Einstürzende Neubauten is a band that does not need to constantly create music (they’re known to take ‘long’ breaks between albums), so a seven year gap between “Alles Wieder Offen” and their new release “Lament” is of no surprise. This somewhat long wait has enabled Einstürzende Neubauten to come back with fresh ideas and a different perspective: Lament was created with a live concert experience in mind, each piece carefully thought-out and planned, whereas in the past a number of their songs have been unplayable due to ambitious sampling or simply having too many instruments in each piece – with their custom instruments, it’s not exactly as easy as placing a guitar in a carry case at the start of a tour.
The album and tour are all about the Great War, which ended 96 years (and eight days) before this show at the KOKO in London, covering aspects of the war that are less known to the general public: the way the USA treated its black soldiers, the double-sided negotiations between Kaiser Wilhelm II & Tsar Nicholas II, how the war still lingers on in Germany even after the Second World War. These ideas are all powerfully rendered by both sound and imagery – the show begins with “Kriegsmaschinerie” with its artillery sounds, slowly building up to represent the pre-war preparations that were made in Europe and beyond, the band building up a sinister-looking sculpture in the middle of the stage: a large metallic cone with its gaping black mouth staring at the audience. Vocalist Blixa Bargeld is silent throughout this first piece, only holding up signs with text describing the inevitability of the war: “War never ends. It only changes.”
In the past Einstürzende Neubauten have been known as a band of pure chaos, in both their sound and live performances. They’ve used hammers, chainsaws, drills – once an engine of destruction, over time they have become subtle in their ways of communicating their views or inadvertently adding a ‘shock factor’ (although some might say it’s not too hard to ripple shock through tonight’s audience at the KOKO, as there are many stifled laughs at the sight of guitarist Jochen Arbeit using a vibrator to create a particularly loud whirring sound on the strings of his guitar). So now their live shows are less about (literally) protecting your head and more about soaking-in the message the band are putting across, giving more time to appreciate the visual cues they’ve applied to their music that you would be hard pressed to find with a rock band: the barb-wire harp vignette played by Andrew Unruh or Alexander Hacke hobbling around with mic’ed up crutches, both during “Achterland” (a song detailing what would happen to a soldier during a break from the frontline); Rudi Moser and an arrangement of ammunition shells; the gridwork of pipes, each beat representing a different day in the war and each pipe representing a separate nation.
There are intriguing moments throughout: from recalling the bloody end to the “Harlem Hellfighters” (a group of black Americans that were not allowed to fight for the USA in the war who started a musical group together after the war, their end occurred when one band member stabbed the other onstage) with “All of No Man’s Land is Ours”, to Bargeld donning a papermade replica of a coat worn by Marlene Dietrich for the quietly poignant “Sag Mir Wo Die Blumen Sind”, or onwards to an outlandish jaunt with “On Patrol in No Man’s Land” sung by an eager Alex Hacke. It is clear that Einstürzende Neubauten are a group that is hard to beat when it comes down to musical imagination.