When I think of “old school EBM” I often picture bands like Autodafeh, Ccontainer 90, Agrezzior and Blood Shot Eyes. These bands, often from Sweden or the Anhalt region of Germany, tend to blur together after awhile. Their music derives directly from the primal early days of EBM when bands including Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft (DAF), Nitzer Ebb and POUPPÉE Fabrikk were just starting out. They feature 4-on-the-floor drum patterns and driving distorted basslines, essentially an electronic version of punk rock. I enjoy this style, but to me it becomes quite formulaic, as if these bands are pigeon-holing themselves into one quite narrow parameter. Indeed, the entire style seems anachronistic, bands trying to replicate a very basic and simple sound with modern technology that today is limitless. It’s refreshing to hear old school EBM that pushes the goal lines a little further out, and Serpents does precisely that.
Serpents began in 1989 with a series of cassette releases, leading up to their debut album Terminal Breath in 1993. The band followed up with just two other full-length albums, What Is Fear? in 1999 and the digital-only Immer Voran! in 2010. The band has had a revolving line-up over the years but the mastermind has always been Kazim Sarikaya. In a 2012 interview Sarikaya speculated that the band could have been much bigger if they had been able to sign a contract after their first tapes, when the EBM scene was gaining widespread popularity in Germany and the early releases of bands like Leæther Strip and :wumpscut: were taking the scene by storm. However, for whatever reason the band never really signed a lucrative contract. And, like countless other bands of the time, Sarikaya’s day job and life in general led to delays over the years. There was a similar delay converting from analog technology to digital, from hardware synths and drum machines to software-based technology.
What makes the trajectory of Serpents’s career interesting is that it overlaps with another big name in EBM, Plastic Noise Experience. Sarikaya became acquainted with P.N.E. leader Claus Kruse in 1991 and as early as 1993 began performing with P.N.E. Kruse produced and performed on ‘What Is Fear?’ Then, in the year 2000 Sarikaya became a permanent member of the live incarnation of P.N.E. Kruse has likewise since been a studio member of Serpents, along with providing remixes and production support throughout the years.
The newest Serpents release, State Of War, is a double-CD release from Electro Aggression Records. The first disc, titled ‘State Of War’, is the band’s new album, providing an old school feel but with a clean and modern production. I can hear elements of P.N.E. at times—the unstable, wildly unpredictable synthlines—but these only really stand out on the P.N.E. remixes. Other remixers include: the long-unheard-from CYBER, who provided live support to Serpents in the early days; The Psychic Force and AD:KEY. Also present are fellow bands from the Electro Aggression Records roster, including Pyrroline and Astma.
As an added treat, Disc 2 provides a re-release of Immer Voran!, the lost 2010 album that saw a digital release but never a chance to breathe on its own, apart from Russian torrent sites. With entirely German vocals, this disc has a decidedly different feel than State Of War. Yet this is not a reissue in the purest sense. Some songs, such as “Komm Noch Naeher”, “Immer Voran!”, “Wer Bist Due?” and “Das Zweite Leben” are here presented in updated 2015 versions. An unreleased version of “Wings Of Darkness” is also present, originally from the 1999 album What Is Fear? And, to give listeners a taste of the vintage Serpents sound, the club classic “Das Zweite Leben” is also present here in remixed form (from 1993’s Terminal Breath).
The set is rounded out with four “versions” of Serpents songs as performed by Plastic Noise Experience. These include “Killer Agency”, “Kill What Kills You”, “Protection” and “Second Life”. The first three were originally from Terminal Breath. “Second Life” is of course an English language version of “Das Zweite Leben”. Plastic Noise Experience has played “Kill What Kills You” live for years, leading many to mistakenly attribute it to P.N.E. instead of Serpents.
To accommodate the 2015 updates and the Plastic Noise Experience versions, this release removed some material from the 2010 release of Immer Voran! Most noticeably absent are the three remixes from No More, Technoir and Darbuka. It’s an interesting concept for a reissue, which gives an added value to both the 2010 version of the album as well as this new version. To get the complete picture you’d really need to get both versions. Luckily, the 2010 version is now readily available as well, on major mp3 sites such as Amazon.
Overall, the ‘State Of War’ 2-CD collection strikes me as a carefully curated re-introduction to a band that has forged its own unique path since the early days of EBM. Highly recommended for fans of old school EBM, this release is yet another home-run for Electro Aggression Records, an indie label that is consistently releasing the very best of old school EBM and dark electro. Bonus tip: for a previously unreleased (and exclusive) remix of the song “Komm Noch Naeher” search out the expansive 4-CD compilation Old School Electrology, Volume 1 available for purchase from Electro Aggression Records.