Review: Sankt Otten – Gottes Synthesizer

Having not followed Sankt Otten’s activities since Wunden Gibt Es Immer Wieder (released back in 2008), Gottes Synthesizer surprised me somewhat. Gone are the organic layers – the rich flutters of strings, the clatter of real percussion – with a whole host of 70s/80s synthesisers and reverberant electro-drums taking their place. The pieces revolve around a rhythmic and dynamic incessancy – textures and beats are kept constant, locking each composition into a groove without progressive narrative or foreseeable conclusion. While a few elements (e-bow slides, minor-key melancholy) have been carried through from the Sankt Otten of old, Gottes Synthesizer demonstrates a significant shake-up in musical approach.

It’s an interesting one. Parallels can be drawn to the likes of Zombi for the repetitiousness, the steady rhythms, and the arpeggiating synths trapped in relentless cycles. But whereas Zombi’s music feels propulsive and powerful, feeding off its own energy and momentum, Gottes Synthesizer simply drifts. Recurrence isn’t used to bring about hypnosis so much as absent-mindedness. Deliberate of not, Gottes Synthesizer is the sound of alienation and emptiness; of dis-connection and eternal loss.

On the title track, this vacuity is combined with a sort of panic and bewilderment – a grinding synth bass loop burrows into a stuttering beat while e-bow drones moan dissonantly over the top, and the piece wallows in its own anti-progression for a full 13 minutes. Meanwhile, “480 Pixel, die ich an Dir liebe” glimmers with vibrant romance, but ultimately feels superficial and distant when left to glide so mindlessly. It’s on these occasions that Gottes Synthesizer actually works, and frankly, it’s not often that the album manages to successfully both estrange and penetrate in this manner.

The problem is that many of these pieces feel very vapid and temporary. Tracks such as “Halleluja German Anguish” announce their entrance with a thump and crash only to disappear just as quickly, with the abruptness of its closure – the lack of any distinct conclusion – bringing a sense of insignificance to the track as a whole. A majority of Gottes Synthesizer doesn’t provoke or develop, and occupies some sort of empty limbo, immune from critique. There’s a sense that the music exists to exist – to lay claim to a fraction of time and then vanish, leaving a puzzled listener to ponder whether the music holds any greater significance beyond the moment that it simply was. It’s an intriguing record for sure, but not one that I plan on returning to very often.