Blackmail - Photo by Andreas Hornoff

Photo by Andreas Hornoff

We all got those kind of favourite bands that we are following for years, despite any possible change in musical taste we go through. To me, german indie-institution BLACKMAIL definitely is one of those bands. Therefore, it’s been pretty obvious for me to attend their tour for their current record II. A title referring to the 20 years that BLACKMAIL are part of the business already – a business, that’s always been connected with financial struggle, nowadays maybe more than ever. Considering that, it’s even more inspiring to see a band getting rid of all the negativity just by the means of pure, honest work and a lot of passion.

Friday the 12th is one of the first warm evenings in this springtime but people nonetheless seemed to be willing to spend their time in a dark venue rather than populate the parks. Consequently, the Werk II in Leipzig sees a lot of enthusiastic faces – fortunately enough of them to make the spacious hall D look fairly crowded as ZEN ZEBRA entered the stage. The locals needed a few tracks to get in the right mood (something that may has to do with the recent changes in the band) but once they did, they got the audience right away as well. The new drummer Aron did a remarkably good job, the chemistry seemed to be all fine within the band and that the songs of their impressive debut Awaystation got a lot of emotion and tension has been approved relatively quick that night. Singer Marv literally put everything he had into his performance, something that even the usually critical audience in Leipzig appreciated. Additionally, ZEN ZEBRA, who published their debut on the inofficial BLACKMAIL-Label 45Records, seemed to be a very fitting opening act with their technically elaborate but nonetheless catchy indie/progressive-tunes.

There’s maybe no other band that left an imprint on Germany’s indie-scene as big as BLACKMAIL did. Guitarist Kurt Ebelhäuser not only produced dozens of records over the years, he also maintained to be the driving force behind BLACKMAIL and kept working with his side-project SCUMBUCKET. This man lives the music, which could be seen once again that night. A night in which the drummers seemed to be playing an oddly special role: “a new man behind the Blackmail-kit as well?” – some might have thought. But no worries, usual drummer Mario Matthias just got ill on short notice and was solidly replaced. And the rest? The rest did what they’re indisputably best at: performing rock hymns in a row.

II is the second album after former singer, frontman and identification figure Aydo Abay left the band and was replaced by young, talented Mathias Reetz. But more important: it’s the first record in which his fresh input can be heard very clearly. A development that fits his much more confident appearance on stage. Compared to a few years ago, he’s become a very important factor in BLACKMAIL‘s music. Something he still can’t fully express live, but stage hogs Kurt and Carlos Ebelhäuser compensate what Reetz lacks in entertainment-qualities from time to time. Musically, the slightly new approach of II works out very well in a live-setting. Great poppy tunes, harsh noise-attacks and an undeniable sense for grooving rocksongs combine organically in BLACKMAIL‘s performance. Especially when they jam around the frameworks of their songs, you can see that those tunes are more to them than just a programme you uncoil. And yes, they still play stuff that stems from the times before Abay left, and they do it well.

Sure, one can go on complaining that this band should have gone big a long time ago, unfortunately they never did as much as they deserved. On the other hand, that is why they’re still so very loveable. They keep on going and writing passionate and excellent music – just for the sake of making it. A rare achievement in a career of 20 years. Happy Birthday, BLACKMAIL. Thank you and take care.