Reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated - the North has risen again. Close to five years since their last record, Leeds denizens AUTOBAHN re-enter the fray with the release of their third record, Ecstasy of Ruin. Half a decade is both a long time and no time at all: forever changes while some things remain eternal... So it goes that AUTOBAHN may have re-emerged with many of the hallmarks of their characteristic blend of industrial post-punk intact, but under the bonnet theyre a much leaner, more focused machine. AUTOBAHN 3.0.
If 2017s The Moral Crossing was a record defined by its dramatic rhythm section, then its not insignificant that the 2023 incarnation of AUTOBAHN arrives shaved to a four piece and sans their previous drummer. The change necessitates an evolution. Live drums have given way to drum-machines and sample-based percussion, and with it see the band reconfigure their typically blackened aesthetic into a hardened take on Electronic Body Music. As with their previous record, its an entirely self-produced collection, recorded between two self-built studios on a range of analogue equipment, the ghosts of their industrial forefathers haunting the circuits. Indeed, some of Ecstasy of Ruin was made with pieces salvaged from Martin Hannetts legendary studio. The mark of their presence is clear and AUTOBAHN certainly feel part of the long tradition of crepuscular music to emanate from Northern Britain, be that the transgressive activities of COUM Transmissions from Hull, Sheffield Steel City or the gothic history of their very own hometown. Its a noble torch they carry. Still, if Ecstasy of Ruin forms part of a rich lineage, it also speaks to right now. No album opens with a song titled Post-History and closes with another called Class War without some concession to the current condition and its place within it. Industrial music by its very nature is a physical concern, often placing the human body and its experience in the context of technology, reflecting the varying trevails of late capitalism. AUTOBAHN strive towards some kind of articulation of that conflict. The music is unrelentingly taut and terse, and the vocals of frontman Craig Johnson are invariably intense, though lyrically there are repeated allusions to beauty, empowerment and, ostensibly, hope. As such, the title of the album is an instructive one - theres some kind of bliss in all this mess. AUTOBAHN dont so much push against the pain as ride it out to its (il)logical ends. As Johnson implores on the title track, focus on living, the pain wont be forgotten. Its a relatable sentiment.