Complete Control Productions
Back in my salad days, I spent a fair portion of my time dicking around on rec.music.industrial, the usenet group that for or better or worse informed my knowledge of the scene before you could just pop over to a band’s myspace, soundcloud or youtube channel to check out what they sounded like. Amidst the endless squabbling (and yeah, I did my share) over what did or didn’t constitute “real” industrial music and the relative merits of this band versus that band, I could occasionally glean some genuinely worthwhile recommendations. Amongst the countless artists that I discovered in this fashion, Arzt+Pfusch, the self-proclaimed purveyors of “noisebmstupidevildustrial” were amongst the most iconoclastic.
Arriving during the ascent of futurepop and hot on the heels of the original wave of powernoise, Arzt+Pfusch certainly didn’t fit into either camp. Although they shared the latter’s love of distortion, they were pretty clearly descended from the 90s electro-industrial scene, already in decline at the close of the millennium. Much of their appeal to me was certainly in their punkish attitude; while Ronan and Eskil were singing about forging new kingdoms and united worlds under one sky, Arzt+Pfusch’s Doctor A. Funz and Der Doktor were delivering songs like “Anal Toothbrush” and “Skumfuk”, dripping with equal measures of gleeful venom and sarcasm. In the years since the release of their now classic Warum? and Love LPs, the group have remained largely silent (2007’s S.I.C.K. was released online only, and featured Cymotec’s CyMonk in the place of Der Doktor) emerging unexpectedly earlier this year in partnership with Complete Control Productions to release their new record, Lictor Evaporated.
If not strangely than at least suprisingly, Lictor Evaporated is allegedly inspired by the space-fantasy board game Warhammer 40,000. Perhaps appropriately given the mind-bogglingly complex canon of 40K, much of the sonic grit of Arzt+Pfusch’s previous work has been subbed out for the orchestral sounds presaged by the single release of album opener “Fall of an Empire”. Distorted drums are still very prevalent throughout, but much of the character of the songs comes from programmed strings and martial rhythms. It’s something of a stylistic departure, and actually has the odd effect of throwing light on the origins of their sound in dark electro, “Supreme” specifically calling to mind yelworC or Serenade for the Dead era Leæther Strip. “Well Polished Boltgun” treads similar ground, although a bit of the group’s sardonic attitude of old shines through in its Ed Wood (the eponymous biopic of the director rather than his films) sample.
Although what I’ve written so far might leave with you the impression that the record is all bombast, there’s an almost subtle sense of dynamics at work too. “Servo Skull” has a weird, chanting vocal that ends up propelling the cut far more than its rhythm track. “Mars Pattern II”, maybe the most classically Arzt+Pfusch song on the record, is all distorted synthlines and rusty hi-hats, but still works the orchestral angle, using it to reinforce older sounds rather than replace them. And warbling closer “Landspeeder Interrupted (By a Plasma Blast)” is downright textured, evoking the blasted space landscape of the game that inspired the record. I don’t know that I’ve ever thought about it before, but Arzt + Pfusch have always known how to arrange things effectively, a fact that was obscured by the corrosive nature of their early work.
At eight tracks and forty seven minutes Lictor Evaporated feels a bit short, especially in contrast to the epic sound it deals in. I’m not entirely sure I prefer the new direction to the old, but I’m the last person to dismiss a band for doing something different, especially when it effectively grows out of what they’ve done previously. After all, a big part of what has made A+P’s work endure for me has been their dogged pursuit their own grimy path. Doing what I (or anyone else for that matter) would expect isn’t what they’ve ever been about. I can certainly recommend the album as a solid and foreboding listen stripped of the context of their previous work, and in doing something that defies whatever preconceptions I might have had for them in 2011, I can also say that it fits nicely into the doctor’s legacy. It’s an Arzt+Pfusch record, what did I expect?