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2020-02-09

LAIBACH - Laibach Revisited

- The cruel heart of Laibach in a box - 





LAIBACH - Laibach Revisited (5LP + book box) (2020)


Oh drummer boy, where do I even start with this one?

I guess the mere matter of fact that this release does exist now is still blowing my mind.


But let's be honest: Even though this ginormous box is all about the beginnings of the band this is not going to be a review starting with the "What is a Laibach?" basics.

There are plenty of great entry points to dig through Laibach's discography and it's pretty unlikely that a beginner would choose this rather pricey item over a couple of regular albums.
It doesn't even matter if we are talking about the recent price or the significantly lower one I paid using using all early-bird pre-order and discount options (plus the content of the box grew after my order) - it's pretty obvious that the typical buyer is already a huge Laibach fan.


"Laibach Revisited" is available as a CD or LP version, of which I obtained the latter, number 7 of 1200 to be exact. Apart from the different formats of the boxes and sound carriers the content is almost the same. I've seen that the CDs are designed in the look of the LPs, which is a pretty classy choice.

When I opened my parcel from Slovenia on January 24th, exactly one month after Christmas Eve, I found three items: a personalized "thank you" note, the box itself and an exclusive t-shirt for pre-ordering buyers, who also got another exclusive extra, which I already reviewed back in July 2018, a digital live album from the 2017/2018 tour for "Also Sprach Zarathustra".




And yes, even if you don't understand german, you are right: Back than I still believed the box would see the light of day within the same year. Haha, man how wrong I was!


Of course Laibach are briefly addressing this very issue on their note. On which they still conceal a couple of years.
The first sign of "Laibach Revisited" emerged in late 2009, when it was announced as a double CD including a remastered version of the self-titled debut album from 1985 and a second disc with "revisited" versions of songs from that era. The first official release date was May 2010 and you could already make a reservation, which meant that a special newsletter would alarm you, when it was coming.

Well that didn't happen. If I remember correctly (no guarantees!) the reason was of financial nature, because the label which was supposed to release it was collapsing (or something like that) and Laibach's regular label for most studio albums Mute obviously was not willing or asked to throw some big Depeche Mode cash towards the project.

Interestingly there was even more music announced for 2010, but the "Volkswagner" performance, where Laibach and the RTV Slovenia Symphony Orchestra interpreted jazz arrangements of works from Richard Wagner never made it into the studio, while the live recordings where not good enough for a release? Who knows. The bottom line is only the memory of the attendees and a couple of YouTube clips remain from "Volkswagner". And of course the vague hope that maybe one day Laibach will also revisit this or a similar concept. 

From then on tons of reasons for further delays of "Laibach Revisited" plagued the project. And apart from financial and technical issuess (the latter until a couple of weeks ago on the finishing line, when the booklets had to be reprinted) Laibach were always adding new content or raising the quality of what was already there.

And also - readers of my blog should have noticed - Laibach were often just busy with lots of other activities, starting in the early 2010s with the soundtrack for the first "Iron Sky" movie and tours, which centered around that material plus a lot of revisited songs. You can never start to promote an album too early, right?

So while I had my first contact with the revisited works live in Copenhagen in September 2012, a special extended performance at the Tate Modern in London found its way onto "Monumental Retro-Avant-Garde", a stunning double CD, which has become quite an expensive item as well (recent Discogs price 135,00 Euro). I love this album, so I must admit that for a couple of years I was content with this being the definite official revisited release.

But luckily Laibach never buried the project and always kept playing at least some of the revisited tracks live.

And in July 2017 with the release of "Also Sprach Zarathustra" came the first mentioning of "Laibach Revisited" as a box set. The pre-payment in May 2018 then finally made it all feel more real than ever. At least for a while...



But now here it is. Let's see what's in the box!






Opening the box the first two things to notice are the certificate of authenticity in the inside of the cover and a 12" sized booklet for the three included albums. It features a mix of "normal", rare and iconic live photographs, track lists, lyrics (original and english translations) and credits.

The concept of the "quadruple principle" being a central theme of the whole box, the credits for each album begin with "Written, arranged, performed and produced by Eber, Saliger, Dachauer and Keller", followed up by "featuring" and then an unusually detailed overview of what each person was actually doing on those recordings.

Of course Laibach have loosened the aspect of anonymity a lot in this millenium, especially since the old 1982 set of rules ("10 Items of the Convent") has basically been replaced by the upgraded "General Thesis" of the Spectre Party in 2014. (If you are shaking your head in confusion now - I said it earlier that this wasn't going to be a  "Laibach for beginners" lesson.)

But to see a listing that tells you on which tracks Milan Fras played drums or did the vocals, or where Srečko Bajda or Jonathan Langran were the main vocalists on the early material, that definitely feels like a new level of demystification, which gives an interesting insight into how collective Laibach actually operated right from the beginning.

And no, this knowledge doesn't spoil the music in any way.




Speaking of the music: There's also a download card, so you can get a digital copy of everything. And of course the most important part of all this, the physical records:





LAIBACH


When Laibach released their official debut in 1985 most of its tracks had already been around in evolving versions for years, which is also documented on various rare live recordings or the "Rekapitulacija 1980-84" compilation.

So even without the revisiting there have always been plenty of versions of the debut material, with some of it already reappearing on some issues of the second album "Nova Akropola", which closed the original Slovenian phase of Laibach in 1986.

Soon after that the band gained noticably more international attention with their new originals of certain songs by OpusQueen, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles (see also the compilation "Reproduction Prohibited"). Tracks like "Geburt Einer Nation" or "Opus Dei"/"Leben heißt Leben" became the closest to what you would call greatest hits for Laibach, before some of their own originals like "Wirtschaft ist tot" or "Tanz mit Laibach" made it to a similar status.

Yet no matter what unforeseen turns the direction and presentation of Laibach would take; the primal industrial assaults of their early works always seemed to remain the spiritual core, the primordial soup leaking through all of their activities.

Even some actual sounds and lyrics kept reappearing here and there, most noticably probably in the track "Brat Moj" ("My Brother"; I personally prefer the older translation "Brother Of Mine"), which later returned in english as "To The New Light" or as the Kraftwerk soundalike version "Bruderschaft".


The lyricism of debut era Laibach was diffuse and direct at the same time. Unrelenting in its ideologically over-charged glorification of heroism and martyrdom, but also strangely dry and impersonal in its depictions of the functions of the state - or in its description of pure inhumane cruelty. The bright light of the future, authority and freedom, promises of beauty, baptism in blood.
In its demanding totalitarian tone all this is too much to take in and paint into a graspable picture. So many larger than life forces in so few lines, of which many are not even clearly audible under the noisy machinery. It's an assault, but it also clearly has hypnotizing, almost cult-like indoctrinating qualities.

The closely interwoven words and noises of "Laibach" to this day carry an eerie, tempting and demonic power, even if you don't actually speak the language - which is undoubtly the case for a very vast part of Laibach fans today. While this debut album clearly is a child of its time, its impact hasn't weakened.


"Laibach" has been re-released and remastered before, growing from originally eight to ten and even to thirteen tracks.
The new version in this box however doesn't even bring back all of the old bonus tracks and still counts a total of twenty tracks.

A couple of early pieces, which probably just didn't make the cut in 1985 were added at the beginning: "Zmagoslavje Volje", "Jaruzelski", "Smrt Za Smrt", "Dokumenti", a couple more at the end of the studio album: "Slovenska Žena", "Ti, Ki Izzivaš", "Vade Retro", "Perspektive".

From the old bonus material the two 300,000 V.K. tracks "Policijski Hit 1984" and "Prva TV Generacija" have survived as well as the Laibach / Strom und Klang cooperation "L'Homme Armé".

New bonus tracks are a live version of "Sredi Bojev" from 1983 - until you notice that this actually isn't new, but only a demotion from regular album to bonus track -, and - this time for real - a special performance of "Smrt Za Smrt" from the year 2000.


You can't make out the difference on every track, but generally it's pretty safe to say that this album never sounded this good. With the rich amount of worthwhile bonus content this is surely the ultimate version of "Laibach".

The new cover artwork and the vinyl quality are spotless, which also goes for the other two albums of the box.

  





REVISITED


The gestalts on the cover with Mina Špiler in the centre are drawn much more regocnizable, depicting one of the live line-ups most familiar to me by now. Both LPs of the "Laibach Revisited" double album bleed red.

The new versions on "Laibach Revisited" are not organically grown over the years, but total deconstructions and rebuildings of the old material. They are new originals in a similar way than most of Laibach's interpretations of other artists' works are. However several tracks play the trick of starting like it's 1984, but then turning into something totally different.

Before I get further into what that is, the obvious question has to be addressed: Why did Laibach even feel the need to make this in the first place?

My guess is the simple answer: because they could. With a whole new palette of musical talent and production possibilities at their hand they saw the chance to take their core and turn it into something much more grand, bombastic, accessible and emotional, while still maintaining an overwhelming monolithic approach which makes the listener feel like a tiny spectator at the foot of a colossal monument.

Anyone who has seen a Laibach show during the last ten years will recognize at least parts of this album. In some cases the studio versions are a bit more skeletal with some live texture missing, in other cases it's the other way around, the general sound however is the same: mostly heavily stomping industrial sprinkled with almost-pop influences and descents into total chaos, which could also be described as free jazz thanks to the brilliant falling-down-the-stairs piano.

Compared to the original versions, which were mostly recorded before the signature snarling deep voice of Milan Fras or even those excessive neoclassical choirs became an unmistakable trademark of Laibach, there is a significantly stronger emphasis on strong, clearly narrated vocals now.

Mina Špiler's voice is present and important as well, but it mainly works in the background, not as an equal front woman beside Fras like on other releases like "Spectre".


While each track is deserving of its own paragraph here, I will back away from that and just state that this album shows no weaknesses.
"Ti, Ki Izzivaš ЯƎ" or "Brat Moj ЯƎ", both already live classics by now, are just as effective as the bunch of tracks Laibach have only premiered on their recent "Sound Of Music" tour, like "Kravda Gruda - Plodna Zemlja ЯƎ" or the spectacular "Vier Personen ЯƎ", which begins very close to its original version, but evolves to an absolutely bonkers Kraftwerk jazz extravaganza.

As those last mentioned tracks indicate you cannot compare all old and new versions within the confines of this box, because the "Revisited" album also covers tunes not from the "Laibach" debut, but from "Nova Akropola".

Can I come to a final judgement concerning which is better, the old or the new? - No, but I can confidently state that I don't want to miss either!

The originals are classics of their time, which despite a thin historical patina haven't lost their disturbing impact. The revisited tracks however merge them with all kinds of influences Laibach would process in later works, yet still present them as a sonically consistent, holistic album. Thus "Laibach Revisited" is probably the most timeless, the most Laibach recording the Slovenes have ever made.


The two long bonus tracks are the main difference of the musical content of the CD and LP version of the "Laibach revisited" box. While some tracks are in a slightly different order, so they can fit on the records, these two live recordings are not available on vinyl at all. Luckily they are included in the digital download, because they are clearly among the highlights of the whole package.

"Smrt Za Smrt ЯƎ" was recorded in February 2016 in Brussels with the RTV Slovenia Symphonic Orchestra, so it's basically the same, absolutely mindblowing version I was glad to experience live in Ljubljana later in the same year. Or in short: peak Laibach.

"Ti, Ki Izzivaš ЯƎ" is also an orchestral rendition, recorded at the same place, but two years later with another orchestra. Of course it's also as gloriously bombastic as it gets.


Being the central selling point of the whole box, the album "Laibach Revisited" succeeds on all levels.





UNDERGROUND


The third album of the bunch is one record shorter than the other two and comes in a regular sleeve instead of a gatefold. It's pressed on bleak cheerless grey vinyl.

"Underground" documents a special performance two-hundred meters below a coal mining museum in October 2012. I actually followed this one live on a stream, which was totally overchallenged by the bass frequencies, so I am really glad that I can hear it in a decent production now.

Laibach performed inside a narrow mining tunnel with a special Vier Personen line-up including "classic" members Dejan Knez on bass and vocals and Ivan Novak on turntable, tape recorder and other oldschool devices and effects.

Even though apart from some piano moments the interpretations of the songs in this show are totally different than the revisited versions, they are not a simple throwback to the 1980s either, which is made clear almost immediately in "Siemens", which uses very distinct samples from "War" (of the 1994 album "NATO") and "B Mashina" ("WAT", 2003).

These five tracks (including - yes, for a whopping fifth time in this box - "Smrt Za Smrt") are gritty, raw incarnations of the material, but of course they also explode into magnificently menacing monumentalism which "leaves you with a static scream locked on your face" as Laibach themselves would say ("Wat").

Again for anyone familiar with "Monumental Retro-Avant-Garde" this performance isn't totally new, as the band began their Tate Modern show earlier in the same year with a similar set-up and tracklist. It's anything but an exact copy though, so the addition of "Underground" to the collection is still extremely worthwhile.

This live recording is nothing but totally on a par with the two double albums. I just cannot pick favorites between all this phenomenal stuff. The whole musical content of this box is just perfect.



And there are still some contents left to look at:






The 162-page book "Terror Of History" contains the classic rules of Laibach aka the "10 Items of the Convent", an excerpt from a speech former Slovenian president Milan Kučan held at the opening of a Laibach Kunst exhibition in their original home town Trbovlje in 2010, and most importantly an extensive essay about "How Laibach shook the State, the Party and Philosophy at the Beginning of the Eighties", written by Marcel Štefančič, jr. in 2012.

This essay gives some interesting insights into the dysfunctions of the Yugoslavian state, the widespread absurd Nazi accusations against the punk and student scene (including a couple of déjà vus regarding the framing of the left by today's wannabe-fascists and their friends) and Laibach emerging in reaction to that phenomenon with an effectively impregnable concept.
And of course a lot of observations concerning the (non-)relationships between Laibach, their critics and audience and the state. It's quite something to take in, so no, I won't even try a précis here.


The book also presents portraits of all(?) Laibach members through the years, with real name and Laibach synonym (Eber-Saliger-Dachauer-Keller). 






Exclusive only in the LP box all these portraits are also featured on a poster, which on the other side shows a new version of the classic symbolic Vier Personen motif.

The last item inside the box is a recreation of a metallic Laibach cross badge (the band famously used the symbol when they were forbidden to perform under their name), numbered according to the box set on the backside.


And here come my only complaints about this almost perfect box set:

  • Why not print two posters instead of one with two sides? Considering the price of the whole thing this seems like a strange detail to economize. The Cold Spring vinyl re-release of "Nova Akropola" from 2014 had two seperate posters, which are both framed on my wall right now.
     
  • There should have been some kind of protection sheet / cardboard between the LPs and the bottom of the box with the book and badge, because when I unpacked my box, the badge was not in its supposed place, but had obviously been wandering around. Luckily that didn't cause any damage on the sleeve of the "Underground" record - but there could have been.

    I know that this critique doesn't help Laibach now, but anyone who is in charge of a project like this: Think of transportation risks and shit like this! Btw: The package in which the box was shipped was exemplary!


I won't include the price in my critique, not so much because that could lean into the unresolvable philosophical question of the worth of mass-produced art, but more because I have fucking no idea, how much it costs to produce a high quality Kunst product like this in the way and capacity Laibach did here.
You must also consider that the number of 1200 copies (1500 for the CD box) is surprisingly high for this kind of limited release and doesn't aim at a light-speed blitz sale beyond the pre-orders. That means the price is certainly not calculated under the assumption of all copies selling out immediately - which of course is pure futile speculation on my side. 


Ok, somehow I missed the point to close this review in a worthy manner which reflects the holy-graily awesomeness of this mammoth release, so let's get all redundant and finish this with the fresh observation that the ribbon, which helps to get the records out of the box - and which I didn't even find neccessary to mention before - appearantly comes in different colours. Mine is silver/grey, others have red ones. I don't know yet if there are possibly also black ribbons. It would make sense, because that's the tri-colour scheme of the whole thing.

Of course some fans have opinions about their specific ribbon colour. Personally I really can't bring myself to care. The red one is not a ticket to Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, right? 










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