The Ministry of Wolves

Music from Republik der Wölfe

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The Ministry of Wolves are a quartet including Mick Harvey, Alexander Hacke, artist/vocalist Danielle de Picciotto, and the Theater Dortmund's musical director, Paul Wallfisch. They came together for a musical theater piece directed by Claudia Bauer -- also for Theater Dortmund -- entitled Transformations, inspired by and deriving from poet Anne Sexton's collection of the same name. The poems were based on Brothers Grimm fairy tales. Hacke and de Picciotto are members of Crime & the City Solution, while he and Harvey were part of the band's 1980s lineup. She is also a former vocalist with Die Haut and a longtime contributor to Berlin's art and performance scenes. This music is perverse, Gothic, funny, nocturnal, and thoroughly engaging sonically and musically. These songs use and deviate from Sexton's texts as necessary to serve the songs. Track to track the contrast is often sharp and jarring. In "The Gold Key," de Picciotto is both witch and storyteller, delivering caution and invitation simultaneously amid harp, vibes, and electric guitars. The repetitive riff is enchanting, enhanced by a Gypsy-esque violin. "Rumplestiltskin" is angular crime jazz crossed with funky drums. Hacke's growling, snarling vocal takes the viewpoint of the subject. Electric guitars cut and streak, keyboards keen, and the narrative questions whether the voice we hear is really from outside or "the dopplegänger within you trying to get out...." It's perverse, edgy, delightful. In Harvey's darkly droning acoustic ballad "The Frog Prince," the creature is not the one from Disney, but a sinister creature who deserves to be -- as the original tale relates -- thrown across the room, against a wall. De Picciotto gently sings and narrates "Sleeping Beauty" -- but with an edge -- over a sparse, percussive industrial soundscape. "Cinderella" and "Rapunzel (As Isadora Duncan)" are original works (though their inspirations also derive from Sexton). The former commences as a skittering, frenetic waltz that slows to an ethereal, graceful elegance. The latter, with Hacke singing and speaking, uses a toy piano, syncopated drumming, and a mutant glam pop chorus. "Little Red Riding Hood" crosses the rumbling, almost unhinged sound of early Bad Seeds and middle-period Neubauten with noir-ish jazz piano and vibes, as Hacke delivers a slippery vocal worthy of Brecht. In essence, Music from Republik der Wölfe is not merely a theatrical retelling of the Grimm stories based on Sexton, but another interpretation that extends hers altogether. These wonderful songs also do service to the Brothers -- who collected these tales from centuries-old folk sources -- by reintroducing some of their menace and depravity, and revitalizing the pre-moral aspects stripped away by the 20th century's "evolving" arbiters of good taste. The subtitle of the theater piece was "A Fairytale Massacre with Live Music," and stands as more than appropriate here. This set is sly, funny, cunning, occasionally evil, and entertaining throughout.

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