Rocktober Day 11: Nitzer Ebb - That Total Age


Lies! Lies! Lies! Lies!
Gold! Gold! Gold! Gold!
Guns! Guns! Guns! Guns!
Fire! Fire! Fire! Uhh!

Those are just some of the words you will get impaled with if you decide to lace up your steel-toed boots, head over to your local 80’s dance club, and ask them to play a track off of Nitzer Ebb’s 1987 debut album That Total Age, upon which they will either love you or laugh in your face. At least that was the response I remember back in the day, depending on if the club was down with the electronic body music scene or not. If they take your request, throw yourself into the mosh pit and hold on tight as the drill sergeant vocals will shout and growl into your earholes in rhythm with the vintage synthesized industrial dance music.  Sounds like fun, right? Well, depending on your age and mood, this is either the best or worst decision of your day.  

So I’ll confess, I’ve always had a soft (or maybe it’s a sore) spot for this albumAfter spending my formative years in and around clubs and record stores in Chicago where this album and type of music was all the rage, it has been engrained into my DNA and is considered one of the quintessential examples of electronic body music.

What makes this album so great is the straight-forward raw intensity you will hear on first listen. And as an angry, impressionable 13 year old, this was a fist pumping, boot kicking good time. What else could you ask for? But naturally, it's this same consistent intensity that starts to wear thin as you make it through the entire album, making it slightly laughable at times some 24 years later. Much in the same way the WWF was great, but always tongue in cheek. But wasn’t that what the 80’s were all about?

Unlike other industrial groups of the time that were trying to create complex, layered and diverse electronic music, like Front 242 and Einsturzende Neubauten, Nitzer Ebb said funk it and focused on a clean, stripped down, minimalist version that centered around hard hitting dance-punk drum tracks, infectious and simple synth loops reminiscent of Kraftwerk, clean vocals inspired by your local fascist military leaders or high school gym teacher, and a few machine or factory sounds throw in for good measure. And this focus on the same intense simplicity turns out to be a double edge sword, as it produced an appealing sound that made it great and easily accessible compared to other industrial music of the time, but also fairly one note when listened to as a whole.

I vividly remember popular songs like “Join in the Chant” and “Violent Playground” causing people to unite in a synchronous tribal chant and dance. But, when listened to today seem to get bogged down by the repetitive vocals, and after a few minutes of the same synth loop on repeat, you might find yourself cutting the longer tracks short.  But, as always you should remind yourself that this came out in 1987, when the big songs were “Faith” by George Michael and “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” by Whitney Houston. So in hindsight, this was pretty new and intense stuff for the general public to be consuming. And if you were on the dance floor or mosh pit, it worked great and was damn fun. 

And then you hit tracks like “Murderous” that could still be relevant at a dance club today (particularly with the recent throwback to the 80’s in todays music) and the more industrial focused closing track “Into the Large Air” which leaves the dance floor behind and reminds me that the same vocal style used throughout the album gains a more genuine intensity when set in front of a more punk influenced backdrop.

So naturally when Kevin threw out this years theme, I found myself digging through albums that I loved as a kid, but generally are not at the top of my current list of music I’m still recommending to people. And although 20 years ago this definitely was near the top, I’m happy to reflect back on this one again as I feel it embodies the Rocktober theme very well as both the best and worst of what came out of what people called electronic body music. So get those boots shined up.

Or if you prefer