With its aggressive music and Teutonic name, casual listeners may assume Nitzer Ebb to be of German origin when, in fact, the trio is from the tranquil English town of Chelmsford. Nonetheless, this is one angst-ridden band: seizing on simple catchphrases (shouted more often than sung or rapped), minimal synthesized hooklines and pounding, cathartic beats, the songs on That Total Age are industrial-strength anthems. “Join in the Chant” became a bizarre early favorite of British acid house fans (its references to “muscle and hate” having little to do with peace and love), and equally intense songs such as “Let Your Body Learn” and “Murderous” are heard more on alternative dancefloors now than at the time of their release. For such a challenging combination of anger and rhythm, and without a dull moment, That Total Age is a monumental album.
Armed with that highly identifiable sound, Nitzer Ebb has repeated it again and again; the songs on Belief could easily be substituted for those on the first album. In noteworthy cuts like the pulsating “Control I’m Here,” “Blood Money” and “Hearts and Minds,” Nitzer Ebb’s lyrics hone in on basic emotions and issues of power and lust. There is no sense of advancement or development on Belief; arguably none is required.
A German label collected the group’s first singles (including four versions of “Warsaw Ghetto,” a song from That Total Age) for the So Bright So Strong compilation. The four tracks from the 1985 12-inch debut are notable for being more melodic and faster than what would become the archetypal Nitzer Ebb sound; even more unusual — given that Nitzer Ebb artwork tends to be as minimal and clinical as the music itself — the record contains photos of what was then a trio (now pared down to the duo of vocalist Douglas McCarthy and musician Bon Harris).
Showtime finds the group trying to diversify with little success: the electronic blues of “Nobody Knows” is messy, and attempts at melodic vocals only emphasize McCarthy’s weakness as a singer. There are strong moments — the single “Lightning Man,” with its incessant keyboard refrain, and the jaunty “Fun to Be Had” — but this isn’t their strongest opus. Not so ironically, it proved a quick seller; touring stadiums with Depeche Mode made Nitzer Ebb the underground name to drop at the start of the new decade.