There’s something about every Einstürzende Neubauten record that makes you want to hide under a table as the world crumbles into nothing but debris and the mechanical remains of modern civilization. It’s no coincidence that their début album is called Kollaps and industrial noise has never been as visceral as on their decade spanning albums. Along their career they developed a sense of dread and imminent destruction unmistakably theirs. Lament, their latest L.P. is no different, yet the terror present on this album is put into play in a very abstract and fine manner.
Lament is meant as a performance piece rather than a regular L.P., the band working together with a number of historians, the project being commissioned by the city of Diksmuide, to commemorate the centennial of the beginning of the first World War. As such, it draws on an unexpected array of historical accounts and depicts the Great War evading all clichés that such a project might fall into. Their references range from never before heard wax cylinder recordings of prisoners of war reciting the parable of the prodigal son in their native language and texts by Flemish avant-garde writer Paul van den Broeck to the imagined telegrams between Kaiser Wilhelm and Czar Nicholas. As opposed to the sparseness of the music (a play between noise and much, much silence as E.N. exhibited beginning with 2000′s Silence is Sexy) the songs in their entirety are packed with hints and meanings. For example, the 13 minute long Der 1. Weltkrieg (Percussion Version) associates each participant country to a plastic pipe which the players bang a minimal beat on and each beat of the song represents a day. While Blixa recites each year between 1914 and 1918, every country-pipe starts to play at their moment of entry into the war. It might sound like simply a clever gimmick, but it is a perfect abstraction of the raging war turned into an ominous chatter of plastic pipes.
On the musical side of things, E.N. employ their usual array of percussive contraptions of their own design, such as the barbed-wire harp used on In De Loopgraaf or the plastic pipes mentioned before. Drones sweep in and out over metal, plastic, glass and who knows what else being struck with unrelenting force as Blixa Bargeld impassibly delivers mostly spoken word lines. Here and there they sprinkle some melodic content such as on the arch-hymn Hymnen which plays to a familiar melody, but changes languages every two lines and at the end turns into a biting comment on poverty, or the sixteenth century string piece drawn out to a long drone used on Pater Peccavi. Even when treading strictly musical territory Neubauten morph the pieces into fierce monsters lurking near.
Of course, comment against war is central to the album (just try and miss the irony of the start of the war re-enacted by animals on the album’s penultimate track), but where Lament excels is not in its subversive or protesting edge. Where its magic lies is in the completely unexpected point of view it chooses to present the war from. Neubauten and their team show the first world war as a symptom of constant conflagration going on more or less visibly and choose small, disparate points of reference in building their image. They don’t focus on immensity or grandeur, but on how terror seeps into the smallest crevices infiltrating every hidden and sacred niche of your being. Each individual slowly turns into war, and by these means does it become total, not by being unleashed upon the people, but within them. It might be one of the more intellectual efforts of the band, but it still manages to make you grind your teeth in despair, maybe even more so than by showing the Great War as a far away museum exhibit.
Blixa is right, Lament shouldn’t be viewed as a regular Neubauten L.P., but as a total artistic act. It’s not something you listen to while reading or driving to work (unless driving to work means literally getting back in the trenches) and it’s not something that plays in the back of your mind. Like any great performance, it demands and unavoidably gets your full attention. And what a show it must be live…