It’s not every band that can open an album with a song called “Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster” without making fools of themselves, but halfway through the upbeat, two-and-a-half-minute lead cut on the self-titled, self-produced and self-released debut from young Berlin outfit Operators, I’m mostly convinced they’ve done it. Their relative youth is a major factor working in their favor. A rare six-piece (ah, to have friends), Operators energetically and insistently push their way through most of Operators’ nine tracks, eliciting images of rock and roll shenanigans no less mischievous than their naked-lady-and-eggs cover art might bring to mind. Two guitarists in Dirk Beck (who also mixed) and Orge, an umlauted rhythm section in bassist Dän and drummer Säsh, a standalone vocalist in Eggat, Operators is rounded out by the prominently displayed organ of Konni, whose melodic contribution to a track like “Creamlead” or “Pig & Pepper” is more than just flourish to highlight and/or punctuate the guitar. Sometimes Konni follows Orge and Dirk, and sometimes they follow him, but most of the time, they work separately to each bring their own feel to the songs. The material perhaps leans too hard on Konni at times – see the aforementioned “Pig & Pepper” – but those keys and the strength of Konni’s performance are a major distinguishing factor when it comes to separating Operators from their many peers in Europe’s booming heavy rock climate. They bolster and add complexity to the more rocking earlier songs and make sure nothing sounds empty on the album’s moodier closing movement.
There’s a telling moment on centerpiece “Danish” at 2:03 when Eggat belts out a scream that’s right out of post-hardcore. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a few years back found at least some of the members of Operators working more with those influences, but if they’re relatively inexperienced with heavy or riff rock, their take on it is going to inherently sound fresh, even if it is familiar. That they’d start with “Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster” is particularly interesting, because that basically lays out the rest of the course for their album. It is a rollercoaster, complete with ups and downs, climbs and descents that ultimately combine for a well put together if recognizable sound. “January Blues” keeps the momentum going with punkish floor tom hits in the intro from Säsh and more uptempo classic rock. Their palate is ultimately pretty straightforward, whatever Konni adds to the formula with the organ still comes in service to the song, but one thing Operators do very well is keep the pace varied so as to not have the material come off as redundant. At its end, “January Blues” slows down some and that works to set up the start of “Creamlead,” which earns its title through both the guitar and the organ work. Hard not to get shades of Greenleaf by the end of the song, but I wouldn’t speculate as to whether or not that’s a direct influence or just a commonality of method. In any case, “Creamlead”’s agenda is largely the same as the ensuing “Pig & Pepper,” but Konni takes a longer solo in the latter and the guitars seem more secondary than elsewhere.
For the most part, Eggat’s vocals are unipolar – a kind of stoner rock drawl less concerned with burliness than many of his American counterparts might be, but still clearly figuring out his path and from what his individual approach might be derived – so the instrumental break in “Pig & Pepper” is welcome before the build comes back in to the last chorus. As already noted, “Danish” does feature that scream, but it’s brief and then it’s gone and back to the same melodic range. In my head, I seem to mostly associate his style with Mike Cummings of Backwoods Payback, but I know there is a whole host of singers who do it, though the purposefully sparser arrangement of “Danish” makes Eggat sound louder in the mix than in other spots. Doesn’t stop the song from being among the catchier inclusions, it just means that Operators have some kinks to work out in their presentation. There being six people in the band, one can only imagine arrangements and mixing are an accordingly complicated process, but “Danish” gets a little prog at the end with an effective call and response and some bouncing start-stop bopping, so that bodes well for the potential of that quirkiness to play out over the course of a whole song. It doesn’t here, but if it shows up somewhere down the line, at least it’ll arrive with some precedent. “Sketches of Pain” is more riff-led and has chuggy verse that Säsh underscores with the bell of his ride before switching to the crashing chorus. Konni, Orge and Dirk come together for some effective synchronicity, and along with being solid on its own, “Sketches of Pain” in context also becomes a turning point for the last movement of the album – Säsh seeming to announce same with extra snare taps before a lumbering slowdown brings the song to a close. The remaining three tracks are markedly different.
It wouldn’t be new school Eurostoner if a Colour Haze influence didn’t show up somewhere, and “Beaches” has a touch of that working in its favor. Operators develop a subdued beginning into their debut’s most accomplished build, organ and guitars not necessarily competing for attention but not at all making way for each other in a sub-wash that’s a delight to the ears. Eggat’s vocal still sounds more like an affectation rather than an inflection, but if I picked apart every singer for whom that was the case, this review would be a week long. Together with closer “Evilla,” “Beaches” accounts for about a third of the album’s runtime (both songs are over seven-minutes), but the 2:45 curio “Dropout” divides them so it’s not one song right into the next. Stood out by new-wave or maybe even industrial-style repetitions of the title, “Dropout” is a short excursion – more led by the organ – into some of that weirdness that the end of “Sketches of Pain” seemed to hint at, but it doesn’t really have time to develop before the riffy start of “Evilla” takes hold and leads the album to its finish first at a middle pace and later at a punchier, jazzier clip. What they’re doing isn’t so different from “Pig & Pepper,” but the repeated line, “Who’s gonna buy you a diamond ring when your house is made of gold?” is memorable and engaging on a socially conscious level the band hadn’t yet approached, Dän finally gets a few solo bars and the shuffling surf-style jangle of the guitars leading into the ending has a charm of its own, especially side-by-side with the more aggressive and frantic finish. Bands have a hard enough time staying together when it’s two or three members, let alone Operators’ six, so who knows in what form the future might find them, but they’ve given themselves a decent start and something to grow from, and for all its twists and turns, it’s still a reasonable length overall, which speaks to some measure of awareness of their audience. Ultimately, Operators’ first outing bodes well for what they might do going forward and boasts a few choice stretches in the meantime. Not a bad start.
Tags: Berlin, Germany, Operators, Unsigned bands