Into the Pit: 199: KMFDM – O2 Academy Islington, N1 – 09-September 2017

The past few weeks have, in one of those odd quirks of scheduling, seen three of the big names in industrial and goth music all come through London in a short space of time. All three are in different places.

As they proved at their exceptional London show at the end of August, Front Line Assembly are riding the wave of a late-career rebirth (review: Into the Pit: 198, interview with Bill Leeb: Talk Show Host: 036) and sounding better than they have in years, while The Sisters of Mercy reputedly played vastly better shows last weekend than the ones a couple of years back (which I covered on Into the Pit: 188). Of course, these were the ones I passed on.

The third of them to come through town was KMFDM, on the last date of a UK tour that had been postponed from the spring. And as is often the way nowadays, there were a lot of support bands.

Four of them, in fact, which meant that doors were at the absurdly early time of 1700, and there wasn’t a chance of me catching Machine Rox, who I understand have a new line-up and, so I was told, an improved sound. I’ll have to catch them another time, when they play at a more sensible hour.

The early start also meant that Ventenner, who came on sometime after six, were already underway by the time that I got there. Their recent album Invidia is an impressive beast (But Listen: 155), and the last time I saw them live (Into the Pit: 196), supporting Skinny Puppy, was hampered a little by a not-great sound.

No such problems here, as they bulldozed through an impressive half-hour set that was all killer, no filler. Recent album highlight Break In Two burns with fury live, as does the ominous electronic pulse of Six Blood that erupts into chugging riffage. Best of all, though, was the galloping charge of Metacell, that sound-wise seems to be making a single-handed attempt to level the building. The band have advanced a whole lot with the new album, too, finally doing justice to their live sound on record, and I look forward to catching them live again soon.

I was rather mystified by Lord of the Lost. Remember Gothminister? Well, Lord of the Lost certainly do, and have followed suit with similar white-and-black corpsepaint-esque makeup, a few live gimmicks and a lot of metal.

Oh, there is a passing nod to goth in there somewhere, but really, this is chugging, anthemic hard metal with lots of crowd participation in the “OI! OI! OI!” sense, and after a few songs, I was rather done with it. The LED, light-up guitar was a cool effect, but much like KISS, the gimmicks don’t disguise what is quite pedestrian music underneath. They are apparently massive on the German goth scene, though, which I’m not sure tells us a great story.

Meeting a friend to ensure she got her ticket (and thus got into the show) meant that I missed Inertia, a band I’ve seen a great many times before, stretching back into the nineties. I’m sure I’ll have another chance in time.

As for KMFDM, boy, this was a divisive show. A couple of comments from friends as we left suggested a great disappointment with what they heard, and then there were more middling comments later on, overnight.

KMFDM setlist

Freak Flag
Hell Yeah
Rip the System v. 2.0
Rebels in Kontrol
Total State Machine
Animal Out
Burning Brain
Glam Glitz Guts & Gore
Murder My Heart
A Drug Against War

Hau Ruck

Part of that unhappiness may well stem from what they played. I’ve now seen KMFDM a few times over the years, rarely missing their London shows, and it must be said, there has been a pattern to each-and-every one of them. There will be a lot of new stuff, a few old favourites tacked on at the end, and most of their best material omitted entirely.

This set followed that to the letter. The band took to the stage, as they often have in the past decade, to D.I.Y., a rabble-rousing song that is so good live as an opener (the late-song refrain always gets the whole crowd punching the air and chanting along) that it is a wonder that they took so long to realise it.

Then there was an awful lot – actually, most of it, bar a couple of songs – of HELL YEAH, some of which worked better than others. Freak Flag, Lucia’s best five minutes with the band, was tossed away early, and the stuttering beats and guitar-led chorus sounded great here. The title track also sounded fantastic live, a worthy substitute for Megalomaniac, which wasn’t played for the first time in ages.

Recent world events, as I noted in But Listen: 154 when reviewing the album recently, loom large in a number of songs, but none as much as in the ultra-heavy, ultra-fast Total State Machine, where Sascha thrillingly lets rip with his state of the world address.

The big outlier on the album – and I’m still not sure about it – is Murder My Heart, a Lucia-led song that another friend compared to Girls Aloud. The more I think about it, she’s not wrong, either. There is something of a glittering pop sheen to the track, and underpinned by a Glitter Band-beat and cheesy synths, not to mention a skyscraping chorus, in a alternate universe this would be reaching a very different audience.

Elsewhere, some odd song choices made the set sag a little in the middle (Rebels in Kontrol is shouty and a bit boring, Bumaye I’d forgotten existed before it was played, and have forgotten it again now), but there were two nods back to the band’s distant past that were a little surprising.

The new album has seen Rip The System‘s evergreen chorus repurposed for a(nother) new song (it also features in Godlike, of course, among others), but the new version just fell rather flat live. Remarkably, so did Virus, the quasi-hiphop beats and squalling guitars all present and correct, and it seemed to pass by almost unnoticed and unrecognised by most of the crowd. Then again, KMFDM playing different old songs in the set is so rare, perhaps it was just shock.

The dynamic of the band – with the addition of, in the live environment, two guitarists from Lord of the Lost (complete with the light-up guitar on one occasion) – has also changed. The electronics, in some cases, were some way down in the mix, and where they were dropped entirely it was interesting to note that they became a pretty fucking ordinary rock band at that point.

That said, the closing A Drug Against War sounded utterly immense in this format (better than I’ve ever heard it sound), and WWIII in the encore wasn’t far off. But, those damned guitars drowned out much of the good of Hau Ruck, and Godlike was fucked around with somewhat (again) that meant it took a little while to become familiar.

The sheer amount of new stuff, too, meant that some old favourites, so often played in recent years, were all missing. No Megalomaniac, no Son of A Gun, and no Light either (although I’ve never seen the latter, despite them playing it on other tour dates previously). Sascha has shown his distain in the past, mind, for constantly digging into the past, but it is odd just how little of the “classic” material they are now willing to play.

But with a new album that is good as it is, are we seeing a new era of the band? But will the fans follow, if it means losing even more of the old? Time will tell.

2 thoughts on “Into the Pit: 199: KMFDM – O2 Academy Islington, N1 – 09-September 2017

  1. Ah – it was Machine Rox. I got there just as they were leaving the stage. Had wondered if I would see you there.
    From where I was down near the front (and as a metal fan), I enjoyed Lord of the Lost more than I thought I would when they came on stage (not a corpsepaint-metal fan), but agree that they seemed an odd choice on an industrial bill. The rail was pretty much full of dedicated fans, though.
    I felt slightly sorry for Inertia, as their more EBM-esque style seemed a bit at odds with Ventenner’s punch and Lord of the Lost’s guitar metal. More ‘musical’, perhaps, but it didn’t seem to be what the crowd down the front were wanting (although I did hear some other people singing along to a couple of the tracks, so there were some other fans there).
    I realised just before KMFDM came on that I should really have picked up the album _before_ the gig, given that, as you note, they’re really one of those bands that tour the latest album. Still enjoyed it, though, and on the strength of some of those tracks, I’ll be getting the album soonish. And that closer of Drug Against War followed by the encore set … that was fun to get involved with. There were also definitely people singing along with ‘Virus’ where I was – but as there seemed to be quite a few people speaking German, including one with an Excessive Force t-shirt, and another with KMFDM tattooed down the side of her scalp, I suspect a certain dedicated fanbase was in attendance. I do agree about the non-guitar elements

Leave a Reply