SPK | Leichenschrei
Old Europa Cafe (CD)
Leichenschrei (German for “corpse scream”) is/was a record originally released thirty-seven years ago (1982) as the sophomore effort by Australian avant noise project SPK (or Socialistisches Patienten Kollektiv) headed by Graeme Revell who wrote a brand-new statement for the inner packaging. This industrial outfit changed hands on deck and output over a short decade (78-88) but continued to evolve with the times, though it was this earlier work that put them on the map with many post-punk leaning listeners (myself included). This record was actually my introduction to their work, and it came long before first hearing Einstürzende Neubauten whose experimental approach, especially in percussion, would carry the torch thereafter.
As lore would have it, many have said these guys were some of the loudest they had ever seen in a live forum. For me, it was less about the noise, and more about the nuances, the mystery, the psychologically disorienting conceptual approach. They seemed dangerous, and it was one of those rare double-takes (w/others like Das Synthetische Mischgewebe) where you could imagine a whole new world of deconstructed sound as something almost sculptural, yet free and risking it all on expression. Sure, for some, this is in a category befitting other practitioners like Crass, Whitehouse, Non and others who dabble in politics and poetry, but for these old ears who kept a watchful eye on them back in the day, this was something new that broke from the norm, like some kind of enchanted punk rock several steps removed, just add loads of symbolism and taboo references (“bits of autopsy tapes, some insane schizoid monologue from a woman babbling about rape, syphilis, mind control”). Not for the weak hearted.
So, though there is no additional material here, this serves as an introduction to a whole new generation. And the sound is quite timeless, with voices and dark corners ala era British counterparts Cabaret Voltaire. These murmurings, and Space Invaders from the crypt of the beyond-isms are part of the soundtrack of the early 80’s, but there’s nothign dated about this material, it’s as haunting and strange as ever in this Old Europa Cafe “re-edition”. SPK had evolved into a five piece (Dominik Guerin, Brian Williams, John Murphy, Derek Thompson and Revell) by the time of this recording, and what you end up with is likely their most robust sound, pairing interspersed spoken vocals, clangor of objects and a whole lot of airy in-between.
The album could be imagined as a continuous running storyline, conceptual chapters revealing themselves in short tracks all running under five minutes (fourteen in all). The fact that they kept on changing the identification and meaning of the way in which SPK was interpreted made for a delightfully slippery non-branding, which by todays standards is highly respectable. They broke the surface of the underground. But it’s the rubbery, rhythmic percussion that makes tracks like Cry From The Sanatorium so insatiable – and kept us coming back for more – even when dispersed with obfuscated screams and other harsh industrial intersections.
Then there’s a track like Despair, with its spring-step marching percussion and anthemic chords, blurred voices and military precision. The dark side shows itself through broken vases and screaming banshees. Taken out of its time context this could easily be substituted as an homage for the pain and suffering endured by so many cultures through wartime since. It’s cathartic in this light, as the tribal drumming in The Agony Of The Plasma is abruptly cut off. Though this came out in my youth, it’s like hearing the record all over again for the very first time evoking that the natives are still most definitely restless on this gutsy, sweaty, indulgent feast for the ears.