“You take the front line / I’ll find a good rhyme / Get to it.” So command industrial music pioneers Laibach on “No History” from Spectre, the newest chapter in their complex artistic history. It’s a short stanza with a lot of weight, addressing their music’s role in inspiring breaks from social and political groupthink. Are they—and have they always been—actively fomenting revolution, empty figureheads merely suggesting that to others, or gangster pranksters content to say of an idea, “We’ll just leave this here,” and watching what happens?
Just about every song in the Laibach catalog to this point contained one of two things: activist earnestness or a piss-take on the same. To that end they often used insane covers and cultural appropriations from “The Star-Spangled Banner” to The Beatles’ “Let it Be,” resulting in some of their career-defining highlights. On Spectre, such strategies have been largely abandoned and both the messaging and the humor are subtle to the point of invisibility. So we’re ultimately left to ponder just what this album really means to us, and indeed to Laibach themselves.
The slow grind of “Eurovision” could almost be about the competitive nature of the namesake Continental music competition, except for that one pesky verse about police. “The Whistleblowers,” meanwhile, conflates soldiers with organized labor, trying to honor both but really honoring neither. The awesome sonic wobble of “Americana” is undermined by inscrutable lyrics which don’t immediately suggest anything American; it’s as if they’re in the wrong song. “Eat Liver” barely references the organ meat at all, only in a distorted loop from lead singer Milan Fras and as part of the word “deliver,” while “No History” drops an Occupy Wall Street reference that’s two years too late.
Another departure finds Fras’ guttural vocals, always a signature of Laibach’s music, fighting for dominance with Mina Špiler and her own thick accent. They trade volleys on “We are Millions and Millions are One,” their call-and-response suggesting a meaner “Don’t You Want Me,” and they share ruminations on faith and illusion in “Koran.” When Špiler takes the lead, she often gives work like “Walk with Me” a Thrill Kill Kult/Lords of Acid feel that’s immediately dated. This certainly isn’t your father’s Laibach; now it’s your mother’s, too.
Laibach’s reputation also rests on brutish symphonics, recalling the marches of fascist and communist regimes. Hints of those remain throughout Spectre, but this album favors more modern takes on EBM. Songs like “Bossanova” have fresh, almost florid digital arrangements. “Resistance is Futile” takes a very wrong page out of KMFDM’s book, recasting Star Trek Borg dialogue as an overlong Laibach theme song, but its middle section of vibraphone and orchestra suggests the soundtrack to a space chase.
If you could wade past the lyrics on most of these tracks you’d actually have a stable, sonically interesting release. In its current state, though, Spectre is as dense and complicated as the Eastern European miasma from which Laibach sprung.