‘Iron Sky’, a Finnish comedy based on the story of Nazis who fled to the dark side of the moon and patiently await the moment to take back the earth, was released in 2012. The film stood out, among other things, because Laibach was responsible for the soundtrack.
The theme was a perfect fit for Laibach, who always had a dubious fascination with Nazism, going from wearing uniforms with arm bracelets with their symbolic cross, song titles as ‘Zmagoslavje Volje (Triumph Des Willens)’ or ‘Hymn To The Black Sun’, to the processing of Nazi symbols in the covers of, for example, the singles ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ and ‘Tanz mit Laibach’.
The music composed for the film was also released on record, with no less than 40 sound fragments, amounting to almost one and a half hours with both music and extracts of dialogues from the film. The liner notes stated that the music was inspired by ‘Iron Sky’ and Richard Wagner.
Wagner was Hitler’s favorite composer, so it goes without saying that Laibach – a Slovenian art collective that has been devoted to the study of ideology and art since 1980, particularly highlighting the dark sides of totalitarianism – already had many references to Wagner included in its music.
When they released the single ‘The Final Countdown’ in 1994 – a song from their (anti-)war record ‘NATO’ from the same year – they described it as Wagnerian disco. It is an example of how Laibach works with opposites and even contradictions. The bombast and complexity of Wagner is mixed with the poppy superficiality of disco.
Another example can be found in the performance of ‘Volkswagner’ in 2009. Laibach then wanted to connect two contradictory performances of Wagner: the conservative performance by classical musicians, but also experimental performances by jazz musicians and electronic musicians, who were often influenced by Wagner. The fact that there was a tension between Wagner’s Nazi interpretation and the ‘entartete Kunst’ of jazz, was a welcome bonus.
On the soundtrack of ‘Iron Sky’, you could also find that mix of Wagnerian motifs with electronics, in addition to excursions into pop, hip-hop and even swing. It makes the soundtrack quite enjoyable, and in my opinion even better than the film, which I previously described as an ‘only sporadically funny comedy’.
Despite the negative reviews, a sequel to ‘Iron Sky’ was planned. The first thing I saw about it was a video – to the tune of Laibach's reworking of the Russian national anthem on ‘Volk’ – in which Putin sits behind his desk trying to paste together the various pieces of the disintegrated Soviet Union, after which he performs a virile dance. By the way, the piece he pasted to Russia was Ukraine, which makes the video still worth watching today.
Crowdfunding was called upon to finance the follow-up film ‘Iron Sky II – The Coming Race’. Again, it is a film full of nods to historical figures and conspiracy theories, but where the first film seemed more like a parody of ‘Star Wars’, the second one tends more towards ‘Indiana Jones’. And where the figure of Sarah Palin – a paleoconservative American politician who was once John McCain's running mate in the presidential election – may have caused general hilarity in 2012, she was completely forgotten in 2019.
The film received scathing reviews, and after I also dutifully sat through the film, I can only agree: it is really really bad. You may enjoy the historical references, which are sometimes cleverly put together, but the story is just weak and it's an agony to watch the movie until the end. The company behind the film went bankrupt due to the flop. Plans for a third film were shelved.
But what about the soundtrack by Laibach, because that's what this is all about, isn't it? Originally, Laibach considered doing something similar to the Wagner influences on the ‘Iron Sky’ soundtrack, but this time with the mystical Russian composer Aleksandr Scriabin. Unfortunately, that idea was not developed. Laibach also took on the music this time, but they clearly put less effort into it. This single ‘Love Is Still Alive’ will probably be the only thing you will hear of it.
‘Love Is Still Alive’ contains eight versions of the same song, but it is only at first sight that this seems monotonous. The versions vary greatly, in an exercise to bring as many variations as possible to a simple chord progression. I first heard the original song - the country version - at the Laibach concert at the Botanique in Brussels, where the group played the entire CD ‘The Sound Of Music’, the songs of which they had reworked to play in North Korea in 2015. With lyrics like ‘My English is no heaven, my German is even worse’, it was clear that Laibach was making fun of itself again, and Milan Fras' performance in a giant reflective cowboy hat certainly wouldn't change that.
The second version just sounds to me to be the instrumental version of the country song. The third version seems to be inspired by minimal techno in the style of Daft Punk. The fourth version remains in the same atmosphere, but leans more towards the pioneering work of Suicide, although there are also manifest krautrock influences reminiscent of Neu. The fifth version tends towards lounge, whereas the sixth version is really minimal, with only some hi-hat and echoing sounds and effects. The seventh version is real ambient with lingering synth chords. The latest version is also rather slow, but features the return of Milan Fras, supported by timpani and surf guitars.
Anyone who is a fan of Laibach and, just like me, buys everything from the band, will do nothing wrong with this purchase. But it is not a compulsory purchase, because we would advise those who have only just started their search in Laibach's oeuvre to look up some other works first. ‘Sketches of the Red Disticts’ and ‘Wir Sind Das Volk’ are two recent releases that are both excellent. And of course there are the classics: ‘Opus Die’, ‘NATO', ‘WAT’ or ‘Spectre’. And we also expect a release of ‘Alamut’ soon, a total spectacle based on a Slovenian book from 1938 about the sect of the Assassins in Persia, which draws parallels with the rise of fascism in the 1930s.
Those who go to the Wave-Gotik-Treffen can follow lectures about Laibach and NSK in the museum at the Altes Rathaus on Sunday 28 May.
For this article, I have gratefully used the text ‘The Moon Nazis Are Coming. Laibachs Wagner-Aneignungen in Iron Sky’ by Reinhard Kopanski, as found in the book ‘Laibach: Gesamtkunstwerk. Klang, Bild und Politik’.