Out of Line
For years I’ve toyed with writing a proper defense of Blutengel, the cultish German vampire dark pop group. The thrust of this theoretical screed would be that for their faults – the repetitive thematics, the aggressive corniness of their presentation, and the inconsistency of songwriting and production across their now unwieldy catalogue – bandleader and vocalist Chris Pohl and co-vocalist Ulrike Goldmann have managed to cultivate an honest to god die-hard fanbase via the careful management of aesthetics and their delivery. “Middle-of-the-Road-Goth/Industrial-About-Vampires” is a pitch so trite it sounds like a punchline, and yet for all the would-be Lestats we’ve seen come and go, none have ever carved the niche that Blutengel have. That insularity is also part of their strength; Blutengel only has to keep being Blutengel and the people in the market for what they’re offering will be well pleased to support them.
New album Un:Gott is a good example of what that means in practical terms. Following a string of skippable live, symphonic, and acoustic records and the disappointingly forgettable Leitbild in 2017, 2019 has Pohl and Goldmann returning to the heady, tacky mixture of romantic nonsense and vampirism they perfected on 2013’s Monument. Like that record Un:Gott leans into goth rock, schwarz club sounds and even schlager – whatever works for the track at hand. That means rock numbers like “Into the Void”, with its organish-lead and alternately strummy and chuggy guitar verse, are hey-hey-hey-ing alongside more trad 4/4 club fare like the dual-vocaled “Surrender to the Darkness”. The album’s arguable highlight is “Morningstar” where all the aforementioned approaches get mashed up into a ludicrous, Andrew Lloyd Weber act-break showstopper, as catchy as it is excessive. And therein lies the not-so-secret secret of their success: Blutengel aren’t about any kind of unified genre approach, they just make songs that broadly appeal to their audience from a stylistic standpoint. To wit, it’s less about what the songs sound like, and more about delivering them with maximum vamp-appeal.
And that’s the other thing that Blutengel does exceptionally well; for all the cynicism suggested by their insane release schedule, they never come across as less than absolutely dedicated to their schtick. Take the blindingly crass song “Vampire” for example: as funny as hearing the band repeatedly pronounce the title as ‘wam-pire’ is, you can’t discount their absolute conviction in that delivery. The same goes for bizarre club-bid “Praise the Lord” with its attempt at a scathing religious rebuff, and fluffy electro-pop gallop “Am Ende der Zeit”, no matter what they do, Blutengel go in deep and don’t ever betray their commitment to the bit. Is it silly? Sure, but it’s also the kind of silliness so devoid of post-modern irony you can admire it for its lack of self-consciousness. Who wants to listen to the actually-Vampires-are-dumb-and-I’m-just-joking band? Fuck that, I want the vampire band who take it all deadly god damn serious, who never blink no matter how over the top things get. Un:Gott is Blutengel in all their cornball, blood and roses glory, and honestly that’s all they need to be to deliver the goods.
Maybe some day I’ll get around to writing that defense of Pohl’s now 20 year legacy in Blutengel, but it’s probably not gonna win any hearts or minds. You should know pretty quickly upon encountering them whether you’re in or out, and very little is likely you to move from one camp to another. With Un:Gott, I remain in.