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Angry industrial rocker spews bile, noise, and venom, blah blah blah... what else is new? Suffering fools with conspicuous ingratitude, KMFDM bassist/vocalist/bandleader Sascha Konietzko seethes with resentment and rage from the beginning bombast of "WWIII," the title track of the band's newest album. It isn't hard to discern the target of Konietzko's wrath either. "WWIII" abducts the voice of our bellicose president and sticks it in front of the kind of caustic machine-gun riffage the Chicago Industrial Complex is famous for -- a 140-bpm assault spearheaded by advancing columns of chainsaw guitars.
Konietzko begins WWIII by screaming, "I declare war on the world, war in outer space/I declare war in a nutshell, war all over the place!/War on Big Brother, warmongers and profiteers/War on your dogma, Dubya, Armageddon's engineers!"
As a German citizen, Konietzko cannot help displace the Bush administration via democratic means. The outspoken beer- and Scotch-lover now lives in Seattle but returns dutifully every Christmas to the old country so he can visit his mom and listen to classical music by candlelight. "I'm probably one of the biggest Mozart fans ever," he insists. From that vantage point, he's observed that Germany's reaction to U.S. policies has been consternation.
"As far as they can be generalized, Germans are -- contrary to the opinion spread here by things like Fox and MSNBC -- there's not a resurgence of anti-Americanism in Germany and France," Konietzko says. "But as a matter of fact, people do seem to think Bush is the greatest danger to peace and stability in the world at this point. People there are educated enough to differentiate the mass of Americans from the perpetuators of bad blood. Obviously, there is some concern among the Germans about the level of activism among the American population. They are wondering why the American people do not change the status quo."
Hypocritical right-wing swine have long been targets for KMFDM's electro-shock therapy. The oppressive-sounding name is a German acronym for Kein Mitleid für Die Mehrheit-- "no pity for the majority." In 1986, KMFDM bowed in Hamburg with What Do You Know Deutschland?Politically charged from the start, Deutschland contained a number called "Positive," one of the first songs in any genre to deal with the specter of AIDS. In terms of creating interesting art, KMFDM began on top -- much of the early music is unclassifiable, mixing reggae, rap, and rock together in bizarre ways. The two original German members (Konietzko and En Esch) plus an angry Brit (Raymond Watts) began KMFDM in the early '80s.
In 1988, the group followed up Deutschlandwith Don't Blow Your Top, after which the band opted to maintain neatly monogrammed designations. Thus, the following KMFDM albums adhered to a strict format: Angst (1993), Nihil (1995), XTORT, (1996), Symbols (1997), Agogo (1998), Adios (1999), and last year, before 2003's WWIII, came Attak.
Each release is adorned with fascinatingly iconographic cover art by Brute! (Aidan Hughues), rendered in the style of German woodcut masters, which makes KMFDM albums instantly recognizable. Also part of the enduring trademark is the propagandist feel of the music -- chanted slogans and selective sound bites slap listeners with a bloody towel. After signing to Chicago industrial label Wax Trax! Records and touring with Ministry at the height of their powers, KMFDM became an American band.
Konietzko was elected to remain in town while his bandmates returned to Hamburg. "We were hot, and someone needed to remain in the U.S. and work it," he says. At the time, Wax Trax!'s stable included Meat Beat Manifesto, Greater Than One, Ministry, and Front 242, all industrial-strength Euro-affiliated outfits. "We never felt it was a group of people we belonged to," Konietzko explains. "It was more like, 'Wow, this is a nice company.' We were totally fuckin' naive, not really corrupted humble kids from Germany, and we still are. Or I still am. Plus, I was the one guy who always did the dirty work. And soon after, my initial suspicions were confirmed -- the other guys were just in it for the money."
Esch and Watts departed, and Konietzko has presided over a rotating platform of industrial-rock icons ever since. Important additions have included drummer Bill Reiflin, guitarist Tim Skold, and singer Lucia Cifarelli. During the '90s, because of the marketability of industrial metal, KMFDM's street credibility, and Konietzko's workaholism, the group performed on countless soundtracks. Yet as bands like Nine Inch Nails hammered a more durable amalgam of existential angst forged in a blast furnace, KMFDM became indistinguishable from the hordes of pale imitators and hangers-on. After an eye-catching video for 1993's "Drug Against War," the group began to sink back into the underground abyss. By the late 1990s, KMFDM was completely overshadowed by the likes of new guitar-based industrialists like Korn, which was far more adept at prying open the wallets of pissed-off suburban American teenagers.
"When a band has mass appeal, that's what you have to contend with," Konietzko observes, "a drop in the brain capacity of the audience." Now the neo-dadaism found in KMFDM's early work is gone, with industrial rock's signature jackhammer juggernaut in its place. As such, high points for latter-day KMFDM are few and far between (a Georgio Moroder remix for 1995's "Juke Joint Jezebel" among them), and the band's originality has dulled. KMFDM still sounds hungry and mean, but no more than one growl in a big unremarkable pack of similar artists.
Konietzko, however, keeps KMFDM's lineup in constant flux, possibly to counteract the increasing blandness of the material. "I got really bored with the limited contributions and capabilities that the other guys had," he says, then gives a sharp raspy cough. In 1999, he even resorted to breaking up the band only to re-form and christen it MDFMK, a relatively desperate cry for attention. The cast of WWIII brings Watts -- after more than a decade of limited success as an industrial solo artist, often under the name Pig -- back to KMFDM. Drummer Reiflin is now on tour with R.E.M.
"It's great for him," raves Konietzko, who calls Reiflin "an excellent musician -- so versatile -- who never got paid well. Now he gets a paycheck and a half every week! If anyone ever needed a break, it's Bill Reiflin."
Maybe the drummer got lucky; former compatriots often pay a high price to associate with Konietzko. For instance, his old bandmate, Deutsch-born guitarist/singer En Esch -- apparently a major contributor to KMFDM's early work -- is summarily dismissed. "He's not in the band," Konietzko relates, "and I have no idea what's going on with him, not at all."
Launching WWIII with Watts and Konietzko are guitarists Joolz Higson and Steve White, drummer Andy Selway, and Cifarelli. A nice foil for the über-masculine Konietzko, Cifarelli howls and spits most convincingly, except when she tries to really sing and ends up sounding unnervingly like Pat Benatar. Using extremely aggressive and confrontational music to protest aggressive confrontation seems backassward on the face of it, but for Konietzko, it's just an easy way to keep KMFDM fair and balanced.
"Pity for the Pious" slowly grinds and churns as the sheep-like self-righteous pass through its crushing gears. Stenciled slogans like "Tyranny Terror and Lawless Violence" shout out a vivid riot of red. And on "Jihad," Konietzko looks around and pronounces homo sapiens "A dying species/Poor sick dumb numb feeding feces.""It's definitely time to start becoming politicized," admonishes Konietzko, ignoring the fact that industrial-rock stalwarts like Skinny Puppy and Consolidated also undertook similar campaigns to fight for the oppressed, with well-intentioned but less-than-entertaining results. "We gotta make a living like everyone else," Konietzko concedes, explaining KMFDM's frequent forays into self-effacing humor.
"Intro," which closes out WWIII, maintains that "This is the biscuit's crux/Solid rock against the flux/Ultra-heavy beat deluxe/KMFDM forever sucks!"Then Konietzko introduces each band member behind a boring metal vamp, saving himself for last: "I am Kapt'n K, the Korruptor of youth/My word is gospel of the honest truth/I am the father of industrial rock/and if you don't believe me, you can suck my glock!"