Last time we encountered Laibach in its full glory, the group had shape-shifted yet again, switching to subversively accessible mode with 2014’s wonderful SPECTRE. Technically, Mina Špiler has been part of the formula since 2005, featuring predominantly in the live set-up and otherwise lingering somewhat in the background. Her lead vocal duties on SPECTRE, however, played a major role in making it the most enigmatic Laibach record in at least 2 decades.
These are divisive words – If you ever pay attention to the drivel people write digitally when they don’t have to think first, you will recall it as an album which had every goggles-guy EBM eejit run to their keyboard to dourly exclaim how “This is not my Laibach”. A portion of Laibach enthusiasts don’t seem that enthusiastic about the expanse of Laibach’s artistic vision – they simply want WAT II to stomp around to.
And yet it is the artistic vision of Laibach that makes it formidable, enduring and intriguing at every turn.
In 2015, the group made that infamous North Korea excursion and generated a curious sniff of mainstream attention. For 4 or 5 minutes Laibach was everywhere – CNN, BBC and …ahem… Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Much was made of the fact that the pre-approved repertoire would include music from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s THE SOUND OF MUSIC. It was a bizarre anomaly for the press, an apparent compromise to their hosts in the DPRK, and a wry twist of propaganda for Laibach.
The trip was documented in Morten Traavik’s LIBERATION DAY, which did the rounds of film festivals to great acclaim. Any other group on the planet would have capitalised (or buckled under label pressure) and given the world the blatantly obvious… “cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudels, doorbells and sleigh bells, and schnitzel with noodles”… But this was Laibach so all bets were off.
And so, rendering itself impervious to prediction once again, Laibach instead released ALSO SPRACH ZARATHUSTRA. This is music originally created for a theatrical version of Nietzsche’s THUS SPRACH ZARATHUSTRA, directed by Matjaž Berger for the Anton Podbevšek Theatre (APT) in Novo Mesto, Slovenia. Because when you want to construct a theatre piece around the inane ramblings of a syphilis ridden man-mental, you get on the phone to Laibach and ask them to help out… Of course you do.
ALSO SPRACH ZARATHUSTRA is a viscous deep dive of an album. Structurally, it nods at the starkness of Laibach from NOVA AKROPOLA backwards, but sonically, it is unlike anything the group has ever recorded. Sections of classical sparseness, kinetic rhythm, ambience, understated melody and other inexplicable sprinklings from the Laibach spice rack are strewn across an unnerving soundtrack.
The CD version has 3 extra tracks including VOR SONNEN-UNTERGANG at the very beginning… a brief taster of what is essentially the grand finale, VOR SONNEN-AUFGANG featuring Mina Špiler (her sole appearance on the record). It shapes the entire body of work slightly differently, and probably neater, than the vinyl sequence, although the caustic industrial ambience of EIN UNTERGANG is one hell of an opener. And the journey stays submerged in a nightmare of glorious madness from there. VON GIPFEL ZU GIPFEL is a particularly curious track with its strange and bleak percussion. Elsewhere, snoring, huge synths, tense piano lines, noises I won’t pretend to identify and the ubiquitous vocals of Milan Fras melt in and out of the mix.
This is definitely a “headphones album”… the distractions of the real world make it somewhat impenetrable and opaque as a normal turntable experience.
After SPECTRE, It’s seems like a willfully tricky one, but once it seeps into your brain, the payoff is monumental.
Dunkel is die Nacht indeed!