If there was one thing certain about industrial music in 2017, it was that, at some point, someone was going to release an album about how the panicked flight of millions of Syrian and Iraqi refugees and ISIS-linked or inspired terrorism is affecting Europe. The current, dual-pronged crisis seems to fulfill the dire prophecies of the rape of Europa and the continent’s collapse that have formed a political backbone to post-industrial music for decades. It’s unthinkable that at least one industrial band wouldn’t step in.
Sektion B, the project of L. White label head Andreas Herzig and a number of collaborators, has decided to be that band. When Democracy is No Longer Enough (I can’t figure out if that title is a sly wink at Sutcliffe Jugend’s When Pornography is No Longer Enough, or just a coincidence) is an exploration of “democracy, in all its merits, opportunities and perversions”, but a quick scan of the titles, let alone the sound, makes it obvious that the merits aren’t taking precedence: “Refugees Welcome”, “Gray Hordes” and “Europa Endlos” are sparks to the flint of white Europe’s fears and suspicions of what democracy can bring.
Of the artists who might have produced this inevitable album, it might as well be Sektion B, who were long overdue for a second full-length release after the much-praised and influential Power is Nothing Without Control. It’s a theme I could easily see addressed (and in a similar sonic way) by Institution D.O.L., Wertham or Grunt, but breaking a sixteen-year exile since their debut gives the impression that Sektion B couldn’t help but speak up on the subject, and that there is an attendant gravitas as a result.
Musically, the album is all the “fire and fury” one would expect, given the pedigree of the artist and label: it swells from a tense opening into a hurricane of vitriol that rolls inexorably forward on looped sounds and samples. Everything about this album is angry: the madman processed vocals (very reminiscent of the techniques of Steel Hook Prostheses), the shredded and reconstructed samples from news broadcasts, protests and more, and, of course, the saw-toothed electronics. It’s alive with anger spilling chaotically from the political chalice, shouting at the entire world. The ultimate destination of the album is the track “Democracy”, which is not a eulogy but a demand to “get up and fight”, perhaps an attempt to channel the toxic flood that’s come before. “Democracy” is the high point of the album, which makes it a satisfying listen. The best characteristic of Sektion B’s music is the use of a broad sound spectrum and dynamics to produce an almost stadium-like atmosphere for their call to action, and it’s never been better used than on this track.
The problem with When Democracy is No Longer Enough is that much of it is treading industrial water. There are some biting moments, such as “On TV”, but they fit very much within a formula that’s been established in power electronics for twenty years or more. It’s well executed, yes, but with the exception of the final track, I’d have trouble distinguishing what makes it different or memorable.
I’ve read some commentary that the subject matter of the album is likely to be “controversial”. This sort of controversy is catnip to power electronics musicians, which is why I started off by saying that there was an inevitability to this release. But just as the sounds fall short of being groundbreaking, the ideas here want to be a lot more shocking than they actually are. The anger thrust front and center is a trope of post-industrial genres, used so often that it now reads as shallow. With anti-immigration populist movements receiving massive support in many European countries, and with the likes of Poland, Hungary and Russia looking to consolidate power and alter democratic norms, When Democracy is No Longer Enough is really just repeating one of the two accepted mainstream narratives in the debate (the only other being support for the neoliberal policies of the European Union and transnational capital).
It’s difficult to produce something original and inspiring within a genre as power electronics. It’s even more difficult to produce something that’s intelligent and politically savvy in a framework that favours slogans and easy answers. And it’s not fair to demand that every release reach those standards, because it’s music and it should be OK to listen to something and enjoy it without requiring anything else. But after sixteen years and a mountain of experience within the scene, I can’t help but feel like When Democracy is No Longer Enough doesn’t rise above the level of a lot of others, as either a musical or political statement. Instead, it raises some uncomfortable thoughts about the genre as a whole: It’s electronics, but is it still powerful?
1) Hands Covered In Blood
2) Refugees Welcome
3) Europa endlos
5) European Union
6) Gray Hordes
7) On TV
8) Schlag auf Schlag
9) Reconciliation is healing of memories