[Reviewed by Peter Marks]
When this band are given a commission , they take it to it’s logical extreme and then push well beyond. We’re currently in the midst of World War I’s centenary which was the impetus for ‘Lament’; an album which Neubauten prefer not to have viewed as a new album despite it being well over an hour long with all five members participating in. You’ve always been eccentric, Bargeld, so sure, this is whatever you’d like it to be. Perhaps it is the strong narrative backbone of ‘Lament’ that precludes it being an official work, I’ve definitely never heard them operating in such a precise manner.
Nothing is left out by them, from the industrial beginnings of this conflict to the clever auto-tuned interplay between the competing factions of nobility who hid behind their governments manipulating the levers of ego and hubris to produce the first great war. Blixa’s words shift from urgent, veiled pleas for support between monarchs to an over-arching appeal directed at the citizens who would turn the wheels of their desires with their blood. The language is key here, which if you think about it is quite the paradox as war’s the ultimate example of all communication breaking down and yet… war speaks a dialect all it’s own, one which is only understood by the worst tendencies of the human mind.
The madness of the trenches is given plenty of stage time, with the band doing a rousing version of “On Patrol in No-Man’s Land”. I have not heard this kind of glee out of EN since they cackled by the graveside with “Der Tod Ist Ein Dandy”; I finally understand just what the Bad Seeds lost when Blixa Bargeld left and why they’re such a chore to listen to now, an unintended consequence of this rather serious release but a remarkable one nevertheless. Even this is not enough for them, however, because the central pillars to ‘Lament’ appear not long after via the masterful “Achterland” and then the “Lament” trilogy.
There are no more clever allusions to strife being avoided at this point, a chronology of events is laid out with armies marching against one another while the architects stay safely behind in their palaces and opulent temples of “diplomacy”. While the allies dither over what course to take when Russia departs, a series of interconnecting veins and arteries are carved across Europe which respect neither sovereignty or sanity. They soon become frothing troughs choked with blood as the axis have no compunction about re-deploying on the Western front in a massive array of firepower and men. ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ is still some years off as the guns roar over the land and towns become bombed out craters; the soldiers of both sides do nothing but dig in their heels as the promised victory slips further and further away.
Neubauten give us pause to consider how quickly things spiraled out of control, with a mixture of names being spoken in time to the mechanized procession of slaughter solemnly. The only route to peace, it seems, is through mountains of corpses and in a macabre, frenetic dance of men and machines numerous innovations are born during this era. The tank. Aerial combat and bombardment. The machine gun. Mines. Terrifying accurate shells which now can hit targets with pinpoint accuracy from miles away. Against this backdrop of sheer futility, those on foot and in their emplacements march on endlessly. Day after day. The same pointless charges over the top usually with the same nihilistic results.
As we move through the title tracks, a sense of abandonment and insanity grows exponentially. Out here in the smoke and fire there is no chain of command left. Only blind rage, panic and fear remain. The only reason the allies won was their resource base, exhaustion on both sides at the end must have been stunning. Einsturzende’s trademark usage of tension drives this point home with one protagonist towards the end half-awake wondering at his condition on “How Did I Die”. How indeed. Despite all the marvels of technology and the vaunted armor of a valiant cause… how did your blood wind up pumping out of you into the mud.
The minimal arrangements of the concluding tracks allow us to understand how starkly the specter defeat drove the axis beyond the point of human endurance. It is here we see the myth of a superman beginning to coalesce, one which after the punitive treaty of Versailles would emerge full formed.
All of No Man’s Land is ours, truly. Quite the noble achievement.
World War I had many elements of loss to it: the last great “romantic” war (whatever the hell that means, how is it romantic) and the death of colonial empires beginning in earnest during this time would be a couple. Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that despite millions of shells and men being expended in it’s pursuance, one Gefreiter from the 16th Bavarian reserve regiment managed to survive. It is ironic he would later call so many others rats when he was the prime example of one.
Einsturzende Neubauten – Lament