Bulwark Bazooka
Beton Kopf Media/Metropolis

Another year, another :Wumpscut: album. For those who stopped paying attention circa Wreath of Barbs (an album which is now 13 years old, and has the special edition reissue boxset to prove it), Rudy Ratzinger’s fabled enzeit-electro project has been settled into a one-album-every-calendar-year groove for a decade now. It’d be easy to claim diminishing returns, although that conveniently overlooks a fairly basic principle of economics; for these albums to continue to be made and released – both on Ratzinger’s own Beton Kopf Media and North America’s Metropolis Records – someone has to be buying them. It’s a testament to the loyalty of his audience that Rudy is able to release music at this rate, although I’d be lying if I said Bulwark Bazooka shattered any preconceptions I may have had about his latter day material.

For its lack of any particularly killer tunes, it is notable that the LP is laden with a lot of the things that made :Wumpscut: such a universal presence in the 90s. Few acts could touch :W: in dark electro’s 90s heyday, and some of the genius bits of programming that made the project ubiquitous still inform his composition to this day. Opener “Rubber Corpse” is hobbled by one of the ultra-simple looping lead riffs Rudy has been attaching to his songs for ages now, but those double-time drum fills and the use of vocalist Aleta Welling is enough to suggest classic Music for a Slaughtering Tribe era tracks like “Fear in Motion” and “She’s Dead”. Similarly, the Dead Can Dance sample and funky mid-tempo groove of “Heresy” hearkens back to classic :W: instrumentals like “Thorns”, less that song’s compulsive replayability and club appeal.

It’s only fair to say that there’s nothing I think is unequivocally terrible on Bulwark Bazooka. There’s a lot of mediocrity to be certain, and aside from a couple half-hearted dancefloor overtures (the aforementioned “Rubber Corpse” and the lyrically dopey “Supergurl”) the album settles into an inoffensive cycle of slower numbers pretty fast. It’s just hard to imagine anyone feeling inspired or excited by a number like “Vienna” that ambles aimlessly between old-timey harp samples and buzzy synth washes. Even when some energy does manifest on the nasty “Atrocity Dancer” – a track which notably uses Rudy’s sped-up lead vs. half-time drums trick a la “Slave to Evil” – it never totally goes over the top, rolling to a stop after a few rote laps around its verse and chorus.

The more I think about it, the less I’m convinced my initial theory about the comforts of a band doing what it does best are correct. At least for this listener, Bulwark Bazooka invokes much better songs and albums in a way that places its own lack of inspiration in sharp relief. It’s certainly better than a few of the latter records Ratzinger has released (Fuckit and Women and Satan First were by and large unlistenable), but it’s still not anywhere close to the quality of the records it invokes. If “better than :Wumpscut:’s worst” seems like faint praise, allow me to leave you with the question I kept coming back to while listening to this record: is there any effective difference between general mediocrity and being outright terrible when the end result is the same?