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Review: KMFDM - Blitz

Once again a KMFDM album manages to sneak up on me and surprise me after I had my mind all nice and set up to hate it.

I’m not sure why this happens so regularly with KMFDM albums for me. It’s not like KMFDM drastically revamps its sound very often. Going on 25 years now they still sound more or less in the same ballpark as where they started. You would think that as a long time fan this would be a situation where no great amount of thinking should be required to decide my position on new releases.

I think my initial coldness toward Blitz actually stems from Tohuvabohu, their previous album. Tohuvabohu was surely the best album when taken as a whole that KMFDM has produced in quite some time, possibly ever. From start to finish there are fewer low spots than normal and the entire production just seems more cohesive and energetic than some of their other more recent material.

KMFDM has two “personalities”, if you will. One is their more guitar-driven industrial metal style as shown off so fantastically on Tohuvabohu. The other is a dance-floor chic electronic industrial style that KMFDM really haven’t dabbled in with this level of purity since perhaps their Symbols album in 1997.

As a followup to Tohuvabohu, the long running masters of the Ultra Heavy Beat have decided to give this electronic style another go and, quite frankly, it wasn’t what I wanted out of Blitz at first.

After finally giving it a good number of plays and time to sink into my brain, I think Blitz has managed to hook me. I just about gave up on it, but I now think it has what it takes to be called a solid album. What it doesn’t do is master its chosen style as well as Tohuvabohu did.

The album’s biggest failing is not any one specific element, but rather a general absence of “kick” - that all-important spark, the spitting anger and venomous beats that drive the best KMFDM songs. In its attempt to go back to basics, the band has not only thrown out some of the layers of complexity that had been building up in their more recent work, but they have also managed to lose some of the aggressiveness that had become so addicting in their music. A chunk of vital intensity seems to be missing here.

The Beat isn’t so much Ultra Heavy here. Maybe calling it the Moderately Intense Beat would be more appropriate this time around.

A lot of this might stem from the fact that much of the album was reportedly made by lead singer and frontman Sascha Konietzko with little aid from the rest of the band. The sheer synth dominance demonstrated on most tracks lends credence to this. What made Tohuvabohu so great was the way the whole band had finally started to gel as a team. The days of the “rotating door” policy at KMFDM were over. The lineup had stabilized and after a few albums to find their footing they really got into the groove and knocked one out of the park together.

With Blitz, much of this has been thrown out of the window. There is little evidence of many of the band members on the album, save for singer Lucia Cifarelli's still great vocal performances and some sparse guitar work that usually feels more utilitarian than inspired. Sascha and his synth dominates and the final product feels a little lifeless without the group cohesion that made the last album so great. It is telling that one of the strongest tracks on the album, Strut, is also the one that seems to most fully involve the entire band (not to mention guest singer Cheryl Wilson, who lends a distinctly “Juke Joint Jezebel” vibe to the track with her wonderful performance).

There’s just no comparing most of the cuts on this album to the stern-voiced intensity of Free Your Hate, or the aggressive, multilayered masterpiece of Tohuvabohu’s title track.

At least the album starts out strong, as almost all of the best tracks are squished together in the first half.

Sticking both of the “experimental” tracks in the middle of the album was a questionable decision. People of the Lie and Being Boiled are both interesting to various degrees, but they disturb the flow too much placed so close together. People of the Lie feels a tad bland but is serviceable as a pace changer and Being Boiled is certainly interesting (and it’s undoubtedly amusing to hear Käpt’n K calmly chant, “Listen to the voice of Buddha”), but it doesn’t really stand up to some of KMFDM’s other recent cover songs.

The pace picks up after its drag in the middle with the aforementioned gem Strut, but things start to go a little astray again after that. Bitches is an amusing song where KMFDM once again makes fun of themselves and pretend to be money-grubbing evil bastards, but why anyone would choose to play this uninspired take on the theme over the brilliant “anti”-KMFDM anthem Sucks I have no idea.

Me & My Gun does provide a nice and needed end-of-album shot of energy in a song that, like the album itself, has grown on me the more I listen to it.

Blitz’s final note is sadly a little sour. Take’M Out is a slow, meandering track that not only fails to go anywhere, but is also fairly generic. It begins with air raid sirens for heaven’s sake (and the song’s not done with them after the intro either). I like a good air raid siren and all, but I think we can all agree they’re a tad overused gimmick in music these days. This mediocre closer is especially disappointing after the scathing Auf Wiedersehen from Hau Ruck and the unique, catchy Bumaye from Tohuvabohu provided such good closers to their respective albums.

That’s not to say that the whole album goes down like curdled milk. While none of the album’s best tracks bring much new to the table, after 25 years of existence it would be a little foolish to berate KMFDM for this now. Bait & Switch, Davai, Never Say Never, Potz Blitz! and Strut can all safely be added to any fan’s frequent playlist. Plus, while a decent number of Blitz’s cuts may fall a little flat, there are no outright stinkers present, making the album fairly listenable from beginning to end.

Perhaps with another album or two in this more minimalist electronic style under their belts, KMFDM will manage to turn out a dance floor masterpiece on the same tier as their recent metal gem Tohuvabohu. Hau Ruck was basically in the same position as Blitz - a good album that lacked a certain spark and energy that makes it now feel mediocre next to its more accomplished follow-up, Tohuvabohu. Perhaps someday Blitz will get its Tohuvabohu.

Ultimately the variety Blitz brings to the table is probably more important than being the best thing the band has ever done. We now have a different kind of album to like; a modern update to a style KMFDM hasn’t touched for ten years or so. It may not be exactly what I would have wished for, but it’s a better outcome in the end than stretching Tohuvabohu’s style too far and giving me too much of a good thing.

Perhaps its fitting that on their 25th anniversary KMFDM should produce an album that so clearly harkens back to the roots of the band in a way that many of their recent albums have not. Whether this is good or bad will depend heavily on the individual listener’s tastes. For what it is, Blitz is a decently-crafted slab of KMFDM’s classic sound with a few chinks that probably shouldn’t deter any fan from picking it up.

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