SANKT OTTEN - Messias Maschine
Ever since signing to Denovali Records, German instrumental duo Sankt Otten has been very busy, releasing records every year, and even finding the time for two in 2011. Messias Maschine is already their seventh longplayer, and if I am not mistaken, their longest to date.
Consisting of founder Stephan Otten (drums, programming, synthesizers) and Oliver Klemm (guitar, bass, synthesizers), Sankt Otten are mostly emphasising their electronic side by locating themselves somewhere between the warm analogous sounds of electronic music’s pioneer days and the Berlin school. Their synthesizer gear is more than impressive, and their outfits somehow recall the austerity of Kraftwerk, but that doesn’t mean that they are not open for other influences, especially the Eighties are often a welcome guest in their music.
On Messias Maschine, they decided to work with guest musicians on every song, apart from the title track. So in a way this is a collaborative effort, and adds even more depth to the compositions. The album starts with Du hast mich süchtig gemacht, a mellow piece featuring Jaki Liebezeit (Can) on the drums. This legendary musician may be well over seventy years old, but he is still providing his mechanical beats that make a nice counter point to the mellow guitar lines that remind me of Robert Fripp’s more esoteric moods. The title track Messias Maschine may be the only strict duo song, but it doesn’t suffer from the lack of foreign creative input. The quite Eighties sounding drum sound gives a nice punch to a track which otherwise contains more of the band’s signature electronica. One of the album’s highlights (although to be honest: there are hardly any insignificant moments to be found on this long CD) comes with Mach bitte, dass ech leiser wird, where this time the splashing Eighties drums are countered by the absolutely sublime theremin melody courtesy of the Australian Miles Brown (The Night Terrors / Heirs). Too often the theremin is used as a mere gimmick, but in this instance it builds such a melancholic melody that emulates the sound of a violin, but eventually feels even more desperate and beautiful than a wooden instrument could ever achieve. World famous electronic musician Ulrich Schnauss provides his synth carpets and discrete percussion on Im Himmel angekommen, another, well, heavenly piece of music that sounds more ethereal than what we usually come to expect from Sankt Otten.
Then it’s time again for another collaboration with Jaki Liebezeit, the only musician featured more than once on the album. Das große Weinen ist vorbei once again takes advantage of the master’s special kind of drumming, although this time he sounds less mechanical and more ethnic. Da kann selbst Gott nur staunen sees the duo teaming up with Maserati guitarist Coley Duane Dennis, and it comes as no surprise that this track sounds a lot like Maserati, especially since that post rock band has lately dabbled quite a lot in electronic music. Das Geräusch des Wartens is the last track with Jaki Liebezeit and also one of the darkest, gloomiest pieces so far. The wobbling synth bass line probably unfolds all of its power when played really loud. The song that initiated the idea for this album is Wenn ein Masterplan keiner ist, which was Sankt Otten’s first collaboration, this time with Harald Grosskopf, another elderly German legend who used to drum for Ashra, Klaus Schulze and even on Joachim Witt’s Der Goldene Reiter. And I have to say that I really like his organic approach which is quite different from Mr. Liebezeit’s (although I wouldn’t dare predict who is the more proficient musician). Apart from that I also quite enjoyed the synthesizer sound selections which once again found the right balance between gravity and celestial beauty. More guest drumming can be heard on Nach dir die Sinnesflut featuring A.E. Paterra of Zombi and Majeure fame. The latter released a very pleasant split record together with Sankt Otten in 2010. Paterra is quite a proficient artist, and even though his projects are always very electronically sounding, he is by heart actually a rock drummer. The album ends on the twelve minute long Endlich ein schlechter Mensch, which features long saxophone parts by Christoph Clöser of Bohren und der Club of Gore. And just like the collaboration with Maserati’s Coley Duane Dennis, the influence of the guest musician is very strong, adding an undeniable dark jazz component to this piece. I also want to point out the spooky mellotron sounds. And yet this is the album’s only not so great track. It feels too long for me, and maybe a bit more presence in the bass regions would have given the saxophone even more gravitas.
But with a running time of well over an hour, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Sankt Otten have shown in the past that they are well enough capable of doing great music as a duo, but the injection of foreign creativity even adds to their quality. I especially like the concept of only using one guest musician per track, as this way the typical Sankt Otten sound doesn’t become too diluted. Fans of vintage Seventies electronic music with a leaning for ambient sounds and no aversion to your occasional Eighties synth beats will be delighted by the huge amount of fantastic music to be discovered on Messias Maschine. I am probably not the only one who will see this album as the duo’s best effort yet!