The one and only KMFDM set the standard for beat-driven industrial rock way before people even knew what to call it. I've been grooving to their "ultra-heavy beat" since I was a kid, and it's a testament to their relentless creative energy and loyal fanbase that they're still busy busting those beats today. But when you get right down to it, none of that stamina would matter if they didn't rock your pants off... and that's something they've never forgotten. With that said, I gotta admit their previous full-length release BLITZ was a bit underwhelming, especially in the wake of their electro-metal masterpiece Tohuvabohu. But now they're back with their latest release WTF?! and we're gonna find out if they've managed to capture lightning in a bottle once again. Read on and find out WTF's up with this one...
More than a quarter-century into their mission, founder Sascha "Kapt'n K" Konietzko is still manning the KMFDM bridge, the sole original member of an ever-changing crew. The lineup has remained pretty stable for most of the past decade, and together they've created a signature sound with roots in the band's classic era on the Wax Trax! label, while adopting a more traditional band structure. It includes the lovely Lucia Cifarelli on vocals, Jules Hodgson & Steve White on guitars, and Andy Selway behind the drumkit.
For WTF?!, the Kapt'n has also invited several guests aboard, including Free Dominguez from recently-reunited industrial unit Kidneythieves Koichi Fukuda of Static-X, Legion Within's William Wilson, and Sebastian Komor of Komor Kommando. Former KMFDM drummer Bill Reiflin – a huge name in industrial history himself – also stepped in with his own contributions. Their combined forces have created a very strong entry in the band's long history, and while they don't break new creative ground (and even stray into power-pop territory a few times), they still secure their dominance over the industrial-metal dance domain.
Opening track "Krank" is the album's first single, and it's easy to tell why it landed on the Billboard chart the day of its premiere: it's a high-octane cocktail of all the ingredients that blow the doors off any room these cats play. Most of their albums contain a fist-pumping anthem, written like a manifesto and performed like a call to revolution, and this is no exception. You'll know what I mean when you check out the clip below, the first official video the band's released in 14 years (there's a few F-bombs in here, just in case you're playing it at work).
The energy level stays high, but the tone gets much darker for "Come On – Go Off," which comes in with an ominous clubby buzz and shifts into high when Fukuda's speedy riffs join the party... but it pales next to the searing attack of the following track, "Rebels in Kontrol." Of all the band's many politically-charged cuts, this is one of the most incendiary, since it was written in support of Wikileaks editor Julian Assange, probably one of the most polarizing media figures of the decade (if you haven't been paying attention to the news, Google him and catch up). The band's never been afraid to take a stand, and this one's no different: coarse, slamming beats, chunky riffs and a mighty rallying cry from Lucia make it a top-notch entry.
The massive "Lynchmob" drops a synth-bass bomb and never lets up, evolving into one the album's most commanding cuts, alternating between clean and heavy guitars, with deep and powerful vocals from Sascha. "Take it Like a Man" is basically a sequel to the disco oddity "Strut" from BLITZ, but the driving guitar and the vocal blend of Lucia and Free gives it a smoother, sexier sound. The supreme "Vive La Mort!" is an up-tempo blizzard of aggression, synching complex synth patterns and matching riffs, with Sascha's best vocals on the record, and "Dystopia" manages to be both eerie and sensual, driven by Lucia's outstanding performance – definitely among her best work.
The slinky, glitchy "Panzerfaust" continues the band's tradition of multi-lingual lyrics, and despite the German title, this is actually their first song written in Italian. (It's also a remake of their classic track "Liebeslied," which caught hell for sampling Carl Orff's bombastic "O Fortuna.") "Spectre" features guest vocals by Wilson, whose deep and sinister rhymes convey menace in the mode of KMFDM alumnus Raymond "Pig" Watts, and samples of sharpening knives add to the effect. "Amnesia" starts as a moodier piece, with Lucia providing a smooth lead, but it quickly kicks into a tension-filled club buster. The band closes the album on a nightmarish note with the horror-themed industrial noise track "Death & Burial Of C.R.", which is probably the scariest piece of music they've ever created; needless to say, it's a perfect wrap-up.
Overall, WTF?! may not be the heaviest, fastest or most experimental album in KMFDM's massive body of work, but it's still rock-solid, sporting some outstanding melodies and rhythms, and many memorable moments – particularly "Rebels in Kontrol," "Lynchmob" and the final track – which together make it well worth checking out. If you're new to the band, it's a good overview of their latter-day material, and long-time fans will get tons more of what they love.