Buried By Time And Dust: Die Kreuzen

What is up everyone, it’s ya boy Florida Man here with another installment of Buried By Time And Dust here at the Esoterica Codex jamz vault. I am back to discuss those great little obscure bands that seem to make their mark on the underground but in the end make you wonder whatever happened to them. If this is your first time reading this and you already know the band I am talking about then that’s great, but if you are a newcomer to this blog or have never heard of the artist I’m about to basically nerd out to then you, my friend, are in for another excellent history lesson and a new band to check out.

In the past I have talked about a few other bands from Metal’s underground and recently I’ve been wanting to give that same spotlight to bands that come from it’s brotherly genre, Hardcore-Punk. The band I am going to talk about today is none other than Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s very own Die Kreuzen! They are, IMO, an essential band to Hardcore-Punk as Voivod were essential to Metal. And if that doesn’t make you want to check them out then I can’t convince you otherwise. Not only were Die Kreuzen essential into helping create the sound of 80’s Hardcore-Punk, but they went even further outside of the genre’s very own limitations and got so weird that they were a band that some felt foreshadowed what would be “Alternative Music” in the 90’s. They even got kudos from mainstream Pop musicians in the 80’s and in the process acquired a somewhat cult-like following. So the ever eternal question that needs to be asked is this: what the hell happened?

In order to answer that question you have to look at their music. With the last Buried installment on Septic Death I really didn’t feel like going into that band’s discography because it was too much of a tall order for me, but I will go there with Die Kreuzen. The first two releases by the band were their self-titled demo and infamous “Cows And Beer” EP, both released in 1982. They appeared on a few compilations as well in that same year. In 1983 they released their self-titled debut album on the now legendary Touch And Go Records . Their debut album featured re-recorded versions of their “Cows and Beer” EP as well as some new stuff. This particular era of Die Kreuzen was their most well-known era in that they were not just straight-up Hardcore Punk, they were crazy as shit. Tempo-wise, they were not at all different from say Discharge or Negative Approach. Vocals and riffs were something that, if you really paid attention to, lead singer Dan Kubinski was not just yelling into the mic, he was wailing and screeching like a wounded dying animal. Brian Egeness on guitars was extremely dissonant and at times was not that far from the realm of Killing Joke or Sonic Youth. Some of the song structures (particularly in the riff department) almost sounded like a Metal band – nuts because this was a good few years before Crossover-Thrash was even considered to be a legit sub-genre. If anything, they could be considered the Converge of their time in that they were not only outside of the box in terms of how they created music for a Hardcore band but just how far they would go outside of that box and progress and makes leaps with the two albums afterwards. Let’s take a listen to a song off their first album and compare it to what would come next, shall we?

One thing that is cool about this period was that while the band was from Milwaukee, they could easily be mistaken and even considered a post-Hardcore band. And this was a couple of years before labels such as Dischord Records would jump onto that particular train and carry the flag with most of the artists on their record label. With that said, see how a band could go from the song above to a song like this:

It goes without saying that Die Kreuzen is a band that definitely would not make the same album twice. You have to remember that even at the time of it’s release, their 2nd album “October File” was light-years ahead of anyone in terms of stepping outside the walls of Hardcore and looking into the vast Rock music landscape. They were pulling in influences from different places – everything ranging from Black Sabbath to Black Flag, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Germs, Killing Joke, and Sonic Youth. The album is a complete weird mindfuck – a Goth-infused hybrid of Hardcore, Punk, and Metal all while distinctly sounding and identifying as Die Kreuzen and nobody else. Songs like “Man In The Trees”, “Cool Breeze,” “Among The Ruins,” and “It’s Been So Long” all give the album a sense of relaxed yet mature control over the chaotic music it contains which weaves in and out of it’s roots in Hardcore and newfound sensibilities. And yet, if you thought that leap of maturity from Die Kreuzen was something, listen to the song “Elizabeth” from their third album “Century Days.”

Musical progression aside, Die Kreuzen were a band that wasn’t afraid of doing their own thing. The 1988 album “Century Days” saw the band musically go even further past the dark and dissonant sound of “October File” and closer to what would shortly be coming out of the Seattle area of that same year. It’s also noted that “Century Days” saw nano Hardcore influences and took “October File“‘s sound and made it grow up and go to college. By that time it sounded more like The Cure, R.E.M., The Jesus & Mary Chain. There’s also a killer fucking cover of the “Halloween” theme song which completely fits Die Kreuzen more so than a band such as Wehrmacht (I just wanted an excuse to name-drop them. “Shark Attack” is a fucking killer album.) At this point in the band’s career, you would think that they would be a bigger band than they were. Die Kreuzen would tour with then little known regional-soon-to-be-famous-in-the-upcoming-decade artists such as Soundgarden and White Zombie. Even at one point, of all artists to drop their name was none other than Mr. Robert Palmer (who wrote for the NY Times newspaper at the time). He praised them as “one of the new bands recasting the legacy of 70’s Gothic-metal for this modern age.” This was during their “October File”-era mind you just a couple years earlier, but it goes without saying that Die Kreuzen wasn’t what one would call a ‘gothic metal” band. That polar opposite genre wouldn’t exist until the early 90’s with Paradise Lost and Type O Negative. As a side note I find it funny sometimes what rock or music critics used to think of bands back in the day. The terms they would call them then are nowhere near what we call those same artists now. All these little nuances made it difficult for audiences to skillfully try and place Die Kreuzen in a box. That alone could have easily gotten the band to an even bigger level of success and wider audience. Unfortunately any band that couldn’t give less of a shit and has that much artistic freedom and so much ability to constantly progress, that comes with the price of not getting any bigger than a certain level. And the timing for Die Kreuzen was the straw that broke the Camel’s proverbial back. Seeing how it was released in 1988 -the year that saw the introduction of Grunge music, it was an ass-kicker for the band. Die Kreuzen went so far against the grain yet were so far ahead of what was to come with the Grunge/Alternative success of the 90’s. Die Kreuzen’s swan song, “Cement”, was their final musical offering to a world that just wouldn’t or couldn’t give them the chance.

If anything 1991’s “Cement” was basically the album where the world finally caught up to what Die Kreuzen was doing a handful of years earlier but by that point, the explosion of Grunge and Alternative music left the band in the dust. At this point in Die Kreuzen’s weird evolution they sounded something more akin to a psychedelic-sounding R.E.M. mixed with Jane’s Addiction. Up until this particular album it was so obvious to the members of Die Kreuzen that even though the band members of Jane’s Addiction might not have said or mentioned any sort of influence taken from Die Kreuzen, their music screamed the opposite. At least that was until “Cement” where Die Kreuzen starting sounding like the very same bands they influenced. Just listen to the song “Holes” and it sounds like something that could have easily came off the B-side to  Jane’s Addiction’s “Ritual de lo habitual” album. Or how about that bass intro to “Blue Song”? It’s almost identical to “Mountain Song.” Despite who influenced who first, it’s sad to see a band be an individual self for so long to only reach a certain level. They had a massive cult following but never reached the opportunity to alter rock music history as we know it. It would definitely be an interesting parallel timeline to view – to see what might’ve been, had they the opportunity to expand their world. Some things aren’t meant to be.

So, the question is, where are they now? Well unfortunately for Die Kreuzen nothing much has happened in terms of new music. The band called it quits in 1992 after over a decade of challenging audiences with their hybrid form of underground music. The band members went their separate ways and did side-projects and the usual post band breakup story that all bands and artists share. But none of those side-projects came anywhere near the mold-shattering progression and influence that Die Kreuzen had on not just Hardcore but on underground music. In the years that followed, Die Kreuzen, like a lot of other bands faded into the background, but somewhere along the line Metal and Grunge  bands came out of the woodwork ranging from Voivod, Napalm Death, the Melvins, Soundgarden, Brutal Truth, even Math Rock bands such as Colossamite, and so many other killer bands. In 2005 all of these groups coming from different backgrounds came together to pay tribute to Wisconsin’s very own weird sons of Hardcore-Punk pedigree in the form of a tribute album called “Lean Into it: A Tribute To Die Kreuzen” released on Erosion Records. In the linear notes Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth wrote “Man, there was a point there when Die Kreuzen were the best band in the world.” As of 2012, Die Kreuzen reformed and was regularly performing shows and festivals overseas. There’s some cool footage on YouTube of Voivod playing their cover of “Man In The Trees” live with both Voivod vocalist Snake and DK singer Dan Kubinski making wailing and cackling Canadian noises.

So in all honesty you could say that out of the handful of bands that I’ve covered for the “Buried By Time & Dust” series, Die Kreuzen would probably be the one closest to getting the level of recognition that they deserve. Rightfully so due to the fact that even though there are so many bands and artists from that particular period in the US Hardcore-Punk scene coming in from different angles, scenes and so forth. None were really weirder, more challenging, and so far ahead of the curve than Die Kreuzen. Again, if none of what I have talked about convinces you otherwise, then just sit down and listen to those albums yourself and come to your own conclusions about the band. At least you’ll get to hear some kick ass jamz in the process. And also check out the mini documentary about the band on Youtube which I highly, highly recommend.

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