In Extremo is not only the most popular “medieval rock” band, but also my favorite German band period. I’ve been a fan since I first heard the successful “Küss Mich” single from the album Sieben ten years ago. Today, I have seen them three times live, have all their studio and live albums, and several singles and compilations. After the powerful last record,Sterneneisen, with its liberating anthems and psychedelic experiments, I couldn’t wait to listen to their new output Kunstraub.
Even though this album doesn’t quite reach the high quality of Sterneneisen or past successes like my favorite record Mein Resend Herz, the new album is still very enjoyable and a definite must have for any folk metal fan.
The drumming on this record is more diversified and heavier than ever. Immediately, the opener “Der Die Sonne Schlafen Schickt” convinces with high quality drumming full of details, plus amazing pipe melodies and strong harp sounds. It’s thanks to this vivid drumming and a few sharp riffs that this album sounds more metal orientated than any other In Extremo record before it.
Not only is the drum play very dominating, but the bass playing that was only of an average quality on the previous efforts has seen a noticeable improvement. Now, we can hear short but very strong bass guitar driven passages in songs such as “Doof” or “Belladonna”. Another strong point on this record is the use of harp melodies that sound more organic and better integrated into the whole sound than ever. The epic and melancholic “Gaukler” could be cited as a very positive example.
The experimental side of the band is almost as strong on this release as on Sünder Ohne Zügel, and at least on the same level as the previous effort Sterneneisen. The narrative opening of the title track “Kunstraub” is entertaining and funny, and represents the band very well. The epic vocal effects in the opening moments of the vivid “Lebemann” add an enjoyable touch to the band’s sound. The haunting piano pieces in the emotional “Alles Schon Gesehen” are something I have never heard from this band before, and I find that very exciting.
Three tracks really stand out on this album for me. The emotional single “Feuertaufe” offers nothing stylistically new, but really convinces with an incredibly catchy chorus that you won’t get out of your mind. Let’s add that this song also has a few punk influences. This isn’t surprising, because most of the medieval musicians in the band played in underground punk bands in times of the socialist German Democratic Republic when this kind of music was considered illegal. The emotional, melancholic, and profound “Alles Schon Gesehen” really touches me, and is a true tearjerker. The sad guitar riffs, the haunting piano play, and the amazing and surprisingly warm and comforting vocals make this song one of the very best the band has ever written in my opinion. My very favorite song on this album follows immediately, and is entitled “Belladonna”. It’s a fast and joyful ride with smart, ambiguous lyrics about a witch and mistress. The fast and melodic punk riffs, the waggish piper sounds, the vivid bass guitar play, the highly diversified drumming, and the raw but charming old playboy vocals are the strongest trademarks of this anthem. This kind of song invites you to dance, make love or simply sing along, and is one of the catchiest tracks in the band’s entire career.
The limited edition of this album includes two more excellent tracks, which are also the longest ones. Fans should get their hands on the beautiful “Bunter Vogel” and especially the brilliant acoustic medieval anthem “Meie Din”, with old German lyrics from the thirteenth century. This track goes back to the band’s medieval roots, and should appeal strongly to older fans. Only God and the band know why these killer tracks didn’t make it on the regular edition.
Now, you might ask why this record doesn’t get more points and doesn’t beat the three records I’ve mentioned in the beginning. The first reason is the complete absence of exotic traditional songs in foreign languages that were present on all other In Extremo albums. I’m missing a lot on this album with fourteen songs sung in German. I’m aware of the fact that a band has to move on and try out new things, but these foreign language songs were always the charming and charismatic elements that made the band so unique, and I hope they will get back to this approach. The second reason is that among many great songs, a few don’t do very much. “Himmel Und Hölle” is too much Neue Deutsche Härte with unharmonious simplistic industrial metal riffs for me, and lacks the band’s typical beautiful melodies. I have exactly the same problem with “Doof”, but the few medieval instruments save the song for me. The band should focus on their outstanding instrumental skills instead of adding so many simplistic metal riffs to their sound. Another thing that starts to get annoying is the reoccurring approach to epic and melancholic songs that the band has repeated over and over again. “Gaukler” is still convincing because the band put so much passion into it, but the usual calm and epic closer “Die Beute” is only of an average quality at best. The last album closer I really liked was “Spielmann” from Mein Resend Herz, which was a passionate outburst that made me cry the first time I listened to it. I’m missing this kind of album closer from the band.
In the end, we still have a strong record with a few fresh and new elements, as well as many catchy anthems that should work very well in concert and cater to old and new fans alike. On the other hand, the band shouldn’t forget about the strengths that made them so unique, and I hope the next album is more medieval than industrial metal-oriented. I’m sure that this record will hit the charts again and make the band even more popular than before. Fans of folk metal and medieval elements in combination with rock music can’t get around this album. If you needed one more reason to take German lessons, here it is. In Extremo is still the best in their genre, even if Saltatio Mortis really came quite close this time with their excellent last output, Das Schwarze Einmaleins.