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Nitzer Ebb
Industrial Complex John Calvert , February 24th, 2010 07:04

With a quick turn on Nitzer Ebb’s YouTube channel, a scroll down the comments section yields a profile of the zealots who comprise the industrial pioneers’ hardcore fanbase. Other than contributions from pasty jarheads in the Midlands with call signs like Neuromancer84 and Spoonbender, there was this comment from szilagyib76 who told us that: “Dieses Material lässt meine Kugeln vom Innere heiß erhalten. Mächtig, ehrfürchtig sind sie meine Könige..!!!”. Pah, ain’t that the truth. Followed by input from AD North, whose razor-sharp assessment of ‘Violent Playground’ really brings it home: “Today I have lost my job, I have hallucinations. In a couple of days I will have killed my former colleagues and this song will be the soundtrack to the bloodbath.” The twin pillars of NE fandom - being German or being quietly homicidal, a bit like the Royal family.

Luckily for Americorp’s accounts team (murder is wrong, kids), Industrial Complex is all kinds of awesome. For the 'Ebbheads this is their Phantom Menace, except, well... good. After a slide towards rock-fusion and a pop bent, the duo spilt in 1995 following the unfairly maligned Big Hit. As of writing this, Industrial Complex resides at No.2 in Germany’s Alternative chart. Outside of German tastes though, being shit-hot and unintentionally homoerotic just doesn’t get you anywhere these days.

Besides the subtle air of desperation, a bad case of shaky sea-legs usually blights these rheumy-eyed re-formations. All misgivings are eviscerated in rude fashion with opening gambit ‘Promises’ and track three ‘Once You Say’; both of them punishing barnstormers, perfect for sound-tracking the dance of sinewy proletariats, wielding leviathan metal-cutting machines. Or as szilagyib76 puts it (loosely translated): “This stuff makes my balls get hot from the inside. Mighty, awesome they are my kings”.

It’s a breathtaking prelude to a giant comeback that sees John Vaughn and classic NE producer Flood programming track after track of paranoiac intensity and remorseless beats, often propelled by EBM’s iconic strobe-flicker effect - the galloping synth. In an early 80s sci-fi, when Arnie ran at improbable speeds through a dystopian future (usually a patch of Detroit wasteland) this is the sound his feet would make. Their most abrasive moment comes in ‘Payroll’ when some circumspect rap-style vocals are interrupted by Pat Bateman’s chainsaw.

Of the lower tempo tracks like ‘Hit You Back’ and the brooding piano-adorned ‘I Am Undone’, ‘Going Away’ is surprisingly vulnerable, a kind of cyberpunk torch-song with added monitor-fatigue where, as is the case right throughout Industrial Complex, McCarthy discusses a troubled relationship. Their one misstep ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ is a bad one, squandering a tellurium-plated stormer of a synth motif with a kitche-y refrain of the title, which is so inane it might as well be “Cherry Pop /Cherry Pop/ I Scream For Ice Cream”.

With the recent surge of young Londoners plundering the first-wave of punk’s gothic offshoots, an NE comeback might have been an opportunity to intervene; y‘know, give the kids something to aim for in the stakes of danceable doom. They might even have stretched to exhuming the plutonium-sick, Cold War atmosphere characteristic of their early releases. But dearly missed is the shadowy, chain-draped industrial lot the pair were drawing their energy from in yesteryear and what’s left is an electric-blue shade of NE, aerodynamic and missing an aftertaste. If you will, where Industrial Complex a film it would be Ridley Scott’s Black Rain - moody and sharp-edged yes, but too pretty is the blade.