Laibach: Also Sprach Zarathustra

Photo: Luka Kase (Mute Records)

Intended as a score for a theatrical version of Friedrich Nietzsche's famous novel, Also Sprach Zarathrustra could also just as easily be the next David Fincher soundtrack.


Also Sprach Zarathustra

Label: Mute
US Release Date: 2014-07-14
UK Release Date: 2014-07-14

Also Sprach Zarathustra, the ninth studio album by the long-standing Slovenian outfit Laibach, would play evocatively in numerous settings. David Fincher could easily use many of these songs as backing for one of his unmistakable thrillers. The same for Denis Villenueve, whose glum flicks Prisoners and Enemy would have been well complemented by Laibach's brooding music.

Like all great instrumental music, Also Sprach Zarathustra could find a home in any number of artistic venues. Hell, even a nighttime walk would be made more intense and contemplative with Laibach's latest. Walking around a city at dusk while hearing Nietzschean philosophy delivered in robotic monotone, with doomy strings and shiver-inducing electronic pulses forming a tense background, one can easily transform a late day stroll into space for dark meditation.

In its imaginative capaciousness, Also Sprach Zarathustra overcomes the first hurdle inherent to its origins, as a score to a stage production based on Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra, directed by Matjaž Berger for the Anton Podbevšek Theatre in Laibach's home country of Slovenia. Much like Apparat's 2013 release Krieg Und Frieden (Music for Theatre), Also Sprach Zarathustra's purpose for a specific performance can, in theory, limit its appeal beyond that initial context. Laibach wrote the music for Also Sprach Zarathustra with a specific show in mind, meaning that in its wide release on CD and vinyl, it loses some of what caused it to exist in the first place. Laibach can bring its musical vision to the world, but it can't re-stage the Nietzschean tribute with which it coalesced. For some instrumental music, this does not pose a problem: many movie scores, for instance, compel far beyond their film source. Also Sprach Zarathustra can count itself among such scores.

Sounding like the Haxan Cloak's Excavation as performed by Rammstein, Also Sprach Zarathustra is all twinge-inducing electronics, eerie echoes, and German spoken word filtered through gravel-throated distortion. Closing number "Von drie Verwandlungen" utilizes what sounds like an emergency siren as the centerpiece of its study of sonic disquietude. Squalling around the siren noise, a cacophony of wind sounds -- it appears that Laibach was able to harness gale force winds into the studio -- brings the curtain down on Also Sprach Zarathustra with a chilly finality. "Die Unschuld I" features a kind of digital harpsichord whose piercing notes ride the line between beauty and terror -- a feature Nietzsche himself would undoubtedly love. Strings provide the necessary reprieve from the tension and unease that pervades the album; they weave in and out of "Vor Sonnen-Untergang" and "Vor Sonnen-Aufgang" with dramatic verve. Even though the listener isn't afforded a viewing of the stage performance for which Laibach wrote this music, the band undeniably knows how to set a scene with music.

Also Sprach Zarathustra marks yet another eclectic entry in Laibach's discography, which since its inception in 1985 includes, among other things, an album of Beatles covers and an LP where the group interprets national anthems from across the globe. Laibach has been the target of much criticism, largely its politics, which depending on who one asks are either anti-totalitarian or a wholesale endorsement of totalitarianism. Given the troubled lineage of Nietzschean philosophy in 20th-century fascist movements, those arguments will become even more opaque. (Nietzsche remains one of post-1600 philosophy's most misunderstood philosophers, a subject well beyond the bounds of a music review. This video is quite useful in explaining that problem.) What one can't say of Laibach is that it's lost its compositional savvy or that it's abandoned seeking out new ways of writing music. Also Sprach Zarathustra brings up dozens of reference points, yet that's no knock against it. This (mostly) instrumental album paints a dozen different creepy and malevolent pictures with each synth texture, legato string note, and stone-faced Nietzschean aphorism.

Nietzsche himself once quipped, "Without music, life would be a mistake." Insofar as that is true, Laibach has made no mistake in Thus Sprach Zarathustra, either in paying homage to Nietzsche or writing compelling music.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.