DJ Hell: Teufelswerk

Teufelswerk (German for “Devil's Work”), is DJ Hell's fourth album and undoubtedly his most ambitious. Hell (forty-six-year-old Helmut Geier) brings the techno-punk aesthetic of his International Deejay Gigolos Empire label to an epic double-disc set split between Night and Day halves. Influenced by Chicago house and Detroit techno, the former's a nocturnal crawl through underground clubs filled with blazing synths and pounding beats, while the latter's a different animal altogether, a comparatively more serene collection of Kosmische Musik settings and pastoral soundscapes.

Inaugurating the album's Night half spectacularly, Bryan Ferry's inimitable world-weary croon boosts the pulsating electro-disco attack of “U Can Dance.” Having Ferry appear is a masterstroke, and the track convincingly argues that the suave Roxy Music figurehead has lost none of his vocal allure. Unfortunately, offsetting the sublime Ferry turn is an execrable one by Diddy who spoils “The DJ” with a charmless barrage of imbecilic free-styling—thankfully the sole misstep on an otherwise strong first half. An apparent Kraftwerk homage, “Electronic Germany,” merges “Trans-Europe Express”-styled synth tones with electronically distorted vocals of the kind that have become a trademark of the Düsseldorf group. The hammering “Bodyfarm” likewise pays tribute to Hutter and company with a robotic recitation (“research… genetic… human… cryonic”) and synth effects reminiscent of “Hall of Mirrors.” The disc also includes raw slabs of viral techno (“The Disaster,” “Hellracer”) that writhe and throb menacingly.

That the Night and Day halves are diametrically opposite is established by the second half's beatless opener, “Germania,” a Krautrock exploration heavy on synthetic grandiosity, harpsichord-like melodic patterns, and cosmic pulsations. That's followed by the thirteen-minute odyssey “The Angst & The Angst Pt 2” which changes things up even more dramatically by pairing wordless vocals and acoustic guitars with the pitter-patter of percolating electro rhythms. “Carte Blanche” soothes the soul with a pastoral interlude of delicate synth chords and strings before “Nightclubbing” shifts the mood with a clangorous motorik techno workout. Anyone doubting the disc's stylistic leanings need only listen to the closing, vocal-based cover of Hawkwind's “Silver Machine” to have such doubts laid to rest.

Given that Teufelswerk's sole cringe-inducing moment comes not from Hell but from an ill-chosen guest (Diddy), the collection succeeds on almost every count. Admittedly, the dramatic contrasts between the halves sometimes do make the release feel like a case of split personality, but one could just as easily argue that such stylistic differences add more variety to the release as a result and prevent it from being one-dimensional.

June 2009