Dopplereffekt used to have a silly side. Their earliest '90s material, eventually collected on Gesamkunstwerk, came with references to porn and sex dolls alongside declarations like "I am a scientist," which few scientists would actually say. Whatever the subtext, these tech-obsessed electro tracks weren't necessarily meant to inspire the same sense of mystique as Drexciya, which Dopplereffekt's Gerald Donald also cofounded. The Dopplereffekt sound drew less from coherent mythology than a mood board of disparate ideas connected to the persona of the East German scientist Donald had adopted. (He's billed here as Rudolf Klorzeiger, an alias that replaced the more dubious Heinrich Muller.) Since ending a hiatus in 2013 with the Tetrahymena EP on Leisure System, Dopplereffekt's music has tackled granular themes—mathematical formulas, cellular organisms, brain waves—that made the science shtick seem more serious. The same goes for Athanatos, which explores the "genetic conditions and chromosomal influences defining mortality."
There is a brief return to the ridiculous, though, on "Hayflick Limit." Over a classically sparse yet funky Dopplereffekt instrumental—actually co-produced by the former Raster-Noton pair Carsten Nicolai and Olaf Bender—To-Nhan pleads with someone to "extend the Hayflick limit." She's essentially saying that she'd like to live longer, but who else would phrase that so oddly? Though the title track riffs on the atmospheres found on Cellular Automata, whose rigid, imposing lines often evoked brutalist architecture, Athanatos mostly combines that LP's grimly beautiful sound with the robotic funk of old.
That's a promising way forward. "Mitosis," for example, is notable for its driving beat—they've not made anything this urgent in a while—but the harmonies summon a special awe. Shifting in and out of richly dissonant phases, they suggest someone wrestling with a discovery they can barely comprehend. It could be the secret to immortality, or something even more disturbing.