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.







Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.


Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.


The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.


Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."


The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.


Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.


Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.


Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.


Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.


The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.


Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.


The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.


'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.


Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.


Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.