Review: Terrorgruppe

Disclaimer: I know a lot of the things I write start out with permanent reminiscences. That’s just how it is. Actually, I’m interested to hear your stories too. These are mine.

As a lad, I was fascinated by German punk. In part this was a reaction my mother’s insistence, much against my own wishes, that I should learn German. When she discovered that my junior high school didn’t offer German, she set up a private course for me and several other students. The fact that we were all compelled by our parents to do this, and that the class met for an hour before the normal school day, did nothing for my (already very limited) popularity.

It was around this time too (1982-3) that I discovered punk rock. In an effort to pay my mother back for all of the irritation she caused me, I decided that I would use my language skills to get into German punk. How could she object? In any case, my opportunities to do this were somewhat limited, living in Walla Walla, Washington. I set about scanning the pages of Maximum Rock n Roll, looking for anything that I could order with the meager funds available to me. Soon I had a small but very satisfying collection, including such gems as Razzia Tage ohne Schatten, Normahl Der Adler ist gelandet, Chaos Z Ohne Gnade, and the Porno Patrol Jump Back 7”.

Of all the German bands that I heard, my favorite by a long way was Inferno. I happened to pick up a copy of their Sohn Gottes 7” and something about their gruff, noisy thrash really piqued my interest. Plus they came from Neusäss, just outside of Augsburg, so I figured they must be small town guys like myself.

It took me a lot of doing, but I finally acquired a copy of their Tod und Wahnsinn LP, which had been released in 1983, and from then on I was on the lookout for their stuff. I can still remember making a special trip downtown to pick up a copy of their split LP with the Japanese band The Execute (to this day one of my very favorite records from the 1980s).

The occasion for this long back story is that, while shifting around some boxes that I hadn’t opened since coming back from Berlin in 2008, I discovered my long lost copy of Terrorgruppe’s Nonstop Aggropop CD. I had originally bought it without knowing that former Inferno singer and guitarist Archi Pfister was in Terrorgruppe as well.

In truth, I really loved Terrorgruppe long before I knew this. Their music will not be familiar to most Americans because, unlike so many European bands, they by and large resisted the temptation to sing in English. I really respect this, but it does mean that their music is a bit inaccessible for the large majority of Americans who don’t speak any foreign language, much less German. This is too bad, because in addition to writing some excellent melodic punk tunes, they have a really endearing goofball sense of humor.

Unlike more commercialized and stylistically diffuse bands such as Die Toten Hosen and Die Ärzte, Terrorgruppe’s music retained its rough edge. They hit a lot of standard punk themes: skateboarding (“Mein Skateboard ist wichtiger als Deutschland”/“My Skateboard is More Important than Germany”), annoying the neighbors (“Wir müssen raus”/“We Have to Go”), drinking your problems away (“Tresenlied”/“Bar Song”), and the always popular punk rock road trip (“Wochenendticket”/“Weekend Ticket”). But along with the humor they included a lot more actual political commentary that your average American goofball band would. “Keine Airbags für die CSU” (“No Airbags for the CSU”) expressed their (quite justified) loathing of politicians. “Gewerbepark Nord” (“Business Park North”) effectively described the alienation of meaningless, dead end jobs. “Nazis im Haus” (“Nazis in the House”) mocked losers who still hold out some love for the brown old days. Still, they never took themselves too seriously. On their website they described themselves as “10% politically correct, 90% politically incompetent.”

Strangely enough, my favorite song on this disc is their cover of Die Ärzte’s “Kopfüber in die Hölle” (“Head over Heels in Hell”). In it, they sing about the ideals of the 1980s:

Revolution stand auf unseren Fahnen,
Revolution stand uns im Gesicht,
Wir haben erlebt was andere nicht mal ahnen,
Revolution – weniger wollten wir nicht…

Revolution was on our banners,
Revolution stood before us,
We lived through things that others never understood,
Revolution – we wanted nothing less…

They finish with a bitter critique of people of have abandoned those ideals and the excuses that they make for sinking into normal, passive lives:

Heute stehst du
Bei Hertie an der Kasse
Und da ist keine Sehnsucht mehr in deinem Blick.
Du sagst man tut halt, was man kann
Und dir gehts gut – Du kotzt mich an…

Today you stand
Behind the checkout at K-Mart
And there is no longing in your expression anymore
You say one does what one can,
And it’s going good for you.
You make me puke…

It is one of the ironies of this record, and of the modern punk scene in general, that Terrorgruppe’s version of this song is considerably better than the original. Die Ärtze have been around forever, and they have written some great songs, but they have traded in their authenticity for stadium shows and slick studio production. Terrorgruppe showed that the thing is really still worth saying, and that’s worth a lot from where I’m sitting.

Although they played in the United States, most notably with NOFX in the late 1990s, the fact that about 99% of their material was in a language no one understood limited their appeal. (They did actually record an album in English called Rust in Pieces. It was released posthumously in 2006. It’s ok, but not as good as their German language material. It kind of sounds more like No Fun at All than Terrorgruppe’s other material.) They stopped touring in 2004, in part, at least according to their website, because their shows in Germany were getting so big and so out of hand that they had real trouble doing them on a d.i.y. basis and they were kind of afraid that someone would get badly hurt. That is worthy of respect. They were also just tired of it, and one can hardly blame them. The next year, Archi left the band, which effectively ended the operation.

Nonstop Aggropop and their other releases take a bit of finding, but it is well worth the effort. They write awesome foot-tapping punk songs. And as for the language problem…lern ma Deutsch.


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