On 9 November 1989 an East German Communist Party official named Günter Schabowski spoke to assembled journalists at a press conference in East Berlin about the mounting crisis in his country. A few minutes before the conference began, Schabowski had been handed a note by his superiors giving details of new regulations whereby private individuals could travel freely from East to West Berlin. But he was unprepared for the question that quickly came of when the new rules were to take effect. The note he had received was unclear on the matter, so Schabowski assumed that the regulations were effective immediately, and told the press conference as much. The news quickly spread, and thousands of people began gathering at the Berlin Wall. By 10.45 that evening, the checkpoints were open.
Some 700km away in Vienna that same evening, a little known Austrian group called Peterlicker were playing a concert at the Arena venue, a gig which was recorded for posterity. Peterlicker didn’t stick around for much longer, but one of the songs they played that night, a track called “E-Song”, surfaced last year on Neonbeats, a compilation of Austrian new wave and post-punk music on the Klanggalerie label. That compilation appearance not only got the members of the group talking again, it provided the impetus for them to reform and produce Nicht, an album of frighteningly intense noise rock with a deranged electronic core.
Observant readers may at this point be able to take an educated guess at the identity of one of the members of Peterlicker, given (a) the group’s name; (b) their label (Editions Mego); and (c) my description of the album. Yes, one quarter of Peterlicker is Peter Rehberg, a.k.a. Pita, who has taken time out from his solo projects, work with Stephen O’Malley as KTL and whatever else he’s doing to kickstart this long forgotten group after twenty-odd years of inactivity. And I for one am very glad he did, for Nicht is an extremely brutal slab of vinyl, housed in an appropriately funereal black and white sleeve. Rehberg’s bandmates are F Hergovich on vocals, Christian Schachinger on guitar and Gregor Weissegger on bass and electronics; Pita takes care of electronics as well, as you might expect. All four are veterans of the small, tightly knit Vienna experimental music scene.
Although the album is no nostalgia trip, elements of the group’s late 80s origins certainly remain in their current sound. On the opening shot “Always Right” Schachinger erects a looming wall of guitar heaviness straight out of Children of God-era Swans, while Hergo’s vocals take on something of the quality of Michael Gira’s scary preacher routine. As the record unfolds, Nurse with Wound and erstwhile Berlin Wall denizens Einstürzende Neubauten emerge as further reference points for its nightmarish, oppressive atmosphere. And why not? After all, as the title of the track “Raised on Rock” unashamedly admits, these guys grew up listening to rock music – and, for many of us who lived through the musical wasteland that was the 80s, there was no more vital or fascinating place to be than the post-industrial underground. Peterlicker seem to have taken that historical moment as a starting point and added a toxic layer of electronic venom that flows through every groove of this record.
“Raised on Rock” itself is an unsettling collision of guitar, beats and processed noise, with a silvery drone fighting intermittently to be heard – and mostly losing. The undoubted highlight of the record, however, has to be “C-Slide”, an 11-minute rush of pain and suffering whose apocalyptic intensity is mercilessly ratcheted up by a monstrous descending riff that invades the song about halfway through and steadfastly refuses to leave. The voices that gather towards the end of the piece are genuinely upsetting, the desperate panicked cries of souls in torment. This is one of the bleakest, most nihilistic albums I’ve ever heard.
(Originally published in The Sound Projector 20, 2011)