Blixa Bargeld was in Leeds doing his thing with Teho Teardo the other day and it was quite extraordinary, and now here he is doing what he does best with his legendary avant-garde noise outfit Einsturzende Neubauten, whose new album commemorates the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. With such harrowing subject matter I'm expecting something pretty sombre and hard-hitting from these mallet-wielding mood masters.
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‘Lament’ is perennial provocateurs Einsturzende Neubauten’s much anticipated commemoration of the First World War. It’s a typically erudite, inventive and challenging take on this sprawling cataclysmic event that, according to Blixa Bargeld, has never really ended. The band themselves describe the record as a studio reconstruction of a live performance piece, originally commissioned by and performed in Belgium. With that in mind it’s fair to say that certain sections of the album translate better to a home listening environment than others, especially the tracks that rely on a fair amount of theatricality to convey some of the stories being told. To match the multifaceted, global nature of it’s subject, the record features a broad range of styles, ranging from horrific noise to elegiac string compositions to weird autotuned electropop. It also incorporates a wealth of war related materials and references; giving the album a vast, collage-like complexity.
Neubauten have always been as much about ideas as sound and the accompanying notes are a great help in uncovering the hidden allusions and revealing the concepts behind the music. Again, I find that the concept regularly outweighs the music and vice versa at a few points during the album. Take for example a track like ‘Hymnen’, a cut-up that juxtaposes lines from ‘God Save the Queen’ and the Prussian anthem ‘Heil Dir Im Siegerkranz’ (which ironically share the same melody) along with some scathing 19th Century satire about monarchy. While I can admire the clever way in which Neubauten subvert the source elements of the track for maximum provocative effect, it’s not something I can imagine ever wanting hear again.
Elsewhere, there are moments on the album when high concept and musical imagination combine to produce something quite astounding. For me ‘DerR 1. Weltkrieg (Percussion Version)’ exemplifies this. Described by Bargeld as “a statistical piece of dance music”: each beat reflects a day of war and each instrument one of the warring powers involved. Executed as a kind of calendar of events and a list of nations who were drawn into the conflict read out by different female voices interspersed with Bargeld himself, the track is held together by the gathering momentum of the sampled pipe-percussion. The strange tonality of the pipes and their infectious rhythms are joined by ominous bowed chords that hover and fade, the whole thing becoming a vivid sonic metaphor for the contagious nature and apparently irresistible pull of the war- something that becomes increasingly chilling when we draw inevitable parallels with the current geopolitical situation.
Overall then, an admirable album of incredible ambition that even when it doesn’t quite hit the spot, is never less than fascinating.
7/10 Mr Pearl's Brain Customer review, 25th July 2015
I guarantee this is quite unlike anything else you have come across: Neubauten bring their songwriting approach to historical material found by their researchers. That approach is for the materials used and the structure of the song to reflect the subject matter. So, for example, the whole timeline of World War I is turned into a score, which is realised by banging various lengths of plastic pipe. The texture in that piece remains remarkably constant after the first few "months", and then stops rather abruptly. Listen carefully through this and you can hear Blixa mis-pronounce "Hartlepool". The researchers perhaps let him down there.
Other extraordinary pieces include recitation of letters between Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsar Nicholas about not rushing into war, fed through an auto-tuner; a mash up of the national anthems of various participating countries; and an extraordinary piece on the war from the perspective of an animal impressionist. That one really has to be heard to be believed. Language may be a bit of a problem, but if you've heard other Neubauten records, you'll be used to that. The only downside is that the parts do not add up to more than their sum. Maybe they did in the original performance.
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- Lament by Einstürzende Neubauten
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