In Conversation is a feature in which the senior staff talk about a recent record we’re listening to. Not exactly a review, it’s pretty much exactly what it says on the tin: two music nerds having a conversation about an album with all the tangential nonsense, philosophical wanking, and hopefully insightful commentary that implies. This week we check out the reunion album from the mythic and foundational Klinik.
Eat Your Heart Out
Out Of Line
Bruce: We’ve already talked a bit about this, but it’s impressive how much of Eat Your Heart Out sounds like an original-era Klinik record, from the songwriting to the production to the gear, at least insofar as we can identify the latter. The lead synth’s attack on “In Your Room” sounds just uneven and analog enough to create a nice tension with its staccato rhythm, and the super-heavy gating on “Stay” feels similarly grimy. There ares some phased record scratches scattered throughout which put me in mind of old Marley Marl joints (though I imagine those sounds connote new beat for Europeans), but besides that it sounds like vintage Klinik through and through to my ears.
It’s difficult not to listen to Eat Your Heart Out in comparison the recent reemergence of Ivens’ other big project, Absolute Body Control’s Shattered Illusion. While I thought that record underlined ABC’s importance by making classic minimal wave sounds feel utterly modern, Eat Your Heart Out feels like the exact opposite experience, at least insofar as pinning sounds to particular eras is concerned. If Shattered Illusion was a wormhole connecting the present with a very particular moment in the past, Eat Your Heart Out is a veritable time capsule. Does that match your take? How does the classic Klinik sound fit in or interact with the current musical climate (if at all)?
Alex: Well, I think it’s important to note that although the instrumentation and the style of the songs is very much what I would expect from the original line-up, the production as far as the actual recording goes is pretty contemporary. I wouldn’t really expect anything else (Ivens and Verhaeghen have both been actively working for the last 20+ years), but there is something to be said for how rough and woozy some of those classic Klinik albums were in part due to how they were put to tape. I remember when Hands put out their reissues of the classic LPs they made a point of saying they weren’t going to remaster them to maintain some of that effect. Whether that was a dodge due to them not having access to original masters or a budget to do the work, I do think it’s part of the charm of Sabotage and Face to Face for example. Still, it’s not like having everything be a bit bassier and more distinct in the mix detracts from Eat Your Heart Out at all, and there’s still plenty of haziness in cuts like “We Are One” and “Mindswitch”. Apparently Eric Von Wonterghem (Monolith, Absolute Body Control) was behind the desk, and kudos to him, it’s a great sounding LP.
Probably also important to mention that although this is the return of Ivens to the Klinik on record after several years of Verhaeghen’s solo efforts under the name, there’s apparently also some contributions from Peter Mastbooms, aka Borg, (ex-Vomito Negro, Juggernauts) who has been playing live Klinik gigs with Dirk for a minute now, due to Marc’s health issues presumably. No idea what he brought to the table (other than some of the album design), but he deserves a nod.
Back to your original question though: how does the Klinik relate to the current state of Our Thing? Well, I suppose I can easily draw lines to some of the new guard in the LA scene, and to some of the more classically minded Swedish EBM acts without too much effort if we’re being literal. If I’m gonna be a little more thoughtful though, I might suggest that what Ivens and Verhaeghen did together was to infuse their music with a sense of danger and potential violence without ever wholly resorting to beating on the listener directly. Even the acts that you can really clearly see drew from the Klinik (like Suicide Commando for example) have graduated to plain old assault, and that has diminishing returns. I guess what I’m getting at is that for all their roughness and general misanthropy, those older K albums have an element of comparative subtlety to them I can’t quite relate to anything current, at least not in EBM anyway.
Bruce: Agreed. I wonder if what we’re reacting to is a form of aggressive post-industrial which predates so many of the modes in which folks sought to be noisy or loud. The sound that made the Klinik what they are, and which they’re reprising here, predates aggrotech, predates powernoise, predates dark electro as we generally use the term (though I can’t think of another band with more of an influence on that genre than The Klinik), hell, it predates most of the key electro-industrial records. EBM had never sounded as grim when The Klinik emerged, and (as another record from some old-timers recently proved), there’s a power to maintaining tension rather than just clubbing the listener with noise. Speaking of which, I’ve often wondered if that was part of the appeal of the pure grind of Dive for Ivens after leaving Klinik: the chance to just wig out with as much distortion as you pleased.
All that said, Eat Your Heart Out can be pretty punchy at times in the percussion department: not in a pummeled-to-death sense, but certainly in the gets you violently moving even on public transit way. “Bite Now Bite” has a looping, circular groove that has plenty in common with “Moving Hands” (and almost has me connecting dots between that track and mid-90s big beat), and “Closing Time”‘s builds and falls between stabby kicks and much funkier breaks is inspired. The latter is one of the few tracks which feels like it’s bringing something that’s been informed by musical history post-Ivens’ departure: I’m wondering if that’s perhaps Mastbooms’ hand showing?
Anyway, to bring up one of the talking points on the Interwebs: what do you think of Dirk’s vocals on this record? I’ve heard a couple of complaints that they feel incongruous with the music, or that (paradoxically) “typical Dirk Ivens vocals” don’t sound right on a Klinik record. I’m not exactly sure what those people’s understanding of a “typical” Klinik record is, but I am curious as to your take on the vocals.
Alex: Well, I think they’re definitely more in the vein of what Dirk has done recently than say, how he sang on Plague or whatever, but I think that’s pretty natural considering the passage of time. Like, you could listen to this album back to back with Shattered Illusion from 2010 and even if you had never heard him sing a note before you’d be able to tell it was the same guy. I think they’re fine really, not out of step with classic Klinik so much that it’s a distraction. It just sounds like Dirk doing Dirk to me.
Maybe people are referring to the lyrics? For all my love of Dirk’s work, I’ll admit he doesn’t write super complex lyrics or anything; he tends to stick to certain themes (let’s count a few off: obsession, mental illness, impending death, betrayal, literal and metaphorical imprisonment and so on) so maybe there’s an element of thematic fatigue that some listeners are finding redundant? I could theorize about it a bit more but it’s not a complaint I have personally so it’s kind of a fruitless endeavour. I will say that when I heard Dirk sing the opening couplet of “Nothing You Can Do” (“On the run your blood runs cold/The naked truth never told”) it felt like my hopes for the record were somewhat fulfilled. If you’re gonna make a Klinik album you’re gonna need some imagery like that, so why fight it?
Okay, so here’s a question for you: how would you relate this album to Verhaeghen’s solo albums under the project’s aegis? From the mid-90s through the mid-2000s Marc was making some very minimal, pulsing trancelike instrumental stuff that didn’t have a whole lot in common with the collaborative albums from the 80s other than it was pretty dark. For one thing his songs tended to be quite long (the second disc of Akhet is one 60 minute track for example) and unfold incredibly slowly, where this feels pretty immediate, with many of the main musical elements appearing right from the jump. Any links I’m overlooking or haven’t considered?
Bruce: First off, it’s worth giving some shout outs to those Verhaeghen-only records. I’m worried that with all the hue and cry about the “return” of Klinik that we’ll forget that for a good dozen or so years we had solid, atmospheric records with plenty of cool wet synths doing all manner of fun, trippy stuff. Akhet, Awake, and especially Dark Surgery all remain albums I love to bump.
I don’t think that it would have even occurred to me to listen to Eat Your Heart Out in contrast to those records unless you prompted me, and I’m glad you did. While I’m standing by the record being a “return to form” and all of the other cliches which accompany that, I don’t think it’s totally unmarked by the work Verhaeghen has done in the interim. I think the space that’s given to the gated saws on “In Your Room” and “Stay”, along with some of the more heavily syncopated beats on the record show at least show respect for the time Verhaeghen spent learning how to develop moods apart from charnel gloom through pure sound design, regardless of the pace of the record. Again, the production of the record definitely casts it as a throwback, but even within the context of whatever gear/production setup Klinik afforded themselves on this, I don’t think it’s an entirely puritanical affair (somewhat contrary to my earlier wormhole claims).
So, how about this: can there be another Klinik record using this lineup and this aesthetic? Maybe it’s silly to start talking “what’s next” for a band who have just made a comeback, but I think it’s worth talking about considering how many classic bands of Klinik’s approximate generation have reunited recently. Puppy’s three post-reunion albums definitely feel like they’re of a separate era and Nitzer Ebb’s Industrial Complex felt equally informed by their original material as well as what happened in the interim; Eat Your Heart Out is definitely the most “classic” reformation record we’ve heard. What lies ahead, or what would you at least like to hear next?
Alex: Funny you should ask that, as just the other day Dirk Ivens posted something on Facebook about how he and Marc don’t want to wait another decade for there to be more new material from them, hinting that we might have more stuff to consider in the near future. The uneasy feeling I initially had (due to some inside baseball type rumours it would be tacky to get into here) about this possibly being “the last” Klinik record are somewhat assuaged by that, and I think it’s safe to look to the future a little.
If I consider what I’d like to hear the Klinik do, the easy answer (and the correct one as far as my own tastes are concerned) is “more like this”. I sometimes wonder if we’re predisposed to enjoy records like these to the point where we’re not really able to be super critical about it the way we are with albums we have less invested in. The chicken and the egg scenario of “Do I like this because it’s to my tastes, or because it sounds like the music that formed my tastes?” isn’t really answerable, but if we’re gonna get new Klinik records, this is what I want them to sound like. Dark and claustrophobic and like it’s emerging from fog with a convulsing strobelight accompaniment. I want it to be full of ugly energy and stand at the edge of brutality without turning into a caricature of itself. I want it hemorrhaging acrimony. Those are all things Eat Your Heart Out does, and I could listen to it, and any theoretical future record that sounds like it all the live long day.