Switzerland’s Young Gods are nothing if not ambitious. Grafting rock, classical and electronic influences, the group’s unusual vocals/sampler/drums configuration reconstructs rock from the ground up, producing a fiery collage of roaring guitars, blistering rhythms and Wagnerian orchestras, all presided over by Franz Treichler’s leering, guttural voice. Irreverent, abrasive and years ahead of its time, the group’s music has sometimes worked better in theory than practice. From the very beginning, however, the Young Gods have rocked their technology every bit as hard as Public Enemy did theirs. Although the Young Gods owe more than just their name to Swans, the trio has used the influence to its own ends, sharing only some sturm und drang samples and a flair for the melodramatic.
The group debuted in 1985 with the awesome “Envoyé!” single (imaginatively translated as “Go for it and fuck off” in the first album’s lyrics), which in many ways remains its ultimate statement. Clocking in at less than two minutes, the snarling guitars, shotgun samples and jackhammer beat make the song resemble techno played by a speed-metal band. The album is less immediate, taking the götterdämmerung vibe to almost ludicrous extremes through blaring classical samples and beats that sting like an interrogator’s slaps. After seven overwhelmingly mean-spirited songs, including “Jimmy,” which has the same rush of exultant energy as “Envoyé!,” a bizarre cover of Gary Glitter’s “Did You Miss Me” prances surreally onto the set, evoking a vision of Quasimodo reeling drunkenly across a regal ballroom. “Bombastic” would be a gross understatement, but when ability matches ambition, The Young Gods has a uniquely menacing majesty.
It all snaps into focus on L’Eau Rouge (“Red Water,” a charming reference to menstruation), which is far more assured and coherent but just as shocking as the debut. Thundering guitars dominate many tracks — Treichler has not inaccurately referred to the album as “metal cabaret” — but the group also brings in crazed Shostakovich samples, the whipcrack grind of “L’Amourir” and some quaintly sinister Kurt Weill-isms. The CDs of L’Eau Rouge and The Young Gods include concurrent single tracks not available on the vinyl versions; Longue Route includes an ass-kicking remix, two raunchy live tracks and, by way of transition, a cover of Weill’s “September Song.”
The Young Gods Play Kurt Weill, part of a tribute organized by Switzerland’s Festival du Bois de la Bàtie, features studio versions of the Gods’ live set at the festival. Far from a one-off indulgence, the inventive interpretations veer from comparatively straightforward to neo-metal (“Mackie Messer,” aka “Mack the Knife”) to a gorgeous sitar collage (“Ouverture”); the opening “Prologue” features an eerie juxtaposition of a neo-Nazi rally overlaid with Guns n’ Roses riffs.
T.V. Sky, the first Young Gods album to be sung entirely in English, dispenses with the orchestras, showing a tasteful dance influx (the grinding “Skinflowers”) and even further refined riff technology. The album closes with the sprawling “Summer Eyes,” a generally engaging 20-minute song cycle. Three multi-remix singles were released from the album; Live Sky Tour is a decent if unnecessary live LP.
Apart from a perfunctory flirtation with ambient, the disappointing Only Heaven generally rehashes previously mastered styles, the only strong track being the pulsing “Donnez les Esprits.” Initial copies did come in a very cool white plastic case, however.
A tongue-in-cheek anonymity has always distinguished the band’s public profile; the only change in the lineup (Treichler and samplerist Alain Monod are constants) since 1989 is the late-’90s replacement of drummer Üse Hiestand. Although the band is nominally a trio, Roli Mosimann — the former Swans drummer and important industrial-era producer — is unquestionably the fourth God, having produced the band’s entire output and co-written most of it.