“The turmoil of our feelings was called forth by rage, alcohol, and the thirst for blood as we stepped out, heavily and yet irresistibly, for the enemy’s lines. And therewith beat the pulse of heroism — the godlike and the bestial inextricably mingled.” Ernst Jünger, Storm of Steel
In the grand orchestral pit of the first World War the bravery of the infantry is often downplayed in prosaic reflection as a tragic example of futility and fodder, not such a gross misunderstanding of their pawn-like position as unprepared trench dogs depending on the timeline yet it gives little credit to their agency within offensive tactical maneuvers. Tiptoeing within a deadly space offered by blanketing cover fire as the proverbial surprise close-quarters knife to bunkered enemies these were not stumbling children but the few lucky enough to experience the viscera their weapons could produce on their foes firsthand, the alternative being regular bathing in the muddy viscera of their allies within the unending barrages of truly miserable trench warfare. Knowing exactly where the action is within the deadliest offensive of the war Sacramento, California-based black metal duo Minenwerfer place the listener charging under the cover of night amidst hellish ‘Feuerwalze‘, barrages of fire meant to lock the enemy within their shelter, sitting ducks for our advancing infantry. Expect a deafening distance of less than fifty meters from their hail of fire as this fourth full-length from the band sends us in to die brutal deaths in droves, an act which feels less and less futile as the stage resets and their tactics continue to refine.
Minenwerfer began with low expectations, a non-serious solo project from Kriegshammer (Vermineux, ex-Lycus) back in 2007 as a venue for black metal exploration as well as a space to breach his interest in history beyond a bachelors degree on the subject. The artist has been clear enough over the years that the ‘Kaiserreich‘ (2007) demo and the ‘Alle beruhigen sich auf der West Vorderseite‘ (2009) demo were not seriously shopped to labels or meant as “serious” works though I’d suggest these were clearly not jokey or dully primitive acts even if no real intent was attached. If nothing else there was a personality forming in those works with a few surprising pieces included, the most notable for my taste being an unusually tuneful slower piece “Through the Scope”. With their debut album (‘Volkslieder‘, 2010) we arrive upon the intended canon of Minenwerfer as a form of chaotic, brutally aggressive black metal which I consider to land within the tradition established by bands like Marduk, Niden Div 187 (see: “Teufel Mit Uns”), and Zyklon-B in the mid-90’s eventually leading to War‘s ‘Total War‘ and Sammath‘s ‘Strijd‘ as prime examples of militaristic, thrashing and extreme black metal themed by war and delivered with a coldest, rawest firestorm of noise. It’d be natural to see some parity with the ‘war metal’ of today but these were acts separate from the bestial black/death side of things, different roots with similar feeling to the point that Katharsis or Angelcorpse fans won’t feel at all alienated in this war-torn headspace. Charmingly volatile as the early demo phase from the project was this debut album would serve as a step into another dimension in terms of its bristling vocal expression and the commanding drone of its guitar work. It also ends up being strong precedence for what we find on ‘Feuerwalze‘ today.
At this point Minenwerfer presented a somewhat linear path from over the top hobby-grade work to something substantial for the dedicated black metal fan yet there’d be no quick latching onto signature, no production line formed and this meant each release be it a small EP, split, or full-length would read as its own session concerned with embodying the subject matter rather than presenting continuity of fidelity or exacting style. With this in mind their second LP ‘Nihilistischen‘ (2012) was a clobberer thanks to the introduction of a drummer which gave their sound even more of a machinegunned attack. Some uneasiness struck the compositions, a swaying character that was obsessed with spectacle writ for two guitars and pushing a sort of ‘Panzer Division Marduk‘-esque flail into view with loud, present vocals and intensely physical performances. At this point the band would test out live performances, release several splits and take roughly seven years to follow up on their second album. Around 2019 Kriegshammer‘s former death metal band Denunciation sent me their first EP and this’d been when I’d first picked up on Minenwerfer‘s discography, as I typically research all associated acts. How did I end up overlooking the band’s most celebrated album, ‘Alpenpässe‘ in late 2019? Priorities, a very busy month. In fact despite that being a popular and finely-crafted record which set the band apart today we’ve no reason to mention it other than to suggest that ‘Feuerwalze‘ is not at all related to the style of their third LP and instead pulls back into the fiery technical mayhem of their first two records alongside an extra hit of speed.
The main theme and setting for ‘Feuerwalze‘ is to be expected as Kriegshammer has noted the writings of Ernst Jünger as a major inspiration on the subject of war and the author’s focus was naturally upon his experiences within the Somme Offensive, a six month military operation circa 1916 which is noted as one of the most deadly, traumatic battles in human history with 1 of every 3 participants dead or severely maimed. As an aside, one of my preferred perspectives on these events is a somewhat dry BBC documentary War of Words: Soldier-Poets of the Somme for the sake of covering the various perspectives of poets/writers who fought at Somme including Robert Graves and even J.R.R. Tolkien. If you’ve only some tangential interest in the first World War that film is a brief and effective reading of the events from multiple perspectives. Otherwise this is a black metal album entirely focused on mayhem and machinery, a Hell on Earth which trampled so many folks on both sides. Naturally this means the neofolk and Romanticist composer influenced forays and lead-driven epics of ‘Alpenpässe‘ are nowhere to be seen and this record persists as a sea of human carnage: Mud, machines, night operatives, mortar fire and the burning stench of mass death.
Over the last decade Minenwerfer have not only improved their Deutsche but also every aspect of their craft in terms of mastering a variety of rhythmic traits, semi-melodic voicing, and an certain atmosphere which feels appropriately stark yet affected by the traumatic, restless doom that comes with the noise of chaotic human warfare. The best pieces on ‘Feuerwalze‘ capitalize upon technically sound rushes of speed, violent performances and a deranged love for the mayhemic, nihilistic thrashing speed of the black metal lineage I’d referred to earlier. “Cemetery Fields” takes us back to the ruthless yet loosely guided hammer of ‘Nihilistischen‘ and makes a spectacular shredding salvo of it, scolded into position by Kriegshammer‘s increasingly hissed rasps and braced by the considerable finesse of drummer/guitarist Wachtmeister Verwüstung who’d been just as much of a boon to the previous album as he is here. The title track follows up with a droning uptick in aggression alongside the most rambling, snarling vocals to be found on the record which create their own spectacle as the first couple of minutes gnash out at the listener. Upscaling wah solos, endless blasts, martial beats in the periphery, all available energy is channeled into a potent furor which should impress most any fan of Marduk‘s most extreme and percussive side as this second song uses its manic bolts of Slayerized noise to set the first major scene on the album. This fixation soon flows directly into the firestorm of “Eternal Attrition”, a similarly structured song with different rhythmic torsion applied at to its introductory and exiting verses.
“Nachtschreck” is a strong example of at least one trait which continues from the austere fineries of ‘Alpenpässe‘, the strong use of bass guitar to not only brace the rhythm guitars but present its own rhythmic guidance. Though this presence is persistent in most all pieces this some emphasizes these subterranean grooves which align with classic black metal affect in a unique enough fashion. Rare as these moments are in prominence they do begin to wear as a signature specific to Minenwerfer. We find this type of groove reaching a ‘South of Heaven‘ sort of headspace on standout late-album song “Shrapnel Exsanguination”, a much needed change of pace and a trench wall to ball up behind for five minutes while gathering up the stones to continue on. Despite blazing on for nearly the entirety of its ~50 minute run ‘Feuerwalze‘ quickly provide itself engaging within repeat listening sessions, punishing in an at least listenable way with plenty enough nuance to the rhythmic thrust of it all to bear repeating. The intent of the artist in terms of imagery, simple and ‘known’ as these quantities are in the general underground metal spheres of knowledge, matches up with the music itself in grand scenery which is occasionally tragedian but never indulgent in a way which outweighs the brutality of each act.
Though many will arrive looking for ‘Alpenpässe‘ zwei Minenwerfer‘s approach on ‘Feuerwalze‘ is of much more interest to me, not only for the sake of brutal black metal record which tackles exciting riffcraft and plenty of violent action but for how it makes good on the original conception of the band explored on their first two records with a more wizened approach. Wild and aimless as some of the introductory moments appear this is nonetheless in keeping with a different sort of “war” metal which these folks increasingly represent with some dangerous authority. I don’t know how much of a dent this one will leave in the corridors of my mind just yet but I can say that I’ve been thoroughly entertained by each and every spin thus far. A moderately high recommendation.
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