In the 1990s, during the first commercial peak of the industrial scene, KMFDM received favourable reviews in the UK press and amassed a cult fan base, but somehow the German/US outfit always ended up playing second fiddle to Nine Inch Nails and Ministry in terms of general popularity and also for press column inches filled. In 1999, after fifteen years in various amalgamations and having ended their ten album contract with Wax Trax! Records, the band bid the world farewell…at least for a while. Following a three year hiatus, the band returned, and despite various shifting line-ups since then (including Pig’s Raymond Watts and RevCo/Pigface’s Bill Reiflin) KMFDM continued to churn out more electronic goodness over the following decade.
Based on the sound of this eighteenth album from the now veteran band, KMFDM deserve to be placed on a similarly high pedestal to Rammstein. Not only are their arrangements more accessible throughout, but the inclusion of mostly English lyrics really ought to make them more universal in appeal than any similar works by their arguably more popular German counterparts. Putting it simply, for the most part, ‘Kunst’ is a monster: more danceable than Rammstein, far superior than the predictable (semi-atonal) grooves churned out by post-‘Filth Pig’ Ministry, it has everything you’d ever want from a disc from the more commercial end of the industrial music scale.
Adding a political slant to the album ‘Pussy Riot’ samples news reports regarding the imprisoned Russian musical protestors over a scratchy loop interspersed with bottom end electronic sounds. In a simple lyrical approach, the hook of “we are what we are/we are what we believe” presents an easily digestible message of strength. ‘Animal Out’ is a similarly accessible tune; meaty beats and drones set a mid paced rhythm over which looped and sampled vocals add extra atmosphere. As the main verse cuts in, we are presented an even combination of clean and heavily treated vocal styles, simple repetition proving to be the perfect companion to the hefty grooves. The guitar sound here is the album’s best, the short bursts of riffing akin to a Slayer sample cutting through the electronics with maximum impact.
Elsewhere, ‘Ave Maria’ finds Lucia Cifarelli tapping into a slightly breathy vocal while band leader Sascha Konietzko offers a darker counter voice heavily treated with filters. Konietzko adds a much needed sinister edge, his growling voice churns out lyrical phrases in both English and Latin. The bouncy four/four beats combined with some very retro sounding synths all add up to make a tune that sounds like it could have been the soundtrack to your Friday night out, just before KoRn came and changed the alternative musical landscape. With Sascha taking the lion’s share of the lead and the mechanics intensifying to a near pneumatic level, ‘Quake’ recalls touches of classic Ministry without sacrificing any of KMFDM’s own style, resulting in a hard-edged, crusty, near threatening workout that’s just not to be missed. On the flipside, fans of electronic pop/darkwave should get a kick from ‘Hello’, a tune which combines slightly quieter haunting verses with some of the album’s most aggressive guitar work. During those verses, Lucia’s sultry vocal sounds superb; like on ‘Never Say Never’ from 2009’s ‘Blitz’, she occasionally sounds as if she’s channelling Shirley Manson’s evil twin (it may be sacrilege to mention such a commercial band as Garbage within a KMFDM review, but even so, it’s a reasonable reference point). The guitar riffs are cranked to eleven, which combined with the mechanical qualities end up sounding like a combination of Sepultura and a White Zombie remix.
This selection of mechanical gems ends with ‘I Heart Not’ – a slow and pounding electronic heartbeat topped by scratching, hushed vocals. The slower pace is perhaps more of the ‘Pretty Hate Machine’-era Nine Inch Nails style (a la Depeche Mode in a strop) and as such isn’t quite as interesting on repeat listens (certainly not in the same league as most of ‘Kunst’s more intense offerings), but it makes for a reasonable winding down piece. Even this weaker of tunes shows KMFDM to be far better – that is to say far more solid – in their overall approach to sound construction than some of their peers.
These ten tunes may often seem similar in their intensity, but that works wholly in KMFDM’s favour. While the same elements have been at the band’s core sound for decades, even though there’s a sense of playing things fairly safe, at least from a danceability perspective, there’s no sense of anything feeling stale. More interesting than parts of 2011’s ‘WTF?!!’,‘Kunst’ is an album that deserves a favourable response from fans while also acting as a suitable entry point for first time listeners into the band’s huge back-cat.