:Wumpscut: critics tend to fall into two distinct camps: those who praise naïvely but critically misunderstand obvious flaws, and those who can do nothing else but look over their shoulders disdainfully and wetly express their wish that Rudy Ratzinger, :Wumpscut:’s sole member, would return to his so-called glories of old. Those grisly millstone glories broadly but reliably refer to his opening salvo of albums from 1991 (Music for a Slaughtering Tribe) to 1999 (Boeses Junges Fleisch, although yellow-toothed purists won’t go past Embryodead), a phase characterised by harsh overloads of noise, pitch-black lyrical tropes, and the EBM equivalent of the Somme. That Ratzinger produced some of the most remarkable and startlingly pure electro-industrial of the nineties without resorting to the full-on NIN/Ministry-esque metal fad—which pretty much guaranteed exposure circa 1994—is impressive but rarely credited.
Ever prolific, he is perhaps guilty of some quality-control issues. Returning to Throbbing Gristle‘s original industrial manifesto insomuch as the lifecycle of a :Wumpscut: album runs like a production line: Recording in earnest takes place usually during winter following an autumn announcement. Then, by Christmas, a remix competition and theme emerge. Finally, a release date around Good Friday is set. This predictable annual turnaround can render Ratzinger’s back-catalogue unfamiliar after a few years; the distance between the halcyon days of MFAST and the confusing present grows greater with each Easter landmark.
While not blind enough to ignore that :Wumpscut:’s albums have become progressively less industrially noisy while also losing some of the gritty, po-faced subject matter (the dominant theme of Embryodead should be obvious), I’m keen to highlight that they’ve also arguably transcended those quality indicators and almost imperceptibly excelled at others. :Wumpscut: has moved on from ‘terror EBM’—or even mere industrial—and instead carved out a bizarre niche of his own which takes into account a sickly sense of humour, controversy, a cast of cartoonishly morbid cultural characters, and some of the catchiest, creepily idiosyncratic gothic electronic music currently being produced. High praise indeed, but bear with me.
The jaded amongst you will be pleased to hear that much of the irritating quirks which let down or tarnished otherwise strong albums (particularly their second halves) have been shelved or worked out. Wüterich is a lean, muscular ten-song collection. There are no complete instrumentals, which should come as something of a relief as the quality of previous efforts wavered between tolerable and ignorable, and Aleta Welling (female vocal foil to Ratzinger’s Teutonic rasp), whose presence on an increasing number of tracks led to her outstaying her welcome (especially when these tracks were rarely the respective album’s choice cuts, meaning some of the late-era malaise was laid at her door), features rarely but effectively. Furthermore, there are no tracks that are atmosphere-shatteringly ridiculous due to their unforgivable pronunciation, such as ‘Vegan (or ‘Wegan’) Witch’, ‘Cross of Iron’ (or ‘eye-ron’…), and ‘Blood Bathing Tub’ (with a long a), or tracks which are simply cringe-worthy (‘Du Neger’ and ‘Bucket of Perceptions’). Even Russian guest vocalist Elisabat Muse makes a positive impression with her spirit-world, theremin-like vocals on ‘Hackfleischprinzessin’.
So, the questionable edges have been planed away. Good. What’s left, though? Firstly, Ratzinger has always been and continues to be an expert sampler—not to mention being an overall masterful producer—and, from the first track, panic-stricken voices bark, wail, and growl over gun sounds and other concrete snippets which are deployed deftly and smoothly as an intrinsic and inextricable part of the rhythm. As for production, Ratzinger has struck a wonderful balance between the muscular clarity of 2009’s ‘Fuckit’, which was slick and dancey, and the more textured, nuanced ‘Schrekk und Grauss’ from two years later.
Ratzinger has shown an excellent but underplayed experimental hand lately that was previously thought lost, and that inclination is exploited well here on the ghostly ‘Dot, Dot, Dot’, which also features some highly effective textural post-punk guitar from Joao Ribeiro, and is reminiscent of mid-career high-point ‘Cannibal Anthem’. Probably the most welcome and pleasantly striking feature of Wüterich is the rhythmic innovations. Take the astounding ‘Das Bose Rumburak’—easily one of the best :Wumpscut: tracks of the last ten years, featuring an oddly galloping rhythm, rubbery bass pulse, and a cacophony of shouted samples and Ratzinger’s acid-blasted vocals accompanied by a simple, chiming, sinister melody. The track’s killer points come from the simple reintroduction of the, yes, funky and irresistible beat, bashing away as it does. Similarly, Ratzinger later excels with his bass and percussion combo to danceable effect on ‘Warmonger Scheusal’, with that insidious catchiness once again, both with chorus and melodic elements working together wonderfully.
:Wumpscut:’s slippery little niche is defiantly pop. This is nothing to be ashamed of; he’s whittled pop into his own shapes where memorable melodic experiments are paired with extreme subject matter, varied and interesting rhythms hooked up to a sophisticated thread of vocal samples that are part of the tune’s fabric rather than decoration. I feel it difficult to overstate Ratzinger’s pop nous. As arranger, composer, and lyricist, he keeps tracks catchy with nefarious earworms and carefully poised climaxes which never overdo it or leave the listener dissatisfied.
:Wumpscut: is a difficult artist to approach because of the history and the confused feeling of betrayal many EBM fans feel about his recent work. I propose listeners approach these works as dark,avant-pop which seeks to build a genuine alternative. Ratzinger’s work will always be honest, unabashed, and indulgent, and that’s what makes it so brilliant, even when also deeply flawed in places. That he’s been working, grafting, and crafting this sound for the better part of three decades and appears to be successfully consolidating his research into his strongest output in years should be demanding of your attention.
01) My Leper Kid
02) Unser Kleiner Weltkrieg
03) Dot, Dot, Dot
04) Das Bose Rumburak
08) Warmonger Scheusal
10) Armer Jid