After a quarter-century of rocking the “Ultra-Heavy Beat,” industrial-metal pioneers KMFDM show no sign whatsoever of running out of steam. With barely a breath after spinning out the album-length collaboration with former member Tim Skold (appropriately titled Skold vs. KMFDM), the band rolls out their 17th CD release BLITZ on Tuesday. If you know me like I do (although you probably don’t want to know me that well), you’re aware I luvs me some KMFDM, so each new release is like a little holiday… and like any special occasion, it holds some delights and some disappointments. So does BLITZ keep the fires of hot industrial love stoked in the rusted valves of this writer’s cynical old heart? Jump on and find out!
Despite returning to the long-standing tradition of five-letter album titles (after stepping away from the formula for releases TOHUVABOHU and companion remix album BRIMBORIUM), the band is taking a noticeable step away from the familiar core element of chugging guitars interwoven with big-bass beats which they fully embraced shortly after rising out of their own ashes with 2002's ATTAK. But any artist who stakes a claim in their genre knows that the “rules” of that particular game are not carved in stone… and the smartest of them know those rules are made to be broken. Founder Sascha “Kapt’n K” Konietzko understands completely, and always manages to push the band in new directions while keeping one steel-toed boot firmly on the sturdy framework that is the KMFDM signature sound – and one eye on the club-shaking tracks that distinguished them in their Wax Trax days of yore.
This time around, the groove-metal component – which on the past few albums had been moving closer and closer to the rhythmic forefront – takes a back seat to European-style club electronics, calling to mind some of the band’s earlier successes and reminding listeners that Sascha and company discovered and refined beats like these years before many of today’s electronic artists had even heard of a Roland TR-808. If you have any doubts, pick up their recent singles compilation EXTRA and you’ll learn how long ago they had this genre nailed down tight.
That said, the heavy emphasis on club beats and mirror-ball textures rather than Hodgson & White's chugging metal riffs often left me feeling like some of the essential layers of aggression and intensity had been stripped away. The core sound is still heavy, with all the wall-shaking bass and a tight rhythmic punch you'd expect, but overall the material seems a tad light. The lyrics are well-written and searing as ever – served up with Konietzko's distinctive filtered rumble and lovely Lucia Cifarelli's sneeringly sexy croon – but without the fist-pumping force to back them up, they often fall short of their usual impact.
The album starts out strong with the stripped-down aggro anthem “Up Uranus” (listed only as the astronomical symbol for Uranus on the CD), which features Sascha leading the charge. Other powerful tracks include “Davai,” in which the Kapt’n chants Russian lyrics over a stabbing synth bass & looped guitar line that hearkens back to the Naïve era, and the lurching mid-tempo “Potz Blitz!” which goes for dark menace in a style similar to “Hau Ruck,” all down-tuned riffs and swirling low German lyrics that collectively lend the song a Rammstein touch. The sleazy rebel cry of “Me & My Gun” is another callback to the down-and-dirty style of Angst, and would have fit well along hard-dance manifestos like “A Drug Against War.”
On the downside, “Bait & Switch” unleashes that buzzing super-saw Euro beat you've heard a thousand times before. Lyrically, it’s classic KMFDM – a deceptively gentle-sounding reproach (well-voiced by Lucia) against religious hypocrisy – but musically it’s nothing special. Another oddball choice is “Strut,” a bizarre amalgam of ‘70s and ‘80s dance motifs that sounds like it might have come from the soundtrack to Fulci’s Murderock… well, maybe not that bizarre, but goofy nonetheless.
There are some interesting slower-tempo cuts here, which represent an interesting new direction: the low-fi, new-wave march “People of the Lie” is a treatise against arrogant ideologues (one of the band’s perennial foes) which features some of Lucia’s best work; it takes real talent to come off so sexy while delivering a lyric like “Reality is bullshit/Reflection is a concept/Based on your own f**ked-up ideal.” It’s a very compelling track, despite a certain lack of resolution.
Another clever down-tempo entry is “Bitches” – a cynical, self-deprecating anti-anthem (essentially the reverse of their popular club chant “KMFDM sucks!”) in which Sascha jokingly dismiss the past 25 years of fan loyalty as a ploy to bilk suckers for easy cash: “All these years, all this time/We have been messing with your mind… We’re only in it for the money.” I love it when the Kapt'n messes with the whole idea of the band’s fame and popularity, but this one may be a bit too instrumentally bland to sell the sarcasm.
In another unique turn, the band takes on Human League for an aggressively quirky cover of classic “Being Boiled,” complete with ‘80s-style synth horns and stabs… a bit cheesy, but fun, and the song’s anti-oppression theme fits well into the KMFDM paradigm.
I have to admit that BLITZ represents a creative move that might put off those who have grown attached to KMFDM's brash, epic guitar-driven sounds, but it's worth noting that when I first encountered this band they were just beginning to bridge the gap between experimental dance music and industrial rock (before a lot of people had even heard that term applied to music), and there’s a lot of those crossover elements at work here. I don’t think they’re really grasping at old glories, but there’s a certain retrospective feel to these cuts that could be off-putting to the latest generation of rivet-heads. Personally, I don't mind this... after all, I still say these guys do it better than any dozen other electronic dance acts on the scene right now, and that's one thing I hope will never change.