Abwärts may not be a name you recognize, but it's a name that holds with it a certain musical integrity that only comes around when creative tread has been worn this down after decades. Abwärts, which translates to "Downwards" in German, is the name of a West German post-punk band that formed in 1979, just as the post-punk movement was gaining ground. They began as a scrappy punk rock outfit started by Mark Chung and FM Einheit, and made their presence known with the infectious single "Computerstaat". The single was ranked number one by the German independent charts for nearly a year. The band went into the studio to create their debut, and seminal LP, the post-punk masterpiece Amok Koma (1981).
Amok Koma was the sound of post-WWII Germany. It was the Cold War fears, Berlin Wall-isolationism, and fear-mongering being torn down and crushed with a frantic backbeat and experimental glee. The band got little to no help in the promotion department and it was nearly impossible to get a record deal, so Abwärts went full DIY and handled the recording, production, cover, distribution and concert booking. Quite successfully, one might add.
Less than a year later, in 1982, the band released their sophomore record Der Westen ist Einsam (The West Is Lonely) on Phonogram Records (a subsidiary of Mercury Records.) The band scored an opening gig for The Cure and things were looking up. Then Mark Chung and FM Einheit left Abwärts for full-time gigs in the experimental Einstürzende Neubauten, a band they would be in until the mid-90s. Abwärts broke up for a time, but then reformed and went on to release several albums over the last 30 years, the most recent being 2018s Smart Bomb.
Even though the band continued and continues to this day, the fact that an album like Amok Koma isn't regarded as an absolute classic in the post-punk canon is a crime. "Maschinenland" is a manic shot of late-60s jangle, mid-70s lower east side art rock, and the thriving German avante garde scene that began a decade earlier with bands like Faust, Kraftwerk, and Popol Vuh. "Karo 1/4 08/15 Hoch 2" is a sonic blast of aggression and punk that's in and out in less than a minute. "Monday On My Mind" has the swagger of classic Wire with a twist of West German Utilitarianism.
Abwärts' line up of Mark Chung, Axel Dill, Frank Z, and FM Einheit churned out a future classic with little to no help and it seemed to fall on deaf ears. Tracks like the brazen "Bel Ami" or the full-throttle "Softly Softly" wouldn't get the credit they so deserved. Songs like the frantic jangle that is "Mehr", or the wonky art rock of "Neon Kind" would go unnoticed it seems, at least in the interim. Amok Koma would never get a release in the US, or outside of Germany for that matter, leaving ears stateside without the dose of Abwärts they so desperately needed.
Neat Neat Neat Records will be reissuing Abwärts' Amok Koma for the first time ever in the U.S. 250 copies will be available on clear smoke vinyl, while 750 copies will be available on black vinyl, with all new cover art by Guided By Voices mastermind, Robert Pollard. Neat Neat Neat Records will also be including a faithful reproduction of the original 16 page booklet that came with the original German pressing, along with an additional page that will have translated lyrics and a letter from Frank Zeigert talking about the history of the record and the reissue.
Our take: Official reissue of the debut LP by this long-running German post-punk band. For whatever reason (not the least of which, I’m sure, is a lingering prejudice), German punk rock receives less chatter nowadays than the scenes that were happening elsewhere in Europe around the same time. That’s a shame when it keeps brilliant records like Amok Koma from getting the attention they deserve, though this reissue should help to rectify that. Abwarts started in 1979 and were very much a part of the post-punk explosion. In particular, it’s hard to imagine that Wire wasn’t a big influence on the band. Amok Koma’s sharp, minimal, angular, and often lightning-fast playing is one of the few things I’ve heard in my life that can scratch a similar itch as the almighty Pink Flag. It’s hardly an homage, though, as Abwarts exhibit a wide pallet of influences, from the sharp and angular punk that dominates the album to the middle eastern influences on “Türkenblues” to the ska and reggae rhythms they experiment with on “Neon Kind” and “Ich Bin Stumm(!).” If you’re a fan of post-punk music—Wire in particular—you’d be doing yourself a big favor by checking this one out.