During 2014, KMFDM turned thirty years old. One of the great survivors of industrial music, their often guitar-heavy take on industrial certainly gained them a wider audience than perhaps they would have otherwise have reached, but frankly, their ear for a tune and monstrous choruses probably helped too. Saying that, though, they have their fair share of detractors, too, particularly over their habit of rarely straying too far from their formula. But then, if it ain’t broke…
/Thirty Years of The Ultra-Heavy Beat
So, in a belated celebration of their thirtieth birthday, here are ten pivotal, essential KMFDM tracks. Including compilations, remixes and reissues, my own KMFDM collection stretches to no less than 429 songs over thirty-three hours, forty-one minutes and forty-two seconds (and digitally, over 3.5GB, while 19 of the releases are on CD). That’s more than any other band I own music recorded by, remarkably, by some distance – my Nine Inch Nails, Front Line Assembly, Front 242 and Swans collections are all at least seven hours shorter – but then KMFDM has always been prolific.
Needless to say, with such a body of work, some perhaps obvious songs are missing, and others will have preferred to see other songs featured. But for me, these are the songs that show KMFDM in the greatest light, the club hits, the re-discovered gems, the comebacks, and cover most of the line-ups, too. Feel free to tell me why I’m wrong in the comments.
I’m going to skip over the first few albums – it took the band a few albums to develop their signature sound, and frankly, before UAIOE they suffered from poor production too. And while that album has some great songs (More and Faster is the first song by the band with the signature self-referential, fourth-wall-breaking attitude that became a sonic signature), they aren’t enough to merit a place in the list. So let’s move forward to Naïve.
(Almost all of KMFDM’s album covers of the years were designed by one man – Aidan Hughes, better known as BRUTE!. Needless to say, almost all of the images featured below are his work)
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
Unless you have the original or have hunted the internet for it, you may never have heard the magisterial original version of this track. The unauthorised use of samples of O Fortuna (by Carl Orff, of course, whose estate have been especially litigious overuse of his work since his death) meaning that Naïve was pulled, original copies recalled where possible and it went out of print for years, until replaced by Naïve/Hell To Go, which removed the offending samples. Like Apoptygma Berzerk’s Love Never Dies Pt. 1 (which made use of the same samples), the re-recorded version simply doesn’t have the amazing punch of the original for the chorus, which is of course ignited by O Fortuna.
Interestingly, the title translates as ‘Lovesong’, and when translated the lyrics are ‘interesting’ to say the least – the use of a harsh German language vocal gives the track a very different feel, perhaps, to if it had been sung in English!
Time has not been especially kind to Money, and perhaps with good reason. It was only half an album in the first place, with En Esch’s half of the album rejected by WaxTrax! and replaced with remixes and other odds and ends, but even so, it did have its moments. Those moments do admittedly mainly come from the first two songs – the cliché and sample-ridden title track, and then Vogue, which needless to say has nothing to do with the Madonna song that preceded it by a year or two!
It is, though, a kick-ass dancefloor anthem that is all about sex – something that KMFDM has never exactly been that keen to sing about, at least in recent years. But the KMFDM of the early nineties is a very different beast to the present-day incarnation…
There probably exist more remixes of this track than any other in the band’s extensive back-catalogue. I own at least ten, and know of at least fifteen in total – but I’ve never been quite sure why this track was more of an attractive target for remixers than others. Either way, it’s a cracking, bulldozing track that makes good use of Dorona Alberti’s vocals to add light and shade to the by-now-familiar KMFDM industrial rock sound. And of those remixes, the Fat Back Dub remix by Trent Reznor is the pick of the bunch for me, with the verses dialled down a bit to allow that monster of a chorus to absolutely slam back in. Also, I suspect I’m cursed in seeing this live – despite it being a regular part of the live set in recent years, each time I’ve seen them live in London of late it has been cut from the set!
/Juke Joint Jezebel
Remarkably, this dancefloor industrial anthem turns twenty itself this year. Also, it comes from what I still maintain is the band’s greatest album – all killer, absolutely no filler (I could easily have featured Ultra, Brute or Flesh in this list too, aside from the fact I kept it to one song per album) from start to finish. The band at the time had the core of Sascha K., En Esch and Raymond Watts, with Günter Schulz and Mark Durante rounding out the main five-piece – but at least six more people are credited across the album too.
There is no issue of too many cooks, though, here. Particularly on this track, where a thunderous rhythm and synth hook underpins what can only be described as a gospel industrial anthem. Raymond Watts delivers the snarling, dark verses, before Jennifer Ginsberg (while Watts growls away in the background) provide the soaring, gospel chorus that provides one of the few truly hands-in-the-air, euphoric moments in industrial music. Not to mention the outro, where the chorus explodes into a close-out of extraordinary quasi-religious fervour.
It was also one of the few resolutely industrial songs to break the mainstream, too. Thanks to its appearance on two major soundtracks (Bad Boys and Mortal Kombat), both of which sold a million or more, not to mention countless remixes, it also remains easily the most recognisable KMFDM song, and as long as it remains in DJ setlists, it will likely remain so.
There was a discussion on a friend’s Facebook recently about this album, and it generally seemed that there is a negative view of this album nowadays, with the odd exception. I’ve always thought that XTORT got a bad rap, myself, it seems to me that the main problem with it is that it had the misfortune to be following NIHIL, so no matter what the band did it was unlikely to measure up. While Power opens the album with a punch, it is really an attempt to do another Juke Joint Jezebel (and isn’t as good, or as catchy), so let’s look elsewhere on the album. I’m going to miss out Son of A Gun, too (see WWIII), and indeed the KMFDM-by-numbers, self-deprecating sloganeering of Inane. But despite the shortcomings of the album in parts, it sold well beyond 200,000 copies – which is an insane number for a band of KMFDM’s style.
Anyway, onto the song – unlike some, it seems, I rather like Dogma. A slow-paced, near hip-hop rhythm allows (band publicist at the time, and actually better known as a poet, the lyrics for this come from one of her works) Nicole Blackman to unleash her torrent of fury at the disposable nature of the modern world – and indeed is years ahead of its time in the comments on celebrity culture, in particular (this was a few years before Big Brother and many years before toss like Jersey Shore). Whether you agree with the politics and commentating on the world or not, this is an intriguing musical diversion – effectively performance poetry to industrial rhythms – that often seems a little forgotten amid the multitude of releases the band have put out since.
It is fairly rare for the band to tone down their guitars a bit, but once in a while they do, and the results here were frankly amazing. The pulsing electronics are the star of the show here, a swirling industrial-tinged techno beat that relentlessly pushes forward (and was the ideal base for a ton of remixes, too) with guitars relegated to providing the rippling texture at key moments. A towering track that was worth purchasing this album for alone.
The last album from the first phase of the band’s career – they effectively disbanded for a couple of years after this, before Sascha K. rebuilt the band with new members (and less of a revolving band-member policy – the band has broadly kept the same lineup since 2002) – was not a great one, really, aside from this astonishing track that gained a new lease of life in recent years, opening the Greatest Shit/Wurst compilations, and also opening the sets on that tour, too.
The album had something of an inauspicious start, too, being coincidentally released on the same day as the Columbine School Massacre (which the perpetrators of claimed they were big fans of KMFDM, something the band made a point of distancing themselves from), and it resulted in a fair amount of unwanted attention to the band.
For those who may have stumbled across the band through this album, though, D.I.Y. is the only track that might have kept their attention. More stomping industrial sloganeering – introduced by a stirring brass intro! – but the track really kicks off when the chorus finally arrives, three minutes and more in – a huge, gang-led chant of the title complete with string samples and ripping guitars, and once again, this is another track best heard live.
The rejuvenated KMFDM hit their stride again with the title track from WWIII, a viciously political track absolutely riven with fury at the state of the post-9/11 world. It opens quietly with duelling banjos, soon giving way to a rampaging christ-only-knows-how-fast BPM industrial thrash (not unlike a previous classic by the band, actually – A Drug Against War from Angst). And just in case you didn’t know who this anger was aimed at, samples of George W. Bush justifying his actions appear in a breakdown. Oh yes, like a few peers (Ministry in particular), the calamitous W. Bush administration actions inspired their best, most engaging work in some time.
Such political anger continued into later albums, too (New American Century on this album, for a start). But for what I view as their best album since the Millenium (even now in 2015), it could only be the title track that I feature here. This track is a slow burn, one that gradually creeps into life, before ripping into a chugging, powerful chorus – and absolutely slays live, too, remaining the one song from this album that has been a permanent feature of their live set since.
Two other things: this track was the first sung in Sascha’s native German in a good many years, and this album is notable for breaking the band’s longstanding habit of having five-letter album titles, which stretched back to UAIOE in 1989!
Since Hau Ruck, though, KMFDM seem to have settled in a number of ways. Firstly, they have their first stable line-up in a long time, if ever, and musically each album broadly follows a now-standard pattern, with the self-referential track upfront, some fast tracks, some slow tracks, and a split of vocals between Sascha and Lucia. That doesn’t mean all their songs are boring and predictable, though – and the first taster of WTF?! had jaws on the floor. A monstrous industrial-metal track, with the band’s best hooks in years, and otherwise featuring all the best elements of the KMFDM ultra-heavy beat, somehow lifting above cliche despite this.
/Make Your Stand
/Our Time Will Come
I said ten, right? Actually, to bring things up to date here’s an eleventh. I have to confess that I wasn’t all that enamoured with the latest KMFDM album, that seemed to almost creep out last autumn. But there was something of particular note to close out the album – the best KMFDM track in a few years. Sometime recent KMFDM collaborator William Wilson (from Legion Within) takes the mic and delivers a forceful, authoritative vocal of personal revolution, backed with a classic KMFDM rhythm, but with better and more varied synth programming, and squalling guitars that nod back to the band’s glory days. But crucially, this song suggests that the band still have that spark. Album number twenty is next – where will they take it from here?
More and Faster, I say.