Porta Nigra provide not only a heaping portion of black metal, but also a heaping portion of experimentalism, fearlessness and fun. The band’s new album, Kaiserschnitt includes influences from industrial, hardcore, black metal, electronic and rock—and in short, it rules. Porta Nigra have once again fearlessly embarked on a concept album, another period piece, and they hit the ball right out of the park.
Porta Nigra describe themselves as being born in 1902 in the Prussian province of Coblence. Although that may be more pomp than circumstance, the band certainly deals with that time period lyrically. For Kaiserschnitt, they take us back to life in Germany under Kaiser Willhelm II, the megalomaniac emperor of both Germany and the Kingdom of Prussia who was responsible for the first World War. (You might know him as “Old Kaiser Bill” from Woody Guthrie songs) Since it’s impossible to experience this first-hand, Porta Nigra walk the listener through the era with campus riots, rumors and, eventually, much death. The band sticks to their standard themes of mental deficiency, opulence and sexual deviance; the cover art couldn’t be any more literal.
The album itself is not only masterfully unique but exceptionally produced. As the pace and style changes, the production quality never wavers, leaving thick but appropriately tinny guitars. The samples thrown in, especially the nationalistic German singing at the end of “Die Mensur”, are mixed so perfectly that you get lost in the moment. (Please resist the urge to begin goose-stepping on your lunch break.)
Songs like the single, “Femme Fatale,” are utterly intoxicating. Never has black metal sounded so catchy and repeatable. From the opening riff and the soaring vocals to the German chanting and the whispers, it’s a hook—this song is ready for club remixes, sampling and mainstream play but it’s still, at its core, a black metal piece. Similarly, “Hepatitis Libido” employs a heavy bassline and a sparsity that creates an expansive landscape for whispered vocals that are chillingly catchy. “Kein schönerer Tod” reveals quite a talent for the keyboard as a somber and sorrowful melody is hammered out underneath spoken word.
They can also play heavy, with tunes like “In Stahlgewittern” opening with what most people might term a breakdown. Throaty, punching vocals and double bass help create an image of a nation marching to war with the world. “Ich-Zerfall” provides a more rock-like anthem that fans of Mantar will certainly enjoy, but still retains an edge of heaviness. The final track, “Der letzte Ton” is equally raucous with a truly rocking feel and clean, harmonic vocals. The track gives way to the most tortured of all the vocals, while still maintaining a somber atmosphere—it feels like the death of a once great nation (I think).
I don’t pretend to speak German so, I’m trusting the promo materials from the label that the themes are what they have presented. Porta Nigra are always a fun listen and Kaiserschnitt certainly does not disappoint. It’s remarkably successful as a concept album, not an easy task—especially for a duo that must masterfully handle all the instrumentation on their own. I look forward to more bold undertakings from this duo in the future and I urge you to give Kaiserschnitt at least one listen.