Bohren & Der Club of Gore is best reserved for those strictly contemplative moments, where the opportunity to dwell in environmental quiet becomes clouded by lingering distractions. It’s music for hopelessly sleepless nights that burst with anxiety and suspense, where it’s impossible to think clearly or channel your intentions into a cohesive pattern. Bohren provides the perfect escape hatch, where the burning resonance of plucked fibers coexists with the deadening thunk of minor keys. Within each rap of the snare lies an eternity, where the beat is pulled so far apart from itself that your body descends as some curdling melody swells beneath the surface, like a lonesome bubble sinking deeply into a pint of stout.
At least that’s what the German quartet expose at their most pungent, where the headspace they occupy is marred by a severe compositional treacle; it’s a comfortable home for the subtle metallics, far-away choirs, and waning strings that reside there, but an exercise in the absurd for the sensations they provoke. Building on a foundation of grindcore and metal, the band continue to evolve their curiosity in mining a grim ambience, which consequently pours through their discovery. They distort the wicked assault of their namesakes, Gore, the pernicious bite of Autopsy, and that sluggish gate of Black Sabbath, slowing the pulse right down so that it’s almost undetectable. By way of the seeping, murky impression that saturates the breadth of Piano Nights, they lure their aesthetic preferences into an almost deathlike state, pumping them softly with a lease of still life.
That warm engulf found permeating the quieted metal or doom jazz qualities of the band’s work has shifted enormously over time. After the Fender Rhodes-heavy Sunset Mission and the guitar-drenched cacophony of their debut, Bohren have sunk into a trademark noir of textures, which evolve across each album to shape their bludgeoning aesthetic. And despite the first impression that Piano Nights yields through its opener, “Im Bahm,” the haunted, ambient waves of “Grave Wisdom” and the immersive, monastic harmonies of “Orgelbut” have all but dissolved. In their place exists a set of influences that appear ambivalent but are unquestionably more refined. Santasangre once asked piano player Morten Gass where else he looked for inspiration: “In a glass of Gin & Tonic,” was his reply. For although there is this interest in navigating the boundaries of extremity, there remains a distinct human element within their latest album that recalls not the fiery pits of the devil’s lair, but the smokiest confides of an underground blues bar.
The evolution of this sound comes from expanding pieces that are initially composed on bass and piano, before they are transformed into fully-formed slabs of gloom. Piano Nights takes its name from a solo performance on grand piano by Christoph Clöser at a venue in Moscow, and it’s also a hat tip to the group’s own structural format when dealing in such atrocious tempo (not to mention their abstinence from free jams or improvisation). The piano is rich and succinct within each of these tracks, a counterpoint to dreary sax and sluggardly percussion while retaining a sense of dominance when cut against distant organs and intrepid keys. This technique is brought out of the shadows on “Irrwege,” where a staggered melody juts around the choral drone and crushing percussion; the piano here is so much bolder than in their previous work, like the abrasions it leaves are part of the song’s skeleton poking through the flesh that encases it.
Piano Nights is a cold reflection of Bohren’s reputation. Where the slowest jazz music sheds its skin from affiliations with metal or sludge and seeks out an overarching force. This is explored in the space between sequences, most noticeably on the album closer “Komm zuruck zu mir,” which is so graceful in its depiction of the band’s mood it might well constitute the finest Bohren recording to date. It instantly taps into that atmosphere while pulling on an incredible range of instrumentation and pressure that burrows into its audience — a meditative inclination almost grabs hold of you by way of the music, as delicately strummed guitar strings echo and fade before the saxophone peeks to disclose a sauntering epic.
By extending Bohren’s rehearsed method as well as refining it, Piano Nights heaves its audience into the darkest canals of the group’s mystique, where the stylistic tropes are familiar but the forms they assume are not. Of course, the band’s persistence is what makes this music “challenging,” as opposed to the compositional structures that shape them, but on Piano Nights, those idiosyncrasies are pressed through a grotto of layered instrumentation that reveals an essential addition to the Bohren canon. This is the reason they continue to creep forward, exposing every dimension of their desperate, beautiful sound.