But Listen: 154: KMFDM – HELL YEAH

Thirty-three years, twenty albums, countless singles, a few live albums, various re-issues. Various record labels (most notably associated with WaxTrax! and then later Metropolis (North America) and Dependent (Europe)). And, broadly, one instantly recognisable sound, the Ultra Heavy Beat that blusters in on industrial beats and rock guitars, but somehow sounds like no-one else.

Well, kinda no-one else. We’ve ended up in the weird situation where there are four touring bands that play KMFDM songs, because of the various line-up changes over the years and the involvements, therefore, of different songwriters. So we have KMFDM, of course, then we have <PIG> (which features Raymond Watts, En Esch and Günter Schulz, all of whom were involved in KMFDM’s “golden age” of the mid-to-late 90s and they play a few songs from that era), En Esch himself (who along his own solo projects, also played some really old KMFDM material last time I saw him), and then SKOLD (who was involved in KMFDM for a short time around the turn of the millenium).

There seems to have been some bitterness from the KMFDM side about PIG in particular playing KMFDM songs, but when Sascha Konietzko all-but disowns his biggest hit, it’s at least nice to hear someone play material from that time, and all the better that it’s people that were involved in the creation of it.

So anyway, KMFDM in 2017. Like the ROCKS (Milestones Reloaded) retrospective last year (that seemed rather revisionist to me), it’s on a new label for the band, EARMusic in Germany. Perhaps a change – and a longer than usual gap between regular album releases, not to mention a new guitarist in Chris Harms from Lord of the Lost – has done the band good.

The first single, YEAH!, surprised a number of us by not quite following a pattern that the band had rather got stuck in over recent years. Yes, it’s a monstrous, catchy track, but it is shorn of the relentless sloganeering and sees Sascha using vocal treatments to provide a perhaps less harsh vocal – and the slamming chorus (guitars are broadly only used in said chorus) is all the more effective for the contrast. Yeah, so it has a little bit of a nod back to Megalomaniac, but that’s no bad thing whatsoever – and the band were clear in saying that the new album would be “past and future colliding”, and in that they aren’t wrong.

The stuttering beats, chopping guitars and modern synths of Freak Flag are of note, too. Possibly the best song Lucia has led vocals on yet, it genuinely sounds like something new, rather than a retread (and that’s the first step forward in a while for the band).

Even better is the battering ram industrial thrash of Total State Machine. Not a cover of the brutal metal fury of the Test Dept. track, but the angry political lyrics could certainly mark it as a nod to the London industrial band (key lyric in the chorus: “YOUR GOVERNMENT HATES YOU. AND YOU. AND YOU.“, and just to ram the point home, the track is bookended by Oppression 1/2 and Oppression 2/2). Unlike other fast BPM attempts in the past, this actually pauses for breath, too.

Murder My Heart is another Lucia-led track, and I’m really not sure about this one. Rave synths with a near-swing rhythm, maybe this will work better live? The band can’t resist referencing their past, either, although Rip The System v2.0 is not a straight retread of one of their best early tracks, it sounds to me to be a totally new track that happens to re-use the legendary old track for the chorus. Politically, of course, we’re back in a similar place (an incompetent, unpopular Republican – well, kinda – back in the White House, and threats of war everywhere), and with KMFDM’s often outspoken politics, they are clearly reinvigorated with stuff to get angry about in song too. The song itself never quite takes flight, but it’s nice to hear the band re-use old material in an interesting way, rather than just repeating lyrics.

Shock slows things down too, but with a nice industrial-metal groove and a lovely, melodic croon from Lucia, coupled with a refrain that swiftly became an earworm. The pace is picked up by the punchy Fake News, admittedly an easy target lyrically but someone had to say it, I guess, but once again this is KMFDM playing around with their sound and arrangements and the results are impressive.

The surprises keep coming, too. ℞ 4 the Damned is led by a funk bassline (basslines being a pretty rare event in this band, even more so as it is played by none other than Doug Wimbish of Living Colour and Tackhead) that immediately makes it stand out, and that’s before you get to the roared chorus by Lucia and the feeling that this track is a risk that the band wouldn’t have even considered ten years ago.

I can take or leave Burning Brain – it has savage riffage, it has beats, it has Sascha ranting away, it also has a great guitar solo, in other words KMFDM-by-numbers, but it’s so unusual on this album that it still stands out. Only Lovers also stands out, but for very different reasons, as I honestly can’t remember an honest-to-god rock ballad (Lucia on vocals, of course) ever appearing on a KMFDM release, although I’d love to be corrected.

The album closes with Glam Glitz Guts & Gore, another groovy, glitchy industrial thrash-out of a track that seems a shoo-in to hear live, with ‘pit-friendly sound and big, shouty chorus that’s catchy as all hell, not to mention an even bigger, shoutier breakdown too.

I’d rather lost my love of KMFDM in recent years, having got tired of a relentless release schedule that was treading water at best musically – and I’d been buying the albums out of habit (not to mention going to see them live each time they came round, too). Each album had a couple of songs to draw me in (often the lead single would be a belter, too), and then it was an album otherwise made up of filler.

So I’m rather surprised to be able to report that this album, genuinely, sees KMFDM with a new lease of life, finally shedding the shackles of their past and trying some new ideas, rather than just robotically repeating the past. Yes, there is still some recycling of the past, but it is done with intelligence and thought, and the new steps forward taken here make up for all of that regardless.

Seriously, the best KMFDM album since the millenium. Finally, the Ultra-Heavy Beat is ready to Rip the System once again.

HELL YEAH is out on 18-August, and you can stream the whole album right now at Alt-Press.

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