Twenty five years is a heck of a long time for any band to hang with a particular sound or style, perhaps doubly so when something as fluid as industrial is concerned. Dramatic sea changes in aesthetics, poetics, and fashion have remade the landscape of Our Thing since 1990, and yet Germany’s Prager Handgriff have remained inured to nearly all of them. In cleaving to a dramatic, almost arch brand of EBM since their inception, a record like the band’s latest, Roburit, shows how time has changed how we listen to Prager Handgriff, even if it hasn’t changed them a bit.
Despite working with familiar EBM sounds which can generally be traced back to Belgium, Prager Handgriff have always sounded resolutely teutonic. Boxy drums and a mix of sharp attack synth leads and string pads fill out the mix, but rather than ever coming together in the form of “strict” or “traditional” body music pioneered by DAF, the tense and insistent sound of PH comes closer to the earliest releases of the likes of Welle:Erdball and Cat Rapes Dog. Opener “Schneller Als Das Licht” has a bassline which could be transposed over to innumerable EBM bangers from across the decades, but its smooth and almost melancholic programming and vocals connote moods more suited to solitary reflection than dancefloors.
In the years since their early tapes and LPs, vocalist Stefan Schäfer has honed a steely sense of sturm and drang which speaks to that inward focus, differentiating himself and Prager Handgriff on the whole from the punkier and more outwardly aggressive fury that has fueled so much of the anhalt sound. At times, Schäfer’s vocals are given such focus, as on “Dem Strum Entgegen”, that they are in danger of blotting out the more subtle programming moves. Even when they do go for faster beats and punchy basslines (“Faschoclowns”, “Immer Bereit”), there’s an even keel to the vocals and chimes which hold a magisterial sway over the rhythm. Fans of Neue Deutsche Harte should take note of how well that genre’s mood can be conveyed without the use of a single guitar.
Renewed interest in early forms of industrial and EBM can be seen just about anywhere one looks, from Youth Code to the ongoing saga of the beer-soaked Familien Treffen festival. While Prager Handgriff will be playing at said fest in a few months, they’re distinguished from the majority of their stage-mates not only in the moods they seek to convey, but in their history in the genre. While plenty of the younger bands at Familien Treffen have consciously striven to emulate lost branches of EBM, Prager Handgriff had to wait twenty five years for their steadfast resolve to be recognized and appreciated.