How does one even start discussing how and why, Emigrate’s latest output A Million Degrees is the best thing to hit rock music this year?! Released on iTunes today (yesterday was the official release date) A Million Degrees is the 3rd instalment of alternative rock gold gifted to the world by German rock icon, Richard Zven Kruspe.
Kruspe obtained a cult following for his industrial guitar riffage and growling backing vocals in Rammstein, arguably one of the top arena metal bands of our time. The staggering success of Rammstein is not for this blog though as a fan from my teens, I cannot wait to see their flame-throwing, inflatable-boat crowd surfing and hugely (look it up if you don’t know!) entertaining live show again.
Carrying forward a sense of Beatlemania into my own youth, I had a favourite band member. Richard Kruspe was my Ringo, with his dark spikey hair, black nail polish, eyeliner and tank tops. Generally the ladies favourite (although singer Till Lindemann has an active fanatical following still on Instagram) with his toned arms and square jawline, Kruspe oozed that classic rockstar sex appeal. For me though, it went beyond his good looks and intriguing stage presence. His style of guitar playing updated the prototypical chuggery of James Hetfield (Metallica)- tighter, harder and more militant in execution.
However with all these amazing attributes, it wasn’t obvious to me (and I suspect, other fans) that Kruspe was capable of fronting his very own band. His presence in Rammstein was that of a dark horse- moody, quiet, watching everything happening around him with folded arms yet instrumental to it all. He never took away from the showmanship of Lindemann and he was the perfect sum of all the flamboyant parts of Rammstein.
Which was why the announcement of Emigrate in 2006, his solo project, took me by surprise. A fantastic surprise and one which paid off immediately, “Wake Up” was the song of the century for me. I couldn’t get enough of his singing voice (surprisingly good with a great range, his mixed up German/American accent added to the appeal), the fact he was singing in English was a bomb drop and set him a million miles apart from Rammstein, his signature guitar playing was even more obvious and the songs- the songs! The songs were out of this world. Heavy, hard hitting, catchy with sleek production to match, Emigrate was an artistic force to be reckoned with. It was apparent that Kruspe had a depth of creativity which was previously untapped and unexplored.
In 2014, his second output Silent So Long was released. This hit me in my final academic year of my audio degree and it’s production values floored me. The drums, the drums, the drums!!! That drum sound is worth shedding a tear for. Holding up with its predecessor’s level of rock songwriting, Emigrate’s sound further progressed with FM synthetic sounds (bringing to mind for me, the sound of 80’s chart music and perhaps a throwback to Kruspe’s youth in divided Berlin) and collaborations with vocalists Marilyn Manson, Lemmy Kilmister (Motorhead), Peaches, Jonathan Davis (Korn) and Frank Delle. Fans seem to be divided over this album and while a very small handful of songs are skippers (sorry Lemmy, I love you and Motorhead but this collab didn’t work for me), I really liked it. It has a certain coldness and wintery atmosphere that I just really like. It shows a different side to Kruspe than Emigrate showed us, I felt it showed a certain maturity and a creative mind which was very much in tune with its own artistry.
Almost 4 years to the day, we are graced with A Million Degrees. Used as a forerunner to the album release, 1234 feat. Benjamin Kowalewicz, prompted uncertainty in this longtime Kruspe fan. Not enough Kruspe vocally and the song was very, commercial. It seemed rather contrived to me, no matter how many times I repeat-played it and tried to like it. Nonetheless I’m glad I held out! A Million Degrees excels it.
The title track alone is a golden moment in Kruspe’s career. Opening with that cold FM synth sound I liked so much from Silent So Long, Kruspe’s classic Germanic overdriven stiff vocal fits perfectly. This could be from the same album, but perhaps it’s a little bit more Kraftwerky.
Then BANG! “Burn bright!”, Kruspe’s delicious baritione breaks into his soaring upper range. The mood changes from synthy atmospheric darkness to straight up Emigrate rock. Overdriven guitars and live drums, the groove is sexy in it’s rigidness, thanks to an offbeat open high hat. Leading into an anthemic chorus, the word mature springs to mind again. If you don’t get goosebumps listening to this chorus, you must be emotionally vacant! Kruspe’s voice is at it’s best, perhaps the most emotive it’s ever been. Soaring at the top end of his range, he’s vocally strong and more powerful than I’ve ever heard him before. I adore the contrast in his voice- the rigidness in his verse vocal (the Rammstein Kruspe with crossed arms we all know him for) and then the sheer power in his chorus vocal (the artist he has dared to become). The top end, arpeggiated synths entwine the synthy Kraftwerk influences with stadium rock .
Linked with a clean guitar tone in the upper-mids which hearkens back to Emigrate, verse 2 carries forward the atmospheric synths and rock powerhouse of drums and distorted guitars. This clean guitar tone is the foundation for the breakdown in the middle eight and a swirling atmosphere of effected vocals wash around it- the plunge before the climax of the final chorus sections.
For me, the title track is the absolute stand out. Though on first listen, the entire album shares its brilliance. Rammstein fans may not be too sure, especially with the (sorry to use this word again) Kraftwerky Let’s Go which features Till Lindemann singing in German, but Emigrate fans certainly will.
Kruspe is on fire, no pun intended.