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Laibach - WAT

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Artist: Laibach

Album: WAT

Label: Mute

Review date: Feb. 23, 2004

I have to admit, I wasn’t sure Laibach still existed as a group as of a month ago, as it’s been quite a while since I’ve encountered them. I was a cautious fan during the late ’80s, when the classical-industrial Nova Akropola and Opus Dei albums introduced the art-music-performance group to American listeners. It’s always been a little difficult to know how seriously to take them, as their occasionally ponderous, portentous presentation tends to mask their real goals. I saw a live show in 1989 which included faux-military horns and a seemingly mock-fascistic façade that, combined with industrial-disco beats, was at least intriguing, if a little opaque.

Their take on Let It Be, shortly thereafter, muddied the waters further, as it seemed almost impossible that anyone could take the pretentiously bombastic – if intermittently entertaining – versions seriously. And yet Laibach themselves have never offered any indication of anything but complete sincerity, no matter how odd or even ludicrous some of their work might seem.

So where do we find Laibach at the beginning of 2004? On Wat, the group are still firmly rooted in electronic beats from a decade ago, anchored as always by basso profundo vocals, spoken or chanted atop the music. And as before, their delivery is deadly earnest, yet the overall presentation still leaves questions.

Many of the songs are in German, not one of my languages, so their words offer no further clues. But among the songs in English, the title track provides some thin information over beats borrowed from Nine Inch Nails: “We are no humble pop musicians / We have no answers to your questions / Yet we can question your demands,” intones the vocalist. Then at the end, when the rhythm stops to provide dramatic space, he continues: “When our beat stops and the lights go out / and when we leave this place / you will be left here all alone / with a static scream locked on your face.” I’m not quite sure what that means, but it sounds serious when he says it.

At times, Laibach’s talents at orchestration shine through, such as on the final track, “Ende,” which harkens back to the militaristic horns of Nova Akropola or the pageant of their primarily symphonic album Macbeth. But those moments are sparse; instead the album’s emphasis is squarely on the programmed rhythms.

Ultimately, Wat ends up as a collection of primarily danceable, electro-industrial beats, reminiscent of the likes of Nitzer Ebb and Fad Gadget, propping up inarguably pretentious words. While some of Laibach’s politics and philosophy come through, the fact that they’re delivered over such antiquated, discofied industrial beats makes it difficult to take them seriously. Despite Laibach’s protestations to the contrary, given their current focus, they are in fact pop musicians, humble or not.

By Mason Jones

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