Genre: Neofolk / Martial Orchestral / Post Industrial
Der Blutharsch has returned with another album of raw industrial ballads to feed the scrambling horde of fans that have propelled Der Blutharsch to cult status. “When Did Wonderland End?” sees Der Blutharsch retreating from the dense orchestral industrial collages that has defined their work for so many years. Instead of retreating into familiar composition styles Der Blutharsch has driven their music into the heart of dark rock. Upon listening to “When Did Wonderland End?” for the first time you immediately notice the generous amounts of bass guitar that had been infused into every song on the album. Accompanying the deep shuddering of the electric bass is the occasional electric guitar which launches into psychedelic riffs which most familiar listeners would never expect from Der Blutharsch.
This venture into the domain of guitar driven industrial songs can be traced back to Der Blutharsch’s last full length release “Time Is The Enemy” which featured traces of guitar infused songs amidst the medley of musical styles presented on the album. “When Did Wonderland End?” is also more compositionally coherent than “Time Is The Enemy.” “When Did Wonderland End?” sees Der Blutharsch closing ranks while narrowing the musical direction of the album while “Time Is The Enemy” saw Der Blutharsch working alongside a long list of guest musicians all of whom apparently strongly influenced the songs they participated on. On “When Did Wonderland End?” the strongest apparent musical influences appear to have been spawned amidst the current lineup of Der Blutharsch which includes founding member Albin Julius and co-conspirators Jorg B., Marthynna, and Bain Wolfkind. Jorg. B’s contribution on guitar and bass is the most defining force within the new music on When Did Wonderland End?” The female vocals and percussion contributions of Marthynna contribute a dark feminine sensuality to the otherwise masculine music of Der Blutharsch while Bain Wolfkind is also a recognizable force as his voice and nihilistic lyrics lead several songs down dimly lit alleyways and twisted forsaken corridors of the heart. Amongst the five contributing guest musicians is Matt Howden whose signature violin playing helps launch the album on “Untitled Track 2.” And at the heart of this forbidding crew remains founding member Albin Julius who originally spawned the martial toned orchestral industrial vision that has become Der Blutharsch.
“When Did Wonderland End?” begins with the opening song “Untitled Track 1.” Staying true to Der Blutharsch’s commitment to obscurity all the songs on “When Did Wonderland End?” are untitled. “Untitled Track 1” begins with an unspecified European national anthem played upon what sounds like a toy piano. After just under thirty seconds this track fades giving way to track two. “Untitled Track 2” begins the album with female vocals wandering a cold landscape of shimmering electronic ambience, random guitar chords and muted violin that careens out of the misty ambience like roving predators. The atmosphere is shattered by the descent of methodical drums, tambourine and guitar. The guitar and percussion throb in synch creating a musical force that cleaves through the ambiguous ambience. The violin steps forward within the music with quivering chords while Albin’s destitute voice careens from below. The musical atmosphere matures into a dark bohemian ballad that leaves the listner with an undefined anticipation. The bass and guitar play a noticeable dominate role alongside the violin as these instruments force out a powerful song drenched in dark nuances. The guitars transform the music of Der Blutharsch into a raw presentation filled with primal energies. After a short refrain of singing Albin is joined by the voice of Marthynna who sings in synch with Albin adding dimension and depth to the song. The tone of the music and voices imply a sense of speaking to the audience from afar from an exclusivity created by dissatisfaction and personal revelation.
“Untitled Track 5” offers a glimpse into the theme of “When Did Wonderland End?” “Untitled Track 5” begins with soft guitar chords that strummed in such a manner as to inspire a nostalgic remembrance. The guitar is accompanied by the incessant drone of a harmonium and sparse percussion. The very recognizable vocals of Bain Wolfkind take center stage as Bain sings and reflects on the ending of “Wonderland.” His voice never fluctuates as he sings with the weight of regret and surrender. “Untitled Track 5” represents a lull in the album as Der Blutharsch slows down the pace in order to aim deeper into the heart of their despair. Bain Wolfkind is the obvious candidate to steer the listner into the darkest dredges of Wonderland as his lyrics and vocals so often explore the fringe of the criminal and aggressive tendencies manifested in the jaded individual. This song is representative of Albin Julius’s ability to retreat from the center of the stage and allow his fellow musicians an opportunity to lead the music and exert their own peculiar individuality through the music of Der Blutharsch.
“Untitled Track 11” is the second to last track on “When Did Wonderland End?” and it is illustrative of the strong rock and punk musical undertones that are imbedded in the album. “Untitled Track 11” is launched with heavy bass and crackling electric guitar. The bass chords are thick and unrelenting as the electric guitar rips off fiery chords in the background. Dark electronics are manipulated into epic dark anthems that are played obscurely in the background blending seamlessly with the guitar. Though the dark electronic orchestration is subtle it affirms its rightful place in establishing the musical character of Der Blutharsch. It also helps to validate the new rock oriented guitars that now carry the musical responsibility that once rested upon the sampled orchestration of past albums. The guitars are amazingly effective in leading the music forward with all the antagonistic force and blinding grandeur that Der Blutharsch fans have come to covet. When the guitars reach full force a chorus of voices descends through the music led by Albin Julius. After a short recital the vocals retreat allowing the electric and bass guitar to churn out more powerful chords. High pitched electronics sparkle over the concentrated force of the guitars adding a bit of juxtaposition to this otherwise grave song. About two minutes into the track the guitars begin to regress until they subside into a distant broadcast. Their retreat only serves to reinforce their strength as they come back in an epic anthem of dark rock brilliance. A tinge of punk and metal influence is gleaned here as Der Blutharsch embraces the prowess of the dark metal genre. The song ends on an epic note reminiscent of the recent music of Von Thronstahl.
Speaking as a deeply rooted Der Blutharsch fan whose allegiance retreats back to hearing the first Moon Lay Hidden Beneath A Cloud album I have to say that it is refreshing and inspiring to experience Der Blutharsch’s growth as a band. Most of us have become very comfortable with the sound of Der Blutharsch and have been able to regard the bands music as predictably martial orchestral. When Did Wonderland End?” assures us that everyone and everything changes for better or for worse. Change is inevitable as well as essential for survival. Looking from the outside in it would appear that Der Blutharsch has maintained their ability to adapt and benefit from the bands changing personnel while continuing to strive to deliver quality music. Having built a successful foundation Der Blutharsch is now exploring new musical terrain while challenging our expectations of the band as well as industrial music. I encourage existing Der Blutharsch fans to check out “When Did Wonderland End?” Der Blutharsch has sharpened their blade and their tone has darkened. Those who have yet to indulge in the dark foray of Der Blutharsch are encouraged to discover one of the defining forces of post industrial music.