Way back in 1980 when Brian Warner--the future Marilyn
Manson--was still sitting in his bedroom listening to Alice Cooper records and
dreaming of things to come, the Slovenians--then Yugoslavians--known as LAIBACH
had already launched their assault on the world of rock and popular culture,
highlighting and critiquing rock's collusion with the forces that rule our
lives: its innate fascist qualities, and its ability to act as a superbly
effective conveyor of a Western capitalist ideology which in theory promotes
the notion of individualistic self-creation, autonomy and "Freedom," but which
in practice itself creates individuals as target markets by which to further
its own ends of untrammelled growth. Here, say LAIBACH, is the most subtle and
effective form of totalitarianism yet known to man: a Friendly Fascism, where
you get a hug instead of a kick in the balls.
LAIBACH's latest release,
Jesus Christ Superstars is perhaps their most momentous effort yet, a
millennial document in which the group--a collective whose members shun the
individual spotlight, wishing to be known only as the entity/organism
"LAIBACH"--turns its attention to another of society's mechanisms of control,
Utilizing the guitar style of the "black sheep" of heavy metal
(a genre which, as LAIBACH points out, its own adherents such as Metallica are
now ashamed to be a part of, yet which has also retained its aesthetic purity
in face of postmodern hybridization) and their usual underpinning of metronomic
disco rhythms and Wagnerian choruses, the band have created an electrifying
concept album which perversely belies their oft-stated notion that rock 'n'
roll is a dead genre.
A LAIBACH show is an unsettling
A LAIBACH show is an unsettling experience, musically
existing somewhere between The Sisters of Mercy (explaining a notable Goth
contingent in the crowd at Lee's), Kraftwerk, Ministry, and the aforementioned
Wagner, stirring feelings within the listener which he or she may find
uplifting, unsettling, or more likely, both at once.
The band took the
stage at Lee's Palace in Toronto this past Monday night (March 10) looking like
a cross between Greek Orthodox priests--three of the members wearing clerical
collars--and medieval Gnostics, courtesy of LAIBACH's black bearded, basso
profundo lead singer (Sister of Mercy Andrew Eldritch sounds like a soprano
next to this guy), who wears a black frock and a cross-emblazoned medallion
signifying his membership in the larger NSK Slovenian artist's collective from
which LAIBACH springs.
Banks of dry ice illuminated by coloured lights only
added to the mystical bent of the show as LAIBACH launched into their "original
cover" (the group rejects the notion of artistic ownership, and indeed the
entire "Big Man" genius-individualist theory of art) of 80s "hair-metal band"
Europe's "The Final Countdown," now transformed into a dramatic, LAIBACHIZED
piece of millennial rock opera. The effect was spine-tinglingly
And so it went, as the stage show unfolded with a mechanized,
Teutonic display of sturm und drang, a military precision which was only
intensified by the singer's self-consciously dramatic posturing, equal parts
rock hero, Gnostic priest, and army commander.
As a series of symbolic
LAIBACHIAN imagery flashed on a screen behind them, the band pounded through
another grinding original cover, Pink Floyd's "Dogs of War," with venom, adding
to the increasing atmosphere of dread. Audience members at this near-capacity
show often seemed stunned following such numbers, only remembering to clap and
cheer following a pregnant pause after each song. The relentless techno
pounding of "Alle Gegen Alle" concluded the first section of the show; after a
short instrumental break the singer returned, shirtless, his chest emblazoned
with a LAIBACH cross medallion.
The knockout punch was now delivered, as
the band, assisted by backing tapes, launched into material from their latest
magnum opus in its near-entirety.
From the churning opening metal riff of
"God Is God" onwards, LAIBACH brilliantly highlighted the linkage between
religion and other control systems such as the military (the Crusades,
anyone?). A recurring theme seemed to be that the millennial apocalypse which
many fear is oncoming has already taken place, a view promulgated in one of the
highlights of the show, the Ministry-esque "Message From The Black Star," which
depicts God, as did many medieval Gnostics, as an imperfect, evil Demiurge who
created a fatally flawed world from which man is forever
"Welcome to hell, you already know my name / For that you have
your Lord Jesus Christ to blame / He did my work well, he was my greatest
creation / Through him I spoke to you and to many a nation."
This theme of
Jesus as the unwitting agent of an entity bent on controlling mankind, a
deluded Pop Star, also appeared in the stirring metallic hymn "Abuse and
Confession," in which Judas appears as the Archetypal Man, and confronts Christ
with his inconsistencies: "It was written in stone / You had a mission to save
/ Why give me desire / Just to prove I'm depraved? . . . Your mission has
failed / You failed the world."
The chorus of the electrobeat hard rock
"original cover" of "Jesus Christ Superstar"--"Do you think you're who they say
you are?"--thus took on new meaning in these LAIBACHIAN hands, as did The
Artist Formerly Known As Prince's "The Cross," transformed here into robotized
Gradually, the overall point became clear: be they spiritual
or technological, systems--all created as a result of man's frustrated
will-to-power--eventually and invariably enslave those who construct them, and
the only true "Declaration of Freedom" is death, "the final release . . . From
the threat of eternity / From eternal slavery."
In the postmodern era, the
term "irony" has been corrupted, coming to signify a kind of Seinfeld-like smug
brand of humour. LAIBACH, however, operate at a level of the deepest irony,
restoring the original meaning of the term not as denoting a facile lack of
seriousness, but rather as expressing the apparent perversity of fate or
circumstances. So when the group came out for their first encore and launched
into their infamous rendition of The Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for The Devil,"
they had arrived at the extreme limit of ironical meaning, for if God is really
a demon, then what does that make the Devil? And in turn, Man?
worth pondering, surely, but it should be noted that you could enjoy this
entire show without once considering any of them: it simply kicked ass. Which
may have been the most subversive part of LAIBACH'S troubling yet exhilarating,
complex and brutally impressive performance.