Review Summary: Like a hazy, cold night spent in a derelict town...
Slovenian natives Laibach have been one of the longest standing industrial bands out there, enjoying several waves of underground success during their 37-year career. After their 1987 breakthrough with Opus Dei
, on which they covered in a rather striking manner ‘Live is Life’ by Opus and Queen’s ‘Birth of a Nation’ (retitled ‘Geburt einer Nation’), the musicians garnered mixed opinions regarding their political beliefs. The inner sleeve featured a swastika consisting of 4 blooded axes, thus fueling this confusion if they were pro or anti fascism. This notoriety offered a fast emergence, so the group went on to release a string of critically acclaimed LPs during the next years. Lately, they became the first band to tour North Korea whilst preparing a new release, Also Sprach Zarathustra
. This is an update of the music composed for the eponymous theatrical production based on Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical novel (it premiered in March 2016 in their home country). Compared to its predecessor, Spectre
, which was a nihilistic yet energetic affair designed for live performances, this effort is the soundtrack equivalent to a cold November night spent outside in a damp, derelict town.
In many ways, this aspect is Also Sprach Zarathustra
’s main appeal, because it creates a dark, brooding atmosphere with little instrumentation. It focuses on haunting sound scapes, along with occasional inclusions of Eber and Mina’s heavily contrasting vocals. The orchestral arrangements found on the bookending cuts, ‘Vor Sonnen-Untergang’ and ‘Vor Sonnen-Aufgang’ are deceivingly peaceful and beautiful, as you are rapidly thrown into an icy night setting (hence the title of the tracks: before sunset & before sunrise, respectively). The latter features Mina’s pristine voice, a sign of leaving behind the encompassing darkness at the end of the record. The gorgeous track, whose impact is substantially amplified within the sonic context, is one of the nicest tunes Laibach penned so far. Returning to the dark ambient core, we’re left stranded into a blurry, delusional journey, where bleak synths and scattered, harsh percussion slowly push us forward. On ‘Ein Untergang’, ‘Ein Verkundiger’ and ‘Das Nachtlied I’, Eber’s incredibly low timbre speaks to us in a detached manner over airy, cinematic sound scapes, offering some insight through paraphrasing from the original work. The uneasy vibe he firmly sends us is staggering, especially on a first listen.
Thankfully, we also get some more established instrumentals like ‘Das Nachtlied II’, ‘Von Gipfel zu Gipfel’ or ‘Die Unschuld II’ where frosty piano lines accompany some vaguely motorik or marching beats. Very few melodic moments appear during this long middle stretch, but when they do they’re like a breath of fresh air. ‘Als Geist’ paves the way for the sunrise’s harmonic notes, making this lovely transition through glitchy keyboard patterns that gradually leave the often harrowing ambient structures behind. The interesting yet head scratching decision to place the harsh, blizzard-like drone ‘Von Den Drei Verwandlungen’ as an album closer after ‘Vor Sonnen-Aufgang’, brings some mixed feelings whether you actually left that cold place or you’re still trapped into that somber world you’ve just experienced for the most part of the album. Still, for those who will get the digital release, you can move it within the track list, depending on how you want to end this moody trip.
Overall, for a band that will soon enter its fourth decade of activity, Laibach sound impressively fresh and relevant. I am sure Also Sprach Zarathustra
will raise many eyebrows, but also receive critical acclaim for its effective minimalist approach. Nevertheless, this dichotomy that defines the group has also been a major part of its charm and here it is featured in all its beauty. Perhaps the record might have benefited from more structured tracks in between instrumental ones, however, it would’ve become a different adventure. Moreover, I am sure it makes a lot more sense for this to be experienced alongside the theatrical production which it was designed for, yet this way, you’re left to imagine yourself in that uneasy setting. So, take this captivating soundtrack as it is and enjoy it.