1985 tour of Japan--like Germany, a place once similarly ravaged by war and post-industrial decay. Coincidence? Don't think so. All over this album you can find themes of death, deconstruction ("Desire comes out of chaos"), Cold War sociopolitics and existentialism/nihilism in the Nietzschean tradition proving that under the din, EN always had something intelligent to say. If you can speak German. Don't worry, a translation is provided.
Halber Mench is essential to an understanding of the development of this extraordinary outfit from a bunch of angry Teutonic punks with power tools into the amazing, cinematic sonic juggernaut they are now. Along with Throbbing Gristle's D.O.A., Foetus' Nail and SPK's Leichenschrei no discerning rivethead should be without this early industrial document in their collection.
If you thought that Rammstein or even KMFDM was the epitome of scathing Germanic noise, well.... you may want to put this album on hold for a little while. Try Silence Is Sexy, Perpetuum Mobile or Tabula Rasa first before coming here. You don't have to hear SPK or Throbbing Gristle beforehand, but that can't hurt either. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Yes I know that is a Nietzsche quote, I'll cut this review off before it gets any more pretentious.