Release Date: Mar 11, 2014
Record label: Mute
Genre(s): Electronic, Industrial, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Experimental Rock
Like REM, Nick Cave and countless other artists that started as outsiders and were slowly welcomed by the mainstream, Laibach were way out in their own field before coming to the attention of a wider listening public. In the last five years they’ve become impossible to ignore as they turn their attention to matters of statehood, oppression, and liberty. It might sound daunting, but the collective make compelling anthems out of such topics.
It can be difficult to talk about Laibach without getting bogged down in their contexts and subtexts. After all, they are one of very few bands to whom the cliché ‘They’re more than just a band’ can truly be applied. They were formed in 1980 and became the musical arm of the Neue Slowenische Kunst (New Slovenian Art) collective, a group so radical that it would go on to found its own country – albeit one without a territory (though the lack of territory is surely part of the point) – even issuing passports and opening embassies.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. For over thirty years now, the Slovenian musicians known as Laibach have been challenging our expectations of popular music with their unique approach, mixing traditional and popular tunes with industrial and avant-garde influences. The first noticeable thing about Spectre, their first new release since Volk, 2006's brave attempt to reversion various national anthems, is that this time their political statements are direct and clear.
There’s little indication ground as Spectre begins that we’re on unfamiliar ground. First track “The Whistleblowers” kicks off with (appropriately enough) whistling, along with rolling military drums, Wagnerian orchestral stomp, sweeping waves of instrumentation, and all the other elements that make Laibach’s music such a great soundtrack for an ironic gym session or the armed invasion of small, neutral country. When lead vocalist Milan Fras comes in it’s clear something’s changed: his usual sandpaper growl is still there, but it sounds like one of utter exhaustion.
The Slovenian group Laibach are fundamentally a performance-art project, with a single barbed joke they've been repeating for over 30 years: observing how art becomes a tool of totalitarianism, and pushing it as far as it can go in that direction. Their work is deliberate kitsch—music for stomping around in jackboots, slickly polished and martial, drawing on imagery and slogans from both Communist and Fascist history. In that context, the title of Spectre is very clearly an allusion to the opening line of The Communist Manifesto—but it's also a description of the current state of the band.
The Slovenians of Laibach are perhaps the pop equivalent of Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine – the 1830s design for a programmable computer that was a century ahead of its time. Laibach's endlessly provocative pop-art has made the average Turner Prize winner seem like a child getting a little bit transgressive with its Lego. Over the past thirty years Laibach have enacted schemes of vast profundity, and of vast entertainment, yet this new album will almost certainly register only on the margins, within the UK at least.