Review by Gregory S. Burkart
You lucky buggers get a super two-fer today... although KMFDM's incredible Tohuvabohu was released a few months before I started covering music on this site, I lamented the missed opportunity at scooping a release of this significance from these titans of the so-called Industrial music genre (and one of the few bands truly deserving of that classification). Fortunately, I had the chance to revisit the group's 16th full-length, thanks to the upcoming arrival of Brimborium, the Tohuvabohu remix album. Given this golden opportunity, I'm obliged to provide a little historical context for a band whose decals once adorned so many of my school notebooks and car windows.
Founded in ?84 by Sascha ?Cap'n K? Konietsko, with an ever-revolving lineup including early members Raymond ?Pig? Watts and Klaus ?En Esch? Schandelmaier, the band placed their mighty boot-stamp on Europe's underground club scene with their debut album What Do You Know, Deutschland? Their meteoric rise in what was often labeled ?Industrial? music in the US (a hotly debated categorization, even today) was heralded by a signature sound, constructed from lightning-paced dance beats, heavy metal riffs and Sascha's politically-loaded, sardonic anthems, often delivered with harsh distortion FX and supported by disco-flavored backing vocals from the likes of Dorona Alberti. Their albums also sported a distinct look, thanks to the now-legendary promotional designs by UK pop artist Aidan ?Brute!? Hughes.
Once a flagship band for Chicago's Wax Trax! Label (later acquired by TVT), KMFDM was guided by Konietsko though many ups and downs, and even broke up briefly in 1999 after the album Adios. The one-off MDFMK followed, courtesy of Sascha, former Drill vocalist Lucia Cifarelli and Shotgun Messiah's Tim Skold, and the band finally reformed in 2002 on the Metropolis label, rejoined by Watts and Alberti, along with Minstry's Bill Rieflin. Two more albums and tours followed, as well as some additional re-shuffling of their lineup, a brief switch to another label, then back again. Thereafter Metropolis began to re-release the band's back catalog, thus introducing their music to a whole new generation. Their newfound popularity pushed them in new creative directions with Metropolis, and resulted in Tohuvabohu, the title of which is an Old Testament reference describing the pre-creation state of total chaos... an ironic name indeed for the band's most creatively focused and powerful work in many years.
Noteworthy for an ongoing interaction with their fanbase, KMFDM set up a voice-mail line and asked their fans to record what the band means to them, with the intent of sampling the best bits from these messages into a new song. The end result of this experiment is the opening track ?Superpower,? which continues the band's tradition of humorously trumpeting their brand throughout their work. Following this introduction is a mixed palette of musical styles and genres, through which the group has greatly expanded their horizons, particularly where vocals are concerned.
Most notably, Lucia steps away from the brash, punk attitude she often employs (?Headcase? is a good example of this style) and reveals an impressive, chill-inducing melodic range in the deep electro-grind ?I Am What I Am? and femme-metal epic ?Fait Accompli.? Sascha makes his vocal mark also, sounding all ?gother-than-thou? on the title track and unleashing a metalstorm for the hard-hitting ?Saft Und Kraft,? which could be described as a melding of Killing Joke and Rammstein.
Instrumentation leans heavily toward a heavy guitar-based sound, with electronics only regaining prominence in industrial anthems like ?Spit Or Swallow? and ?Looking For Strange? ? one of the few tracks which retains similarities to the preceding albums. The capper is the epic, orchestra-enhanced ?Bumaye,? which showcases the larger scale of production being employed on this album ? a welcome change which I hope they explore even further in the future.
The next step, though smaller in scope, is an always-welcome bag of treats for their fans in the form of a remix album. KMFDM is known for collaborating with artists across the musical spectrum on remixes or alternate versions of songs from many genres, so it?s safe to assume that any official remix compilation is going to be at least interesting ? and Brimborium is no exception.
Focusing almost exclusively on high-profile tracks from Tohuvabohu (except for ?You?re No Good? from previous album Hau Ruck), this new take mostly eschews indulgent, overlong dance mixes filled with chopped-up vocals in favor of a more straightforward approach (despite of the album?s ironic title, which roughly translates as ?without meaning or value?). Remixers include Sascha K, current guitarists Jules Hodgson and Steve White, and several prominent guests including scene stalwarts Die Krupps, DJ? Acucrack and Combichrist.
?Tohuvabohu? and ?Looking For Strange? get two strong remixes apiece, the latter showcasing the talents of rising artist Velox Music, and electro-punkers 16 Volt juice up the politically-charged ?Not In My Name? with a lush vocal mix and a ground-pounding bassline. Hodgson?s reworking of ?Headcase? is actually more interesting than the original, which adhered to a more ?traditional? KMFDM style; Angelspit raises the roof for an ornery, tight-beat version of ?Headcase? and Cap?n K gets his freak on for an ?80s funk spin on ?Superpower.? For my buck, however, the standout is Steve White?s semi-acoustic reworking of ?I Am What I Am,? which has an intimacy that actually makes the song more powerful, revealing the intense beauty of Lucia?s singing.
As a bonus feature, the band dedicates the final track, ?What We Do For You,? to a ten-minute list of the best fan voice messages (a few of which made it into the original ?Superpower?) which not only reiterates the close relationship the band has with their fans, but is also pretty damn funny.
So I?ve probably made my enthusiasm for these releases clear enough, but to borrow a phrase from the band, what will they do for you? Well, if you?re one of the core KMFDM brethren (?The Horde,? as the band dubs them), it?s a foregone conclusion you?re going to gobble them up like Mom?s chocolate-chip cookies. Those with a preconceived notion of what Industrial is supposed to sound like are probably going to be disappointed, but this group has never cared much about doing what?s expected of them. If you?re more inclined toward ?80s-era aggro-tech and never really got onboard with the heavy guitars of their latter-day period, there?s still a lot of electronic goodness to indulge your rivet-head sensibilities, especially in Brimborium.
Me, I confess I?ve enjoyed a certain comfy ?sameness? from KMFDM, but I was glad to have that complacency shaken a bit with some bold new moves on their part, and I?m reminded that when these guys decide to explore new turf, they don?t just sneak over the fence ? they come crashing through it with a tank. Say what you want, you?ve still got to respect that.
But don?t take my word for it ? you can preview several Brimborium tracks on the band?s Myspace page before the album streets on February 19.