KMFDM - Hell Yeah

by Joseph Majsterski Rating:9 Release Date:2017-08-18

After three years, their longest hiatus since reformation in 2002, KMFDM is finally back with their 20th album, Hell Yeah. And for the first time in more than a decade, the band has undergone a real roster shake-up. Long-time guitarists Jules Hodgeson and Steve White didn't make it into the studio this time, other than Hodgeson's work on the title track. In their place is Lord of the Lost guitarist Chris Harms, who helps out on nearly every song. Additionally, almost the entire album was written by band leader Sascha Konietzko, making it the closest thing to a solo album he's ever released under the KMFDM moniker. And it seems like he's interested in going a lot more electronic this time. In fact, big chunks of the set have something of a disco sheen, as crazy as that sounds.

The title track, 'Hell Yeah', opens gauzily and features Konietzko doing some legitimate singing in verses, which lean on lighter synths, but it settles into familiar territory during its choruses, with the kind of chugging guitar longtime fans have been hearing for years. It seems like a modest introduction, and gives no hint of the more adventurous tunes to follow. In fact, the very next song, 'Freak Flag', breaks into very dancy electronics, with a pair of lead synths that could have spawned from a 1990s house track. The song has a great sense of ricocheting side-to-side thanks to the staccato electro-bursts, and as an homage to individuality the lyrics work remarkably well. There's even a short industrial rap breakdown performed by Konietzko halfway through. Compared to the edited version on the companion EP released in May, the full version has noticeably more synth seasoning.

The next three tracks flow together into a suite. 'Oppression 1/2' uses tinkling synths played like reggae guitars, little jabs, to back up the spoken-word vocals of none other than rabble-rousing activist/presenter Abby Martin, who chants a litany of things "they hate". It feels like a simplified send-up of the 1996 track 'Dogma', with the anger directed at the government instead of the self. The light synths are a throwback to the sparkling melody of 1997 'Leid Und Elend', and feel like a tease, as the track lasts less than a minute. But it flows directly into the much louder and complex 'Total State Machine', where the drums and guitars come slamming to the forefront. And the lyrics here are explicit: "Your government hates you." After bashing around for a bit, it morphs back into 'Oppression 2/2', a brief epilogue that reprises the intro.

Another place where the electronics take command is 'Murder My Heart', fronted by Lucia Cifarelli, proving that KMFDM has fully taken on board the fun-loving bounce they first showed off with 'Strut' (2009). The song whomps along joyously, guitars and synths battling it out, before giving way to a Hammond B3 solo, an instrument the band hasn't featured since way back on Xtort (1996). 'Shock' is in the same vein, electronic and dancy, but slowed down some, and with some of Cifarelli's strongest vocals, primarily because she just relaxes and sings normally instead of yowling. 'Fake News' is hyper-topical, a bitter diatribe against the oceans of bullshit media consumers have to swim through on the daily. It takes a while for it to get going, as the verses are pretty straightforward, but its poppy chorus has a big ol' hook, utterly belying the politically charged lyrics. And unlike on WWIII (2003), there's a subtler touch to them; they won't expire when a particular presidency does.

'℞ 4 the Damned' also stumbles a little at the beginning, with a slightly generic opening, and Cifarelli is stuck in a no-man's-land between singing and growling. But the ultra-funky bass provided by Doug Wimbish (of Living Colour and Tackhead) perks things up quickly, and in the chorus Cifarelli pulls off some absolutely brutal guttural screaming, similar to her performance on 'Rebels in Kontrol' (2011). The song also features a truly delightful synth solo performed by none other than Konietzko and Cifarelli's daughter Anabella Asia. Her participation seems to be increasing with each album, raising the possibility of KMFDM eventually becoming a full-blown family affair.

'Rip the System 2.0' is a pretty wacky mash-up. As the name indicates, it seems intended as a reinterpretation of the 1989 track 'Rip the System' off the criminally underrated album UAIOE. There's a bit of a dub feel to it, reminiscent of the band's style at the time, but with lots of modern flourishes. The lyrics are almost entirely recycled from the 1993 track 'Glory', which itself stole lyrics from the original tune. And to top it off, bits of melody are twisted variations on the dub version of 1989's 'Virus'. Taken together, it's fascinating to see so many old pieces crashing together with a fresh coat of sonic paint. The song is dominated by loads of popping, stabbing, and grinding synths, but gnashing guitars get plenty of air time as well. Thanks to its more experimental feel, it's a real highlight.

And that's not the only place Konietzko steps outside of previous musical boundaries. 'Only Lovers' is a slow, meditative dirge filled with warbling distortion that explores some remarkably dark places, like a death march through a haunted house. Cifarelli lets her voice grow wings and soar angelically overhead, and Konietzko sneaks in some deep backing vocals to ground the melody. It's a pretty unique song, somewhere in the neighborhood of 'Bumaye' (2005) or 'Death of C.R.' (2011), with a distinctly gothic flare. The slower, more deliberate guitar parts also bring to mind 'Move On' (1993).

But the album still has some guitar-heavy tunes as well. 'Burning Brain' opens with guitars scribbling all over it, and is filled with blazing riffs and a few truly impressive solos. It manages to dodge getting stuck in a chugga-chugga rut and swings for the fences, using a crisper pickup to give the song some nice acidity. And final track 'Glam Glitz Guts & Gore' brings in extremely punchy percussion to back the chunky guitar and skittering synths, sounding much like 'Waste' from Symbols (1997), but with its own brand of hashed and mashed electronics. It concludes with a bizarre, heavily distorted vocal sample that repeats itself into nothingness.

The good news is, this is easily KMFDM's best album since WTF?! (2011), and possibly their best of the 21st century. It seems the long break was just what Konietzko needed to really freshen up the sound. There's a good variety of things going on here; just about every song has its own personality, and the light sprinkling of guest musicians adds even more spice at key moments. There's not a single skippable track in the set, and it feels really purposeful, like it's going somewhere instead of just wandering around detonating TNT aimlessly. Perhaps most crucially, it's just plain fun. For anyone who has maybe been sitting on the sidelines in recent years, it's time to get back in the game. If this is KMFDM 3.0, the future looks bright indeed.

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