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Alpinist – Lichtlaerm/Minus.Mensch

Southern Lord

Though the golden age of alpinism – small, rapid mountain ascents with no additional oxygen, and minimal supplies and personnel – might, technically, be taken as the decade or so between 1854 and 1865 – there is no story in its history more tragic, inspiring and gut-wrenching that of the doomed 1936 attempt on the North Face of the Eiger. A truly terrifying and deadly piece of rock (it’s nickname the ‘Mordvand’, literally the ‘murderous wall’, should really give the game away), a four-man attempt on the mountain, featuring the two superbly gifted German climbers Toni Kurz and Andreas Hinterstoisser, ended in utter catastrophe, with three men already dead and Kurz, frozen and exhausted, dangling from the face of the mountain, only metres from a rescue team but unable reach them. His final haunting words, „Ich kann nicht mehr” (“I can’t go on anymore”), perfectly encapsulate the ultimate price that the discipline can exact.

The Alpinists responsible for Lichtlaerm/Minus.Mensch, however, are a somewhat different proposition when it comes to four-man German teams. Hailing from Münster in the North West of the country, the band plays a brutally effective form of Crust (…Jesus, that’s a marketing tag that really pre-dates the era of the focus group…), existing at the darker end of the Hardcore spectrum, yet with a surprisingly different and refreshing approach when it comes to their lyrical fare. Eschewing the familiar Metal genre tropes – darkness, Satan, winter, ice, blood, Satan (again), virgins, mutilation, torture, Satan anyone? – Alpinist instead have a noble lineage back to political Punk /Metal hybrids such as D-Beat wellsprings Discharge and Amebix. The band take their very personal political commitments and build their music around a fiercely oppositional stance to sexism, racism, homophobia and all of the hatreds inherent in the Fascism that so gripped their nation at its lowest point during the Third Reich era. Indeed the band goes as far as to state explicitly “Please don’t listen to our music if you think these views are somehow acceptable.” Alright! There’s going to be no repeat of the Reichstag Fire with this stuff blaring out over the PA to the Brandenburg Gate.

This particular release comprises a first-time CD amalgam of the band’s previous two recorded outings, Minus.Mensch from 2009 and Lichtlaerm from the following year, both of which were limited vinyl editions only. Weighing in at a hefty 21 tracks, it’s a generous Crust for anyone’s Metal pie. Wrong-footing the listener from the get-go, “Deliberate” starts with a passage that would pass mu(n)ster at any Improv evening before exploding into life with sledgehammer riffing that charts a deft course between the breakneck and the grinding. Vocally, the Death Grunt is used sparingly, often as a backing style, with a hoarse scream in the foreground, sometimes recalling even the holy spirit of Yamatsuka Eye.

Across tracks such as “AIDT,” “Neverest,” “Project Fatigue” (all that Prince2 getting on top of you?) “Schalterhygiene,” “Rost” and “From Grovelling To Running In Less Than A Second,” Alpinist douse the Crust template in Benzene and toss a match on it with dark abandon. This stuff sounded great on first listen, and it just keeps improving with every subsequent play; “Yarncarrier and Break”  sounds like it could be Bitch Magnet after a course of illegal backstreet steroids; “Amuse Yourself To Death” has the most gorgeous glass splinter guitar sound; and “Delta Flood Of Ignorance” just made me want to headbang (in a thoroughly socially-inclusive, non-discriminatory way of course). Shit man, if the European Union inserted a mandatory copy of this album into the Equality and Diversity policy of every institution and company across the land we might make some serious progress in the workplace.

To my mind, what makes the album so refreshing is the modulation of tempos and the understanding of arrangement, knowing that not everything necessarily has to play to the maximum at every single moment in time. Joseph Haydn’s Symphony Number 94 – often called the ‘Surprise Symphony’ – used passages of volume and speed to counterpoint those that were slower and quieter. All too often in ‘on the edge’ genres such as Metal, Haydn’s concept gets forgotten, and all that emerges is a sludgy continuum with little differentiation between the material. No danger of that in Münster, as, despite their tender years, Alpinist know how to control their dynamic perfectly, and the hard and the loud are cannily highlighted by control shown elsewhere: “Licht” is an echoed and glacially slow guitar-scape that completely resets the counter ready for the next burst of skull-pounding. I’m sure Haydn will testify to that, having often been seen moshing down the front every time the band plays Vienna.

Diversity is obviously high on the band’s political agenda, and it’s most definitely one of their key strengths when it comes to over twenty slabs of their material laid end to end.

In “Annapurna,” French mountaineer Maurice Herzog (dictating from his hospital bed) related the story of his successful attempt on the terrible titular mountain in 1951. Though it cost him a large number of his fingers and toes, Herzog says of standing on the summit, almost certain to die, “I was in no pain, and had no worry.” Not many of us have the death-teasing urge to scale the ferociously hostile great peaks, but put Alpinist into the stereo, turn up the volume as far as it will go and soak up the results. Amidst all the noise will be a place of no pain and no worry.

-David Solomons-

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