But there was another movement taking place in the background, a distant relative of the electroclash fad circa 2002-2004. Every once in a while, the relatively close stars of techno, EBM and industrial align and we get a wave of hybrid material hitting the dancefloors – the mid-00s exemplified by compilations like ‘This Is Techno Body Music’. Once such artist – Terrence Fixmer, took this influence a step further and brought in Douglas McCarthy as a vocalist (I’ll cover those recordings another time). Combining new material with Ebb classics on stage, it was only a matter of time before the actual band reformed. And I was there to see it happen.
Wave-Gotik-Treffen 2006. Friday night at the Agra. Several thousand Ebbheads had just taken trams and taxis to the festival’s largest venue, mainly from Combichrist’s show at the Werk II, a project still awaiting it’s decline into to rock god egotism. Andy LaPlegua himself could be seen in the audience, and not just because tonight’s headliner was borrowing one of his drummers. The new arrivals were greeted by the tail end of Lacrimosa’s two-hour set, Tilo Wolff’s grufti-pleasing crybaby histrionics about to be thrown into sharp relief by the biggest industrial-scene comeback of the year.
And at 1am, Bon and Doug hit the stage to duet on “Getting Closer” and Nitzer Ebb were finally a going concern again. Germany was certainly the right place to make a comeback, home to their largest fanbase, chanting the band name a full half hour before they came to stage. Sweden was the probably the only other option – Swedish Ebb copyists Spetsnaz continue to pull huge crowds at similar events. But WGT needed it’s Big Hit – even if said album was the only one of theirs not to feature in the set! (No loss)
Me? I’m the only person I know who watched all of Lacrimosa and all of Nitzer Ebb that night. Sorry about the hit to my integrity, I spread my bets come festival-time…..
The band continued to tour for the next few years, bringing later-day member Jason Payne back into the line-up along the way. New tracks began to appear in their sets from 2007 onward, but the long-awaited new album wouldn’t appear until 2009 – Industrial Complex. An interesting title given that it was released during a ‘dead time’ for creativity in industrial music. EBM in it’s true form was confined to a few continental clubs, whilst the club industrial sound of the past decade had run out of ideas (and presets) and had began the process of appropriating influences from whatever hard dance genre happened to be flavour of the month at the time. Even the industrial rock collective seemed to have exhausted their idea pool.
So what they delivered wasn’t so much the “next big thing”, more a reminder of the influence they once had. Promises takes a throbbing bassline from their mid-80s origins and builds it up into something bigger and grander that they could have managed back then. Once You Say nails the dirty electronic rock sound they tried and failed to master on ‘Big Hit’, even bringing Martin Gore on backing vocals (there’s that other-Essex-band again).
Payroll goes for a similar effect, this time chancing a rap-style intonation, which shouldn’t have worked but does – the credit crunch was in full swing and this was a good attack as any against those silently responsible. The slow’n’sleazy sound of ‘Showtime’ is given new impact on Never Known, whilst the slow-building ballad concept heard once on “I Thought” (forgotten by everyone until a few paragraphs ago) is revisited with great effect on Going Away, Doug clearly having had a singing lesson or two during the decade-plus lay off.
The balance of the album is still given over to the ‘bangers’ – Down On Your Knees hints at the mechanical rhythms of their ‘Belief’ era, but with a much fuller sound, as if they’d discovered how many tracks are available in a modern studio environment and felt it a shame not to use them all. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was thought to be something of a silly novelty by some, but I have to admit to it being a guilty pleasure. How long is it since they knocked out thunderous beats and ever-repeated refrains?
Some did complain about the consciously ‘loud’ nature of this album – the minimal nature of their early works is rarely in evidence. But that wouldn’t have worked – no-one beyond devoted fans would have noticed such a recording in an era where you had to ‘get heard’ or ‘get lost’. One way or another, we needed this album, and so did Nitzer Ebb. It was a reminder of what made them great and a wake-up call for every act that took advantage of their absence to invent new meanings for EBM.
More’s the pity, then, that after another year of touring, including another trip round Europe with Depeche Mode, they went off in their own directions once more. And this time, with contemporary EDM threatening to snuff out what was left of danceable industrial music, they were seriously missed.
Singles and Versions: Fiddly multi-part CD singles are now a thing of the past, but in the true spirit of a band with a simple concept keeping their discography as complicated as possible, this album has been released on several labels (Major, Alfa Matrix, emmo.biz), each with a different set of bonus remixes, mainly of the track “Once You Say”.
There’s everything from a ‘keep it minimal’ statement from Vince Clarke to a club-friendly take by Apoptygma Berzerk, plus various adventures in different dance genres. You’d have to be a obsessive to collect all the versions, though.