KMFDM - KUNST (4.5 out of 5)
KUNST, the latest studio album from KMFDM, one of industrial and electronic music's most lasting pioneers -- soon to enter their 30th year -- showcases the band with absolutely no signs of growing old, going soft, or slowing down. It's not the best album they've ever made, but with eighteen studio albums, four remix albums/EPs, ten compilation albums, two live albums, two collaboration albums, a video-game score soundtrack album, thirty-one singles, and almost one hundred remixes under their belt... who cares! KUNST is a very strong album, all things considered, and possibly their strongest album as a whole since 2005's Hau Ruck (or, at the very least, 2007's Tohuvabohu). KMFDM is, in its current incarnation: Sascha Konietzko, Lucia Cifarelli, Jules Hodgson, Andy Selway, and Steve White.
The album's opener, the title track "Kunst" (the German word for "art"), is a great KMFDM for-the-fans song, taking its cue from 1996's "Inane" by consisting of lyrics comprised almost entirely of popular lines/titles from past songs of their extensive discography, laid over their patented ultra-heavy-beat (in Layman's terms: a fusion of an electronic beat mixed with live drums, synths, electronic bass mixed with live bass, and heavy guitar riffs... all with a certain KMFDM flair). KMFDM is one of the few bands out there that rocks as hard as any of their peers while still maintaining a beat that's highly infectious and danceable. "Kunst" is one of those songs that people unfamiliar with KMFDM sort of smirk at because they don't understand the name-dropping, self-aware humor (that's as big a part of their history as their musical style), and those that do simply rock out while grinning ear-to-ear. It may be a bit silly, but it's supposed to be, and besides... it kicks ass. ("Kunst" - 4/5)
This is followed by "Ave Maria," not a version of the famous Bach composition, but taken more literally as just "Hail Mary." It's a calmer and stream-lined, but no less intense, synth-driven track and one of the album's best. It's a great song, with an interesting melody, good lyrics (Lucia's vocals sound especially haunting at times), that still manages to rock (has some great guitars) and pulse and groove while upping the atmosphere and mood. ("Ave Maria" - 5/5)
The next few tracks: "Quake" (a fast-paced-and-heavy-as-hell industrial rocker), "Hello" (alternating between being the fastest, heaviest song on the album and being the slowest and calmest), and "Next Big Thing" (another electro-rocker, but, while the lyrics are good, it's definitely the weakest song on the album). ("Quake" - 4/5, "Hello" - 3/5, "Next Big Thing" - 3/5)
The second half of the album kicks off with the song "Pussy Riot," a song standing up for the infamous protest group of the same name, whose public protest against the corruption of the Russian government landed two of the members several years in forced-labor prison camps. It's a great protest song, full of the power, passion and strength of women not afraid to take a stand. The use of specific lines from 1995's "Disobedience" (one of my favorite KMFDM songs) were a welcome surprise, and it's amazing how great they fit into this new context. This is a stand-out track for the band, and another of the album's best. ("Pussy Riot" - 5/5)
"Pseudocide" features the best title of any song on the album, and it's a great straight-up rocker, with a different sort of beat than the rest of the rockin' songs to set it apart. It's got a catchy chorus and the lyrics are pretty good, but it's not as strong as it could be. Still good, just could be better. ("Pseudocide" - 3/5)
"Animal Out" is awesome, however, and probably has the best groove of the album. With a cool thumping electronic bassline and a great nod-your-head beat, some kickass riffs, and it all combines to make you want to get up and move. A fun, sexy, KMFDM club-hit in the making, somewhere between the fun of "Strut" and the coolness of "Professional Killer," and hands-down the song that's the most fun to simply listen to and enjoy on the album. ("Animal Out" - 5/5)
"The Mess You Made" begins with quiet and clean electric guitars over clips speaking about violence and crime, yet when it kicks into high-gear it immediately turns into fast-paced pounding beats (that keep getting louder), rockin' guitars, pulsing synths, all of the ingredients that make for a classic KMFDM song. It's got a great idea behind it, an interesting flow to the lyrics (guest vocalist William Wilson, of Legion Within and Morlocks, sort of sounds like Ministry's Al Jourgensen at times, and then there's some weird, slightly high-pitched vocals from Sascha). It reaches a point along the way where it almost overflows with too much of everything... but doesn't tip over. That chaos alone elevates the song into a favorite on the album, with its "Holy shit, this is sort of crazy!" vibe. A stand-out, balls-out KMFDM track destined to become a classic of their modern era. ("The Mess You Made" - 5/5)
Ending the album is "I Heart Not," a companion to a song released on last year's "Amnesia" single ("I Heart You"). It's got a cool beat reminiscent of something out of KMFDM's yesteryear (reminds me of some of the songs on 1989's UAIOE at times), with a neat slide-guitar riff here and there, a dark and catchy synth melody, and some fun, yet sinister, lyrics. ("I Heart Not" - 4/5)
Overall the album is great, and even at its weakest point in the middle it's still pretty decent. There's not a song on here that I absolutely loathe (as much as I love KMFDM, it happens... with as much experimentation that they do it's a given that at some point they're gonna try something that doesn't sit right with me, but when a band has around 350 songs they're allowed a few duds), and only a few that I see myself skipping after a few listens. Out of ten new songs, I have six songs that I'll now listen to as a part of my regular KMFDM rotation, and the rest I'll come back to now and then. In today's music climate, that's great.
The album art, it should be noted, was created by go-to KMFDM album designer BRUTE! as a symbol for the whole Pussy Riot situation (whose protest was taken slightly out of context because it happened at a church). I imagine the album art itself will be taken out of context by some, but such is the way of these things. Art, in so many ways, is meant to stir things up, poke and prod things that are usually considered off limits, and should make one wonder "Why did the artist do THAT?!" So, if it's taken out of context, just like the group of women that it was created in support of, then that's fine. At least people are talking about it.
And taking all of this into account, I feel that the album's title KUNST, meaning "art" but also having similarities in its English pronunciation to the word "cunts" and all that it brings to mind, is quite possibly one of their best titles. The album as a whole represents one of their best efforts to both make a fun, entertaining album while still throwing a little political message in your face (not a lot, it's no WWIII, but just enough to get a few conversations started). KMFDM is fun, and funny, but has and always will be one of those bands that makes it a point to point out injustices in the world. The band, which began in Hamburg, Germany in 1984, five years before the fall of the Berlin Wall and all that it represented, has always, musically and lyrically, fought against political injustice and tyrannical uses of power by those in power, and more than anything, fought for the right of the people to rally against these things by standing ground and standing up.
KMFDM is still alive, still ripping the system, still doin' what they do best, by providing solid ultra-heavy-beat entertainment for the masses, while giving a little food-for-thought to those who want it. Here's to hoping that there's plenty more to come as they begin their third decade in music.
KUNST is now available for purchase.
Please be aware that KMFDM is not a "music-industry band," and they record and produce their own albums and release them on KMFDM Records, through a distribution partnership with indie-music label Metropolis Records. The revenue that comes from album sales goes directly to them, and the only people that get anything else, really, are Metropolis Records, who help them get their albums in stores and with touring and such. Basically, by downloading this album for free, you ARE actually hurting people that need this money to pay their rent, eat, support their families, etc. as well as pay for domestic and international tours, pay for equipment, and pay to record future albums. Please, even if you normally download music for free, at least help support the artists that are not a part of the mainstream music-industry, the ones that need and deserve it. Thank you.