Angizia - Das Schachbrett des Trommelbuben Zacharias (1999)
This will definitely not appeal to everybody, but I can't help but enjoy it. Angizia started out as a metal band in the fertile Austrian scene that spawned Abigor and Summoning. The project was founded by Michael Haas, who calls himself Engelke. From the start they were quite unique, with lots of piano and some very theatrical vocals (off-putting to some people). Having shared a split CD with countrymates Amestigon in 1996, and their debut proper 'Die Kemenaten Scharlachroter Lichter' (something like 'The Scarlet Lights of the Room with the Fireplace') the next year, they embarked on a trilogy of full-length albums characterized by a thematic focus on Russia and a gradual drifting away from their metallic roots and into - something harder to describe, but think cabaret, think 1920s Berlin (including the Jewish neighborhoods), operetta, rock 'n' roll piano, a smidgen of jazz, a bit of waltz, a dash of schmaltz... These albums are conceived as musical theatre pieces. The vocals are remarkable, performed by no less than 4 different voices (3 male, 1 female); often several voices sing in unison, and there's generally a real sing-along feel to things. One of the singers is Chrisof Niederwieser of that other weird Austrian metal band, Korova (later KorovaKill, but it's mainly their first album 'A Kiss in the Charnel Fields' you need to check out); his vocals are admittedly an acquired taste. There's some enjoyable piano work and a weepy Eastern European violin. Really nothing similar springs to mind.
'Das Schachbrett des Trommelbuben Zacharias' ('The Chessboard of Drummer Boy Zacharia(s)') is the second part of the trilogy (released on short-lived Austrian label Black Rose Productions) and shows an intermediate stage where there is still some metal present, but quite a bit less than on its predecessor 'Das Tagebuch der Hannah Anikin' ('The Diary of Hannah Anikin'; also 1997, also on Napalm), which was also graced by some of the most passionate black metal shrieks I have had the pleasure to encounter. On the closing chapter, '39 Jahre für den Leierkastenmann' ('39 Years for the Barrel Organ Player'), the metallic roots had largely been dispensed with, and the klezmer-ish streak already noticeable on 'Zacharias' occupied a more central role. The fact that all 3 albums were on different labels, each one more obscure than the last, may be some indication as to how few people were prepared to follow this band on their musical voyage. There was one more, self-released album in 2004 ('Ein Toter fährt gern Ringelspiel': 'A Dead Man Likes to Ride the Carousel'), a more jazzy, very eclectic hodgepodge. Apparently after years of silence a sixth album is on the way, entitled 'Kokon: Ein schaurig-schönes Schachtelstück' ('Cocoon: A Gruesomely Beautiful... -', sorry I'm not sure what Schachtelstück means here. Maybe the body of a string instrument?).
Track titles and translations:
1. Pique Dame und Rachmaninow, 1904 (The Queen of Spades and Rachmaninov, 1904)
2. Ich bin ein Bewoner des S/W-Diagramms (I Am an Inhabitant of the B&W Diagram*)
3. Der Kinderzar (The Child Czar)
4. Schlittenfahrt mit einer Lodenpuppe (Sleigh Ride with Loden Mannequin)
5. Ungeliebter Kammerfrieden (Unbeloved Chamber Peace)
6. Der Essayist (The Essayist)
7. 2 Millionen Rubel (2 Million Ruble)
8. Das Bauernendspiel (The Pawn's Endgame (or: King and Pawn versus King Endgame, it's a chess term))
*at least I assume S/W stands for Schwarz-Weiß.
Note: all translations are mine, don't accept them as gospel. German is not my first language (nor my second, or third!).