Album Review | Kanonenfieber | Menschenmühle

Well, what have we here? A German black metal band with war imagery? To my surprise, this is not an NSBM album. I even translated the lyrics to be sure. This debut album is from the one-man band Kanonenfieber, who is based in Bamberg, Germany. This album is themed around World War One and the content based on “factual reports, letters and other documents from the surviving and deceased soldiers.” Kanonenfieber translates roughly to ‘cannon fever’ and Menschenmühle to ‘human mill’. For anyone who knows anything about WW1, these chosen titles should immediately make sense. To anyone not as intensely fascinated by war as I am, I will briefly unpack.

WW1 was famous for being one of the most brutal and deadly wars ever to cover the face of the earth. A total of two hundred and twenty-two rounds were shot by multitudes of artillery batteries over the course of the war, which is what I imagine the word ‘cannon fever’ is referring to. The war is also famous for the way troops were deployed; masses of soldiers were sent daily into what can only be described as a meat grinder. Trench warfare was the norm and gaining metres of ground was considered a victory. To this aim, soldiers were sent en masse into the fire and the flames. The chances of survival were slim and as a soldier on the ground, it was unlikely you would survive the war. The lucky ones would survive with crippling injuries or permanent mental damage.

So, this should put the content of this album into perspective. It is a dark, tortured experience and even more so if you follow the stories described in the lyrics. This album is emotive, melodic, and visceral, and one that I have thoroughly enjoyed. Musically, the album is not experimental and most of the songs are straightforward, although I would not label each song as strictly black metal. There are death metal elements and even some modern metal elements, but the bulk of the music would fit neatly into the genre of melodic black metal. Some elements remind me of bands such as Children of Bodom (RIP Alexi), or Wintersun, but much moodier and less fun. Instrumentally the album is what you would expect, a typical metal set up with no unusual additions. And, this is another band in which the sole proprietor is unnamed, which seems to be becoming a common trend across these one-man acts.

I think the quality that sets this album apart is the content. Maybe for someone not as fascinated by war as me, this would not stand out, but I have noticed a severe lack of WW1-themed media in the current age. Most games, movies, television series, and the like seem to focus on the more recent World War Two. This may be due to the contrasting of good and evil that is attached to WW2, or maybe just because it is closer in time to our modern age, but WW1 has always fascinated me more due to it being our historical link between modernity and an age that seems shrouded in time.

Not many images available for this band so I thought I'd drop in some WW1 photography for context

The album begins with a solemn, picked guitar passage while a sample plays. Although I can’t know for certain I would assume it is a sample from someone like Erich Ludendorff, one of Germany’s main generals during the war. A filtered guitar part bursts out of the introduction and the full band smacks us with double-kick and soaring harmonies that instantly get my blood flowing. The sound conjures images of cavalry riding into a burst of shells that throw dirt into the air. The air is thick with yellow gas and the smell of blood; dismembered limbs scatter the floor like mulch. More picked guitar, distorted this time, breaks up the charge. These sustained sections seem to mimic the calm between the pounding of the artillery shells; a moment to catch your breath before diving back into the fray. The vocals on this album are slightly generic though still powerful. The vocal performance might be my least favourite element of the album, but that’s not to say they aren’t a competent fit. They’re just lacking some character. This song is the perfect opener; frantic, tortured, yet seeping with emotion.

Track two “Dicke Berta” is named after the famous howitzer “Big Bertha” and it opens with the fitting sound of a cannon being loaded. The song is packed with more melodic riffs but with some slower tempos thrown into the mix, which gives the track some doomy sentiments. The harmonics used three minutes in remind me of something you would hear in a slam breakdown, which is why I mentioned the modern elements when speaking about the genre earlier. The music never reaches full slam/core feel but there are hints of it.

Track three “Die Schlacht bei Tannenberg”, or “The Battle at Tannenberg”, has a strong militaristic feel accentuated by the fast snare drum patterns heard as the song starts. We hear a chaotic blast beat which does well to represent the feel of a WW1 battlefield (or at least, the battlefields I have heard described) and more of the melodic riffing interspersed with morose, sustained sections. This is a common trait heard across the song structures on this album. The best part of this piece, and one of my favourite parts of the album, is the lead guitar we hear about halfway through. The guitar makes my heart bleed, simple yet pining, a dirge for the millions of souls lost. After the break we are thrown back into the fight, tearing down a slope headfirst towards death and glory.

“Der letzte Flug”, or “The Last Flight”, begins with some death-doom sounding riffage, again almost sounding a bit like a slam breakdown but not quite. It is replete with beautiful and desolate guitar picking, which is a common trend on this album. And about two minutes into this track we get an interesting, almost disco-like, riff with a linear drum groove to match. This part is unique relative to the rest of the album and it is full of energy, almost fun, if you ignore the piles of dead bodies.

The intro to “Ins Niemandsland”, or “To No Man’s Land” has one of the most death metal sounding parts of the album. It reminds me heavily of Children of Bodom in parts, particularly the chorus. The final track of the album is the most unusual being a folk acoustic piece, with deep and rich lead vocals. Although the piece is nothing too special, it does a good job of winding down the album and leaving us with a thick layer of morbidity, even perhaps irony, hanging in the air.

Much of the rest of the album follows the trends I have set out above and although, other than thematically, I would not call this album groundbreaking or original but it is an exemplary piece of work in the field of melodic black metal. As a fan of WW1 history and melodic black metal, this album hit all the right beats. It’s infectious yet complex enough to keep you coming back for more. I highly recommend checking this one out.

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You can grab a digital copy of Menschenmühle over on the Kanonenfieber Bandcamp page as well as vinyl and CDs. You can also listen to it over on Spotify.

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