DAMN THE MACHINE – THE STORY OF NOISE RECORDS by David E. Gehlke (Iron Pages)
In August 1977 a failed anarchist and trained engineer with no previous interest in music whatsoever left prison and returned to a life of squats in Berlin. Communal living sparked a curiosity in punk and he started putting on rudimentary live gigs, organising shows from a public phone box; and from that developed a punk label, AGR. But punk gave way to metal, and from those initial seeds sprang arguably one of the most influential European metal labels of the Eighties. Such is the bizarre story of Karl-Ulrich Walterbach and Noise Records, engagingly told by first-time author David E. Gehlke.
Noise developed a peculiar and wide-ranging roster, based largely on German thrash bands but also encompassing the likes of power-metallers Helloween, the trad metal S.A.D.O and the much underrated Rosy Vista. Their most influential act was almost certainly Celtic Frost but, strangely, as they matured this was the band Walterbach understood the least and as such invested minimal effort into; as a result, when Into The Pandemonium started making waves he was completely unprepared for the avalanche of approbation, and the lack of promotion and refused requests for a video clip didn’t help the album’s cause at all.
Walterbach seemed to have a strange relationship with his roster (a word he would apparently mis-pronounce ‘rooster’). His determination to make the label a success is all too apparent, but instead of bringing him closer to his bands, the small, almost-cottage industry approach seemed to breed in him a distinct lack of trust in them. Lawsuits abound, conflict arises on virtually every page, and you’re left with the distinct impression that however the label actually released anything is almost a miracle: the full discography though occupies some twenty pages, showing that despite chaos and litigation an empire was slowly built. Walterbach, the author notes, was a man of “tremendous foresight and drive,” and even though he doesn’t come across as the most likeable of characters, a character he most certainly is.
For the book, Gehlke interviewed Walterbach extensively, as well as every band of any note on the label, allowing both label boss and artists to put their sides of the story. As a result, apportionment of blame for failure and mud-slinging is rife – and Gehlke does a great job at maintaining journalistic balance and impartiality – but wrapped up within it all is a great story, engagingly told, about a man with passion and bands with hunger. And surely, that’s what the music business is all about.
© John Tucker March 2017