Bohren & der Club of Gore Black Earth

[Ipecac; 2004]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: film noir soundtracks, dark jazz, lounge, progressive rock
Others: Angelo Badalamenti, Bernard Herrmann, Cinematic Orchestra

In the early 1990s, I became obsessed with the short-lived but legendary television series Twin Peaks. I had loved David Lynch's Blue Velvet and Eraserhead, so this new series appealed to my gothic sensibilities. There was something deeply romantic in the idea of creating a series about a town in which every resident harbors deep, dark secrets. One of the key features of this series, for me, was the score by Angelo Badalamenti. Never before had I experienced a soundtrack that seemed to suit a film or television series so appropriately.

Noirish and evocative, the Twin Peaks soundtrack was a nocturnal hybrid of jazz, lounge, and slow 1950s rock and roll rhythms with a contemporary twist. Lynch's 1992 film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me was an even bleaker view of Twin Peaks, and Badalamenti's accompanying score, appropriately, was even darker and more somber than its predecessor. I subsequently became hell-bent on finding more music in a similar vein to the two Twin Peaks soundtracks. Even the two Julee Cruise albums, the soundtracks to Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart, and, eventually, the soundtracks to Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive weren't enough to satiate my desire for music similar to this haunting blend of jazz, film noir scores, and dark, nightmarish soundscapes.

That being said, I searched in vain until I finally came across the German "horror jazz" ensemble Bohren & der Club of Gore for the first time about a year ago. While far from being merely a cheap Angelo Badalamenti knock-off, Bohren & der Club of Gore take the concept of spooky late-night jazz to the next level altogether. On the surface, Black Earth, the group's fourth album, looks like a black metal album. The black-on-black album cover, complete with its Old English font, image of a skull, and song titles such as "Grave Wisdom" and "Skeletal Remains" conveys the impression that this is some kind of Norwegian band along the lines of Emperor, Burzum, or Mayhem. Aside from the black metal imagery and the darkened vibe that emanates from this record, however, it could not be any more different from the black metal genre.

A track-by-track analysis of Black Earth would prove fruitless. Each piece follows more or less the same formula: extremely slow pace, haunting, minor-key keyboards, detuned double bass, and brushed drums. A few of the tracks make prominent use of the piano, but most feature a heavily delayed, reverbed Fender Rhodes electric piano. Basically, Black Earth is an extremely long (almost 72 minutes) album featuring nine extended, cinematic excursions, evoking dark, smoky atmospheres, gray skies, or a noirish, sinister encounter in a dark alleyway at midnight. By turns gorgeous, eerie, dramatic, and haunting, this record is a must-have for the listener who likes his or her atmosphere impenetrably thick. Ipecac has reissued an excellent album by a band that is really like no other.

1. Midnight Black Earth
2. Crimson Ways
3. Maximum Black
4. Vigilante Crusade
5. Destroying Angels
6. Grave Wisdom
7. Constant Fear
8. Skeletal Remains
9. The Art of Coffins