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02 January, 2017

Hendrik Jan Vermeulen - Krieg

Hendrik Jan Vermeulen - Krieg |self-released, 2016| 4/5

01. Der Krieg, 02. Präsentiermarsch, 03. Sankt Michel, 04. Lazarett, 05. Visé, 06. Ein toter Mensch, 7. Brüder, 08. Handgranatenwerfer, 09. Im Feldkwartier auf hartem Stein, 10. Der Hohenfriedberger, 11. Angriff, 12. Schwerverwundet, 13. Totentanz 1916, 14. 1917, 15. Im Osten, 16. Abschied, 17. Totensignal

Artists get inspired by a variety of things including, but not limited to legends, dreams, events, personal experiences, or futuristic visions. The Dutch guitarist, music teacher, and founder of Krieg - Hendrik Jan Vermeulen - dedicated the entire Krieg1916 project to his late great-uncle Bernhard Kronauer who fought as a soldier of the German Army and died in the eastern parts of Galicia (present Ukraine) in 1916. The Krieg album was released a 100 years after Kronauer's death.
The music here becomes a complementary background for carefully chosen, early 20th century poetry created by various poets, who also did military service during WWI. Undoubtedly, German-speaking listeners will be pleased by both verbal and instrumental content interlacing on this release.

Most of the 17 songs are short, often clocking under 2 minutes. 'Der Krieg' is a perfect representative of the whole collection, with a high, young female voice begins a spoken poem - an apocalyptic and prophetic tale of a wrathful War God (written by Georg Heym in 1911). The young orator (Franca Ley) is then joined by a lower and less expressive masculine voice (Frank Fiedler). Finally, a cold, haunting ambient sound rises in the background, giving the track an uncanny feel. This leads to the interlude entitled 'Preußischer Präsentiermarsch', which brings an uplifting and slightly 'aged', war propaganda-like melody (as found in many Nazi movies), possibly preparing imaginary soldiers for marching off into war.

A beautiful, almost magical guitar melody opens the next song - 'Sankt Michel', where listeners get the first impression of Heiko Schmidt's vocals. This male singer and actor from Cologne owns an extremely intriguing voice, the timbre which resembles a female alto. The musical arrangements match the poem perfectly here, as it's performed expressively through necessary dramatization, creating several memorable moments.
'Lazarett' is the first song on the tracklist kept in a slightly goth-rock vibe with additional drums and bass instrumentation. While the freely swinging guitar riff brings freshness, Heiko's dramatic recitation of Wilhelm Klemm's poem gives the heart a much desired thrill. Later, the delicate sonic background of 'Visé' (based on graded guitar accords) becomes a great fit for the warm and distinctive voice of a different, female singer - Charlotte Illinger. Krieg1916 collaborates with many artists, musicians (including Vermeulen's family members), and technicians, with everyone involved getting full credit on the project's official website.

'Ein toter Mensch' is a short track, purely based on spoken poetry. It is then followed by 'Brüder' - a melodious and instantly memorable composition. Heinrich Lersch's poem is delivered by Heiko Schmidt again, and a melancholic mood comes from the guitar, though rhythmic bass and drums lines prevent extensive mourning from taking over. The song (the title of which is German for 'Brothers') while dedicated to all soldiers, wasn't written to glorify mass murder through warfare, but to emphasize the importance of living in peace and mutual tolerance.

The freezing, yet beautifully snowy atmosphere of 'Handgranatenwerfer' was created with simple sounds of synth and guitar. They repeat in the background throughout the entire track, dominated by the early 20th century poem written by Anton Schnack. Another short acoustic song ('Im Feldkwartier auf hartem Stein') is supported by a solo guitar melody. Together with the vocal interpretation it may suggest that the performer (Hugo Luyten) tried to bring a positive vibration of hope to soldiers who would impatiently expect the war's end, rather than the arrival of new combat orders. 'Der Hohenfriedberger' is an instrumental composition carrying the motif of victory through an uplifting mood and arrangements typical for an anthem, performed with a high-pitched guitar, quiet bass, and drum cymbals.

The 'Angriff' poem by Kurt Heynicke becomes the leitmotif of the next track, where a delicate piano arrangement creates the only background. It's enough though, because the masculine voice (H. Schmidt) recites the poem with an entire spectrum of emotions, making for a desired retrospective insight. It's then followed by 'Schwerverwundet', which begins on a positive note with expressive tones of an acoustic guitar and equally dedicated female vocals (Janina Raguse) getting an angelic vibe later on. The mood and voice may suggest she depicts the spirit of a Virtue drifting over a battlefield, searching for those who were severely wounded or dying, to transfer their souls to a better place.

Verses used in 'Totentanz 1916' were written by the German Dadaist and sound poem pioneer Hugo Ball, who was rejected when he applied to join the army due to his medical condition. Ball's anti-war sarcasm gave him the label of a 'traitor', forcing him to flee to Switzerland, where he successfully continued working as part of the Dada movement by co-founding Cabaret Voltaire. The song is enriched with percussive, wake-up sounds calling out to action. The following track ('1917') starts with an uplifting, acoustic guitar part. The skilfully written composition is equally shared between the story-telling vocals (reciting the poem by Carl Zuckmayer) and soothing arrangements, additionally supported with an electric guitar soloing later on.

'Im Osten' brings as melancholic mood as sad the life story of the poem's author is. Georg Trakl was an Austrian expressionist, working as a pharmacist and medical official, who suffered from post-war depression that eventually led him to cocaine overdose and death in a military hospital in Kraków, Poland. Since Trakl died in late autumn, the imagery of falling snow comes to mind again, thanks to delicate guitar and synth sounds wrapped into slow rhythm arrangements and enriched with matching male vocals.
Countering this mood is 'Abschied' - the only pure rock piece here, starting with a soloing guitar, then joined by bass, drums, and male vocals reciting a poem by Alfred Lichtenstein. He could foresee his own death in this prophetic writing, completed just a few weeks before he was killed on a French battleground. This and 'Brüder' could work great with a music video with screenplays based on existing historical material.

Finally, the instrumental 'Totensignal' brings the end of the tracklist on an epic, peaceful note with a 'rest in peace' motif. No eulogy is necessary however, as the guitar gives an emotional tribute to the late soldier. It could be performed at Bernhard Kronauer's funeral, if only his body was found.

Even though there are historical traces hinting at Hendrik Jan's great-uncle's last location, there's no grave to be visited. Krieg, an in-memoriam work of art, is a gift from a family member who despite never having a chance to meet or know more about his ancestor, got inspired enough with the story of his life to write music, curate a selection of war poems, and engage talented performers to combine these two elements into a solid unity. The songs of Krieg will be presented at various events and radio shows starting in January 2017. Many European countries hit by WWI and WWII celebrate their rise from ashes every year, so there should be many opportunities to present these pieces to a wider public, perhaps accompanied by a theatrical performances on the historical subject as well.

(Reviewer: Katarzyna 'NINa' Górnisiewicz, Fabryka Industrial Rock & Metal Encyclopedia, December 30th, 2016. Proofreading: Mike 'Vesper' Dziewoński)

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Reviewed by Fabryka Industrial Rock & Metal Encyclopedia