Release Date: Nov 10, 2014
Record label: BMG Rights Management
When tasked, intimidatingly, with constructing a performance piece to mark the centenary of World War I, lesser entities than Einstürzende Neubauten might have retreated into reductive, inadequate clichés, topped with an equally disrespectful trowelling of mawkish sentimentality. Instead, Blixa Bargeld and his consequential cohorts present a scrupulous, literate and multi-layered assemblage which subtly encompasses the enormity, the futility, the obsidian humour, the stark terror and the warnings from history (that, wouldn’t you know it, remain unheeded). The inexorable Kriegsmaschinerie makes for a suitably ominous overture, but Hymnen, which follows, eloquently points up the ludicrousness of conflict by proffering a lusty rendition of God Save The King – in English and German.
The pre-amble for Lament suggests that it is not so much an album, but a representation of a forthcoming live performance that was commissioned by the city Diksmuide to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War. Of course this being Einstürzende Neubauten, they’ve taken the idea a few steps further by blending in Blixa Bargeld’s contention that the war never really ended and that it’s been fought in various forms across the globe for the last 100 years. Regardless of how Lament is supposed to be experienced, this album is an extraordinary piece of work and documentation.
The centenary of the outbreak of the first world war was commemorated in a variety of ways: sculptures were made, statues unveiled, lights switched off. But for out-of-the-box thinking, you have to take your hat off to the Flemish town of Diksmuide, site of the battle of the Yser in October 1914, which decided to mark the centenary by commissioning a performance piece from fearsome German experimentalists Einstürzende Neubauten. In fairness, Einstürzende Neubauten are a marginally more user-friendly combo than they were 30 years ago, when every record they made sounded like an industrial accident happening at the same time as a catastrophic natural disaster and the finals of the All-German National Shouting Championship.
Lament is the 14-track recording of a live installation by this august German industrial outfit (associates of Nick Cave), performed in Belgium to mark the centenary of the first world war. Industrial bands have some affinity for the horrors of mechanised warfare, and so Lament begins with the dissonant grinding of a Kriegsmaschine revving up. Soon there are telegrams between Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsar Nicholas played out as synth-pop and a mesmerising 13-minute rhythmic rendering of the war, starring each country as a separate tone.
I promise you, this is a record review, not a history lesson. Firstly, it's a review for those who couldn't see the spectacle of this "non studio" album being performed in the Flemish Belgian town of Dixmuide on November 9th, 2014*. Of course, Neubauten will raise the dead with their live performance. But maybe by not being there, we can listen to Lament and construct a relationship with it using our own emotional space; appreciating the underlying rhythms of this complex, ever shifting, quizzical record.