Jarring synths, war march drums and German vocals about god knows what, it’s not hard to see why I like this release. Of course, different from a studio album in nature, there’s no overriding theme or story here. It’s just a collection of early singles which, to be fair, sound like they belong together. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s a welcome documentation of how bands like Xmal laid the foundations for others to flourish. I often find compilation albums to be extremely inconsistent in terms of quality. Here however, I’d say all 8 tracks are on an even keel of solidness, even if there’s nothing absolutely mind blowing to discover.

Formed in 80’s Hamburg, this all female line up had success on UK Label 4AD with albums ‘Fetisch’ (1983) and ‘Tocsin’ (1984). They later released ‘Viva’ (1987) and ‘Devils’ (1989) to similar acclaim but ultimately disbanded in the early 90s. It’s nice to see then that despite no further studio efforts, we can still hear some of that punk ethos that briefly made them a hit in certain musical circles.

Opening track “Schwarze Welt” has drumming that reminds me of early Joy Division. In particular tracks “Leaders Of Men” and “No Love Lost”. An in your face, punk attitude. “Grosstadtindianer” has a similar feeling which I enjoy very much. The vocals also have this classic punk style; short, shouty refrains which make me wanna pout the lips and bob my head in time with the repetitive beat of the drums. You can hear where contemporary bands in this goth/punk genre, like Savages, have been influenced.

When I think of the word “goth”, I think of an image and aesthetic which radiates from every Xmal Deutschland orifice. The multi-coloured hair, black fashion and something very European and cold. It’s not the darkest stuff I’ve heard in that genre but not all good gothic music has to have those bleak, foggy flavours. For example, Danish outfit Lust For Youth (also on Sacred Bones Records) and of course, Depeche Mode. The latter’s ‘Violator’ (1990) album in particular had this mix of sinister undertones but ultimately still had a mainstream, pop appeal.

“Incubus Succubus” is perhaps the most well known Xmal song. Rhythmic and bouncy, this is a great get up and go track. Perhaps you’re on your way to meet the boys for a bev. I often find post-punk like this to be great motivators and givers of energy. The night is drawing in, it’s time to drink ale in your favourite holes in the city centre and become one with the evening’s events. Get drunk, smoke cigs and give the creatures of town a quid or two as you sway in the cold wind, phone gripped in hand, waiting for the approval of some more extra curricular activities from shadowy third-parties. The last track here “Allein”, which is also a live cut, has more of the same feeling. Driving drums, spitting guitars and again, “singing” I can get behind whilst indulging in wet and powdery actions.

Overall, I’d say this compilation is a good entry point for people who haven’t listened to the group’s small but solid output already. If you’re looking for something with a few more dynamics or less linear songwriting then I’d suggest more modern post-punk groups. Xmal Deuschtland crawled in their trench coats, massive stomper boots and eyeliner so acts like Protomartyr and The Murder Capital could run!

It’s good ol’ fashioned post punk from Europe. It has a hissing quality, a moody presence and an oblique atmosphere. It’s all in German like so, no idea what they’re singing about. Nevertheless it’s worth a listen if you’re feeling goth. It’s also a very short listen so when you get home from work, waiting for your tea and Corrie to start, get it on.

Xmal Deutschland: Early Singles 1981-1982 – Out 8th March 2024 (Sacred Bones)

Deutschland – Allein (Official Music Video) (youtube.com)

Liverpool born music writer with passion for punk and Everton FC