Das Letzte Gefecht
Long running German EBM act Prager Handgriff have always been an interesting quantity in the world of retro-body music; while obviously drawing from the genre’s roots, their music has foregone boiler-plate muscle and hate for a stoic and regal bearing. That attitude extends beyond the distinctive vocals of Stefan Schäfer and into a more ornate style of songwriting and instrumentation, which often more closely resemble those of dark electro, albeit with EBM’s bounce and energy. New LP, Das Letzte Gefecht, the first since 2015’s Roburit, doesn’t diverge from that path, although the effect is lessened for a variety of reasons both technical and musical.
Firstly it has to be said that the album’s production does no favours to Prager Handgriff. One of the band’s classic tactics has been leveraging the roughness and readiness of roots EBM to juice up their more ambitious and orchestrated arrangements, but the general sound of Das Letzte Gefecht feels somewhat sterilized and lacking in dynamics. Worse, the flatness of the mix robs songs like “Du Bist Wie Du Bist” of the anthemic uplift they should have; you can sense how the song should feel, but the lack of sonic vigor and compression keep it grounded. Too many otherwise fine tracks (the emotional “In Moria”, the digital horn workout “Schwarzer Freitag”) fall victim to the same issue, their immediate appeal sapped by the LP’s lifeless sound.
The knock-on effect of that fallowness is that songs feel like they lack distinction from one another, making the album’s fourteen tracks start to blur together. There’s certainly some distinct elements in play here; check out the tasteful chorused bass guitar on “Für Immer”, “Der Klang Der Nacht” and “Abschied” (the latter two also invoking some interesting synthpop and darkwave touches to their benefit), and the mechanical riffing on the title track recalls some of their earlier dalliances with the tropes of Neue Deutsche Härte sturm and drang. But those distinctive musical elements are awash in a sea of samey and sometimes dated sound design, making each song harder to distinguish from its neighbours regardless of what unique elements it might possess. Were the record shorter, or given a more lively mix and master it might be a different story, but the sum of those flaws in total makes the album feel like less than its component parts.
Das Letzte Gefecht isn’t terrible by any means, and those devotees of Prager Handgriff who can look past its issues will find some things to enjoy in it – the quirky organ-led bounce of “Aluminium” and the cleverky constructed “Böse Geister” are both fine additions to the band’s catalogue for example. It’s simply a case of cumulative weaknesses detracting from the total package in ways that are hard to ignore in aggregate.