Friday, December 17, 2010

KMFDM's "Angst" (1993)

Next stop on my tour of re-discovery is KMFDM's sixth album Angst. It was the early 90s and industrial music was just about to hit its mainstream stride with Nine Inch Nails opening up the floodgates for a slew of me-too imitators. Lest you think that KMFDM were part of this ride, they had at this point actually been chugging along for nearly ten years.

KMFDM were originally founded on leap day 1984 as an art performance outfit. Over the course of several albums the band morphed into an industrial music outfit, but an industrial still very much rooted in the 80s - meaning their songs contained little emotion and had more of a socio-political bent, with a lot of synthesized blips and bloops and very little guitar. While this stuff was OK for the time, I do particularly like several of the songs off of their previous album Money, it wasn't necessarily memorable.

Angst changed all that by, well, basically adding more guitar (in today's internet fueled world someone would say needz moar guitar!). Not only that, but with this album I contend that KMFDM perfected the formula they had been working on for the past decade. They added stronger political messages, stronger female vocals, nearly perfected their sloganeering, and really just reveled in tounge-in-cheek humor.

Many people's first question is "What does KMFDM stand for?" While you can find nearly endless speculation, anything from Kill Mother Fucking Depeche Mode to Keep Madonna From Doing Music, the real words are Kein Mitleid fuer die Mehrheit, or, No Pity for the Majority. While this sounds like a strong, nearly fascist, viewpoint, especially considering that the phrase is in German, KMFDM really walk a fine line between the political and outright humor, often jumping back and forth in the same song.

The other thing I really dig about KMFDM is that it's essentially a constantly shifting group of collaborators. At it's heart is Sascha Konietzko and, until recently, En Esch. While Sascha is sort of the heart of the band, there are countless other contributors, changing with each album, almost like some artists collective. They're like the Wu-Tang clan of industrial. Everybody's there, from members of former rival industrial groups to Italian female lounge singers. If you want to be in KMFDM it would seem that all you need to do is pretty much call up Sascha and ask.

The band also has a knack for formula and meme-inducing repetition. The most noticeable are the album covers. All of the band's album covers (except one) are done by the same artist, Brute, with a simple square cartoon featuring overly stylized people, with the bold KMFDM printed at the top and the five-letter album name at the bottom. Yes, KMFDM loves their five letter titles, something they carried through until only recently when I think Sascha just got tired of or ran out of remaining five-letter words.

The band also likes to mention their name a lot in songs, something some reviewers find annoying, though these reviewers are completely missing the humor. Another formulaic element of their albums include the aforementioned sloganeering, with particular lines from older songs being reused and re-chanted in later albums, to the point where a fan would almost be disappointed if an album didn't include somewhere the Jamaican voiced sample "Black man/white man/rip the system". It's like expecting to see Hogwarts in a Harry Potter movie.

I also enjoy how KMFDM utilizes female vocals, something I don't think I've ever heard any other industrial band do, or at least do effectively. I love the contrast between the industrial rhythms and the female voiced melodies.

Okay, so what about the music? Like I said, Angst relies heavily on guitars, so it can come across a little 'metal' at times (though no metalhead would probably ever consider the group metal). The album begins with the song Light (five letters!), a perfect example of everything I've been talking about so far. KMFDM self name check? Tounge-in-cheek humor? Female vocals? References to previous songs? En Esch saying mysterious sounding things in German? They're all there! The song is basically a pun on the idea that what you are getting is KMFDM lite (We keep simple/tough and outright/easy to swallow/KMFDM light!).

Arriving instantly on the heels of Light (remember what I said in my last post about album flow?) is A Drug Against War. One of the only two songs by KMFDM to ever get any airplay, A Drug Against War is an insanely fast paced shout-along. Listening to it you're bombarded with a barrage of sound clips dealing with war and violence, taken from god knows where (the best one is 'bomb the living bejeepers out of those forces').

Blood (evil mix) is a mid-tempo guitar grind that fans appreciate, but isn't terribly remarkable. And don't ask me why it's the evil mix because I have no idea.

Lust is a strange little number that's a slice of dancy-disco infused with German lyrics I've never quite understood, but it's kind of fun and funky.

Glory (five letters zomg!) is a great example of KMFDM's strong yet strangely ill-defined political leanings. It's a rant against fat-cat politicians, fair enough. But it's always hard to read KMFDM. Are they advocating collectivism, or are they Tea Party get-off-my-property individualists? I've never really been too sure.

The album moves along from there with the tracks Move On, No Peace (featuring an organ!), and A Hole in the Wall, all good songs if you're a fan of KMFDM, though I wouldn't recommend them as introductions to the band.

Near the end of the album we get KMFDM's ultimate self-referential and self-deprecating masterpiece, Sucks. Essentially a three and a half minute song covering all the reasons KMFDM sucks, it's not high brow or necessarily witty, but it's the perfect example of the band at their sarcastic finest. Sample lyrics:

"Our music is sampled, totally fake/it's done by machines 'cause they don't mistakes"

"We don't like Michael Jackson, we hate Depeche Mode/We don't care for Madonna or Kylie Minogue" (strange that nearly 20 years later those artists still have relevance)

"You might think we're stupid but we're way above it/We don't give a shit and the kids just love it!" (the 'kids just love it' part would go on to become another KMFDM slogan, most notably on the song Beast)

"KMFDM forward the ultimate sound with a message from Satan if you turn it around" followed by the sound of Satan leaving a nonchalant message on an answering machine (get it?). I just always got a kick out of this one.

So yeah, Sucks could be seen as KFMDM's love letter to the fans, a sort of 'thanks for sticking with us' ode to themselves. Or their just assholes looking for money. Whatever.

The final song on the album The Problem is perhaps the most interesting song on the album. I, and many of my fellow high school KMFDM listeners, thought it was the worst song on the album. Some still do. Increasingly I think the opposite. Sung by Dorona Alberti (who now is apparently a jazz lounge singer) the song is a definite departure from KMFDM's usual sound, and it's utterly amazing to think that it shares the same album with A Drug Against War. It's a poppy song about how a kid's problems aren't really his, but a problem with the system (so that makes KMFDM advocating collectivism, right?). I used to hate this song cause I thought it sounded like some sort of Mariah Carey pop song. Now I see it as a song where KMFDM get to show off a different side of themselves (or really Sascha does), and it acts as a nice cool down from the rest of what preceded it. Anyways, it's definitely worth taking a listen to.

Overall Angst is still my favorite KMFDM album. A total departure from the emotionally wrought albums of Nine Inch Nails, I listened to Angst a lot in college at a time when I was forming my political views. After college I turned to yet another acronym infused band (I do seem to have a thing for them) with VNV Nation, but that's not part of this re-discovery.

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