Bohren & der Club of Gore: Dolores

A church organ begins Dolores in pure Arvo Pärt mode until, forty-six seconds in, a pounding accent initiates the song's glacially slow tempo with loud punctuations that do little to lessen the funereal character of “Staub” (Dust). That curdling drum beat's entrance immediately identifies the music as new work by Bohren & der Club of Gore, fourteen years after its debut album (Gore Motel) and twenty years after its formation. The Cologne and Mülheim an der Ruhr group, currently a quartet comprised of Thorsten Benning, Christoph Clöser, Morten Gass, and Robin Rodenberg, then deviates from that indelible signature with the comparatively uptempo “Karin,” a slinky, late-night jazz lounge number replete with drum brush accompaniment and shimmering vibes playing. “Schwarze Bie” (Black Bee) returns us to classic Bohren country with a tortoise-like tempo stretched over its eight-minute running time and ruminative electric piano playing whose gentleness is shattered by continual cymbal and drum interjections. Throughout the album, the group's sound receives a considerable boost from Clöser's sax playing, which takes the lead on a number of tracks (“Unkerich,” “Still Am Tresen,” “Faul”) and counters the claustrophobia that might otherwise infuse the band's laconic playing.

New listeners confronted by the obsessively controlled and reduced style of the band and its ritualistic arrangements for a jazz lounge-like combo (saxophone, piano, organ, Fender Rhodes, vibes, bass, drums) would be surprised to learn that it started out as a hardcore heavy metal act. Nevertheless, Dolores may be the band's most listener-friendly release to date and, though that trademark slowness is still present, the group's playing is inching ever closer to a musical style that's dare we say conventional. The beatless meditation “Von Schnäbel,” for instance, is not only light years removed from disturbing but even downright calming, and the closing piece “Welten” (Worlds) even includes the soft murmur of a male choir. The album title itself attests to the music's multi-faceted character: yes, the word Dolores does include “dolor” (pain) but it's also obviously a woman's name and therefore suggestive of a gentler, even romantic strain within Bohren's sometimes forlorn material.

November 2008