Laibach: Nova Akropola (Expanded 3 CD box)

Door Xavier Kruth

17 maart 2024

It seems that Laibach is busy re-releasing all its classics from the eighties in special editions. That in itself is a good thing, although I do admit that I had to overcome my hesitation of repurchasing a record that had been in my record collection for years. Anyway, in this case I do get two bonus CDs and an extensive background text by Alexei Monroe, and that’s enough to convince me.

The reissues already started with the ‘Laibach Revisited’ box from 2020, a beautiful box with three CDs and a book, which was supposed to be a kind of reissue of the untitled debut album from 1985, and which was then supplemented with new recordings of the songs by the contemporary version of the group. I thought the fact that the album went a little further than the debut and also contained many songs from the compilation ‘Rekapitulacija 1980-84’, as well as two songs from ‘Nova Akropola’, was simply excellent. I wrote very positively about that release at the time, and continue to recommend everyone to get that box.

The success of the box may explain why we are now going a step further. A more modest approach was chosen for the reissue of ‘Nova Akropola’, the second album from 1986. There is a box with three CDs, the first of which is the original record. The second album again contains modern live performances and several ‘Revisited’ versions of the songs recorded between 2019 and 2021. The third CD contains live performances from the 1980s, largely from one concert at the Bloomsbury Theater in London in 1985.

But let’s focus on the original record, and why music magazine Sounds called it “the first dangerous record of the 1980s.” By 1986, Laibach had cemented its reputation as a scandal group. In 1980, in then-communist Yugoslavia – more specifically in the western state of Slovenia – the band began to study the link between art and politics in a provocative way. This was beautifully expressed in the manifesto that Laibach published in 1983. A few quotes:

  • Laibach works as a team, according to the model of industrial production and totalitarianism, which means that it is not the individual who speaks, but the organization.
  • The name Laibach suggests the possibility of a politicized ideological (regime) art due to the influence of politics and ideology.
  • All art can be the subject of manipulation, except the art that speaks the language of this manipulation.
  • Laibach practices provocation on the rebellious state of the alienated individual (who must necessarily find itself an enemy) and unites warriors and opponents in the expression of a static totalitarian cry.

I hope you understand that Laibach was treading on thin ice in Yugoslavia – a communist dictatorship at the time, although there were slightly more artistic possibilities than in other Eastern Bloc countries. A performance at the Zagreb Music Biennale in 1983 was the cause of a major scandal, as the group simultaneously showed a communist propaganda film and a pornographic film on several television screens. Great outrage followed and the group was subsequently interviewed on a major Slovenian television program, where Laibach continued his totalitarian parody:

“Art is a noble mission that requires fanaticism, and Laibach is an organism whose goals, life, and means are higher – In power and duration – than the goals, lives, and means of our individual members.”

The quote contains a reference to Hitler, without of course revealing the source. When asked for a reaction to the ban on their first performance in their home town of Trbolvje, the group replied:

“The Trbovlje action of 1980 was intended to test the national security network. It was a test of positive consciousness in the red mining district. The action was a success, because it was intended to be banned. The workers worked closely with the police, proving their positive consciousness.”

At the end of the interview, the presenter rhetorically asked whether someone will finally take action against these dangerous ideas, and indeed, the government’s answer did come soon enough. An old law was brought up, and it was stated that Laibach – which is actually the German name for the Slovenian capital Ljubljana, a provocation in itself in a country that suffered heavily under the German occupation – used the name Ljubljana in an illegal way. Performing and releasing records under the name Laibach was therefore prohibited.

Laibach then focused on the international scene, where they performed a lot and also released the album ‘Rekapitulacija 1980-84’. To release their debut in Yugoslavia, they used a ruse. It was the use of the name ‘Laibach’ that was prohibited, and so the album was released without the name of the band, but with the very recognizable black cross that is the symbol of Laibach on the cover. In December 1984, the band had also given an anonymous concert in Ljubljana in memory of their former singer Tomaž Hostnik, who had committed suicide two years earlier, after another scandalous performance.

‘Nova Akropola’ is also released at a time when Laibach is banned, but the fact that the record is released on the British Cherry Red Records is an indication of the importance that the group has gained internationally. The album is released on Slovenian Culture Day – also known as Prešeren Day, after the Slovenian national poet France Prešeren – which was an occasion to express Slovenian national feelings. Two days earlier, Laibach had participated in a grandiose theater performance ‘Krst pod Triglavom / Baptism under the Triglav’. The Triglav is the highest mountain in Slovenia, but the title also refers to the Slovenian national epic ‘The Baptism at the Savica’ by France Prešeren, in which the Savica is the most famous waterfall in Slovenia.

It is important to delve deeper into this theater performance to fully understand Laibach’s story. In response to the ban on performing under the name ‘Laibach’, the artistic movement Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK) was founded in 1984, a multidisciplinary association in which, in addition to Laibach as a musical arm, we saw Irwin as a visual arts arm and the Scipion Nacise Sisters Theatre as the theater arm. Other components were added later, such as New Collectivism as a graphic design arm. They wanted to work together on a ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ that took Laibach's philosophy – the investigation of the relationship between art and ideology – as a guideline.

Another element is the Slovenian struggle for national emancipation. Yugoslavia was a patchwork of cultures, all of which had in common that they were southern Slavs. (Hence the name Yugoslavia, where 'Yugo' refers to the south and 'Slavia' to the Slavic character.) Each constituent state had its own language and culture, and of course there were nationalist movements in every state, which were kept in line by the central government in Belgrade, even if this was sometimes a difficult task.

The late 1960s to the early 1970s saw the ‘Croatian Spring’, a broad movement of social discontent in Croatia in which national demands were formulated. The central government responded with both brutal repression and further decentralization in the new Yugoslav constitution of 1974. But although that new constitution granted more powers to the states, and thus responded to one of the central demands of the protest, it also provided more repression against those who thought differently, and there would be a backlash to that.

In the 1980s, a civil society emerged in Slovenia – consisting of environmental movements, peace movements, LGBT movements, youth subcultures such as punk – which found support in the communist youth league ZSMS, which, although affiliated with the League of Communist of Slovenia, nevertheless followed a very critical and independent course. In addition, there were critical publications such as Nova Revija – an intellectual magazine in which Laibach published their aforementioned manifesto – and Mladina, the magazine of ZSMS. Laibach and Neue Slowenische Kunst were also part of that movement. And so ‘Baptism under the Triglav’ – at the time the most expensive Slovenian theater production of all time – became a symbol of increasing national consciousness in Slovenia, and therefore of resistance against the central government in Belgrade.

‘Baptism under the Triglav’ gave Laibach a central place in Slovenian cultural life, at a time when the band was still officially banned. It also gave Laibach – who of course had the task of providing the music for the performance – the opportunity to work with a symphonic orchestra, which I think explains how Laibach evolved from the cold industrial group of the untitled debut album to the bombastic and orchestral industrial from the international breakthrough album ‘Opus Die’, which would follow a year later, in 1987. In that sense ‘Nova Akropola’ is a bit of a transitional record between those two extremes, although it is definitely a record that also stands on its own.

Let us focus further on the album, which is mainly in line with the cold industrial of the untitled debut, which was released in 1985 but was actually recorded in 1983. Ever since, Laibach has delved even more deeply into incorporating all kinds of references into their music, and bearing in mind their mission – namely investigating the relationship between art and ideology – these are primarily political references. As the excellent Laibachologist Alexei Monroe – we can safely say that there is a separate scientific branch that studies Laibach's work by now – states in his accompanying text to the CD, it starts with the title of the record. After all, ‘Nova Akropola’ did not so much refer to the ideal totalitarian state, as was often thought, but also to a philosophical ‘New Age’-like movement from Yugoslavia that strives for ‘better people in a better world’. (Also make the link with the name of the next record: ‘Opus Die’.)

It continues with the cover of the record. It incorporates the work of two very different artists. The first is the painting of a deer by the English painter Sir Edwin Landseer, called ‘The Monarch of the Glen’. The work was used very early on by Laibach in exhibitions, where they combined the image of the deer with their posters of a worker in social realist propaganda style, in my interpretation to highlight the contradiction between national symbols that refer to nature and symbols that refer to the industrial proletariat. For the cover of ‘Nova Akropola’, the deer is combined with ‘Innenraum’, a painting by the controversial German painter Anselm Kiefer from 1981, that is inspired by the hall of Albert Speer’s New Chancellery for Adolf Hitler, that was destroyed in 1945.

We stay in the mood with the opening song ‘Vier Personen’. This refers to the alleged four members of Laibach: Eber, Keller, Dachauer and Saliger. The names come – again – from four German painters of the National Socialist period, and everyone who ever worked with Laibach was given one of these four names, even though in reality the group was never limited to four members. The foundation for the music is immediately laid: brutal, atonal and cold sounds follow each other in a tight rhythm. This music is eminently numb and distant, and it will remain that way for the entire record.

The second song – the title track ‘Nova Akropola’ – contains the ancient Greek war cry ‘Eja, Eja, Alala’, which was adopted by the Italian artist and warlord Gabriele D’Annunzio, and later by the Italian fascists. We should not look for sympathy from Laibach behind this, because the nationalism of D’Annunzio and the fascists was very much aimed against the Slovenes in the disputed border region between Italy and Yugoslavia. The references are not always clear, and for me the question remains whether the horns that appear in the song refer to the Macedonian warlord Alexander the Great.

‘Gruda – Plodna Zemlja / Bloody soil, fertile land’ naturally refers to the many wars on Slovenian territory, and to the power of nationalism.

‘Vojna Poema / War Poem’ is based on a poem by Matej Bor, a poet and Slovenian partisan in the Second World War, who moved to Slovenia after the annexation of Gorizia by Italy in 1920. Although he was a convinced communist, he also often expressed his support for persecuted dissidents in Yugoslavia, and was an instigator of the Slovenian environmental movement. The music is surprising, because it breaks completely with the cold industrial of the rest of the record to make way for a piano-accompanied partisan song, over which atonal noise and brutal sound are spread.

‘Ti, Ki Izzivaš / You who challenge (outro)’ goes back to the song of the same name that already appeared on ‘Rekapitulacija 1980-84’. That was a call for a hero to fearlessly enter into the bloodshed, and I think it was a criticism of the army, which was a major source of irritation for the Slovenian civil movements. The music is based on the soundtrack for the film ‘Psycho’, composed by Bernard Hermann.

I have searched for a deeper meaning behind the song ‘Die Liebe’ for a long time, but eventually I resigned myself to the fact that it was simply an exercise in making an ode to love sound as loveless and cold as possible. (The second CD in the box contains a successful modern version of ‘Die Liebe’, which at times sounds like pop music.)

‘Država / The State’ already appeared on Laibach’s untitled debut, with the summary of the tasks of the government and the confirmation that power in Yugoslavia lies with the people. The song seems to regret that the state is becoming too lenient, and that all freedoms are allowed. It is supplemented here with a quote from the Yugoslavian dictator Tito about the bloody brotherhood on which Yugoslavia was founded. This use of speeches by prominent politicians as ‘political poetry’ will often recur in Laibach’s work.

‘Vade Retro’ is simply a wonderfully dark sound collage on slow, pounding rhythms. On the second CD you are also entitled to an orchestral version called ‘Vade Retro Satanas’ which was performed in Ljubljana at a special opening event for the European Month of Culture in 1997, a concert that became infamous because the Slovenian Archbishop walked out of the room during Laibach’s performance.

‘Panorama’ also contains a quote from Tito, which makes it clear what it is to be Non-Aligned in the cold war. The music is inspired by the melody of ‘Mars – The bringer of war’ that the English composer Gustav Holst wrote in his seven-part composition ‘The Planets’.

The album closes with the instrumental song ‘Decree’, for which I cannot find a clear meaning again. I suspect that the title refers to the ban on Laibach in 1983. The Slovenian government invoked a law that said that a special decree was needed to use the name of Ljubljana. Laibach used ‘the name Ljubljana in a distorted German translation without the necessary permission’, and thus the group was banned. With ‘Decree’ Laibach would then give itself permission to use the name. I recognize that this is pure guesswork on my part.

What final judgment can we make about ‘Nova Akropola’? Simply that this is an artistic and historical milestone. The fact that the record was released on an English label was of course noticed in Slovenia, and will play an important role in the demand from the communist youth league ZSMS to lift the ban on Laibach, which was formulated in April 1986. It would take until February 1987, a few days before the release of ‘Opus Die’, before the ban was finally lifted, but in the meantime Laibach was a name on everyone’s lips in Slovenia, a name that has shaped the history of Slovenia. It is only right that a triple CD is released today to commemorate this milestone.

PS: In the meantime, the reissue of ‘Opus Die’, the follow-up album from 1987, was also announced for May 10, 2024, with another bonus CD with live versions and, of course, an extensive background text by Alexei Monroe. ‘Opus Die’ was Laibach's breakthrough album for the international audience, with striking covers – or ‘new originals’, in Laibach's jargon – of Queen (Geburt einer Nation) and Opus (Opus Die, Leben Heißt Leben). The release is accompanied by an extensive tour in which ‘Opus Die’ will be in the spotlight.

Laibach: website / bandcamp / Facebook

Click here for the dates of the ‘Opus Dei’ Tour.

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Over Xavier Kruth

Xavier Kruth bekeerde zich al op jonge leeftijd tot het gothicdom. Toen hij begon te puberen, moest hij lang zagen om een zwarte broek te mogen hebben. Toen hij tegenover zijn moeder argumenteerde dat hij gewoon om een zwarte broek vroeg, niet om zijn haar omhoog te doen in alle richtingen, repliceerde ze dat als hij nu een zwarte broek zou krijgen, hij daarna toch zijn haar torenhoog omhoog zou doen. Xavier was versteld over de telepathische vermogens van zijn moeder. Hij leerde destijds ook gitaar spelen, en sinds 2006 speelt hij in donkere kroegen met zijn melancholische kleinkunstliedjes in verschillende talen. In 2011 vervoegde Xavier het team van Dark Entries. In Dark Entries las hij ook dat The Marchesa Casati (gothic rock) een gitarist zocht, en zo kon hij een paar keer met de groep optreden. Later speelde hij bij Kinderen van Moeder Aarde (sjamanische folk) en werkte samen met Gert (kleinpunk). En het belangrijkste van al: in 2020 bracht hij samen met Dark Entries-collega Gerry Croon de plaat ‘Puin van dromen’ uit onder de naam Winterstille.

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