Kein Mitleid für die Mehrheit. KMFDM have “no pity for the majority” of their fans; the band have released an endless string of unremarkable product, including a live disc and an accompanying DVD for each of two different studio albums, since the reactivation of the moniker in 2002. Either bandleader Sascha Konietzko, who now refers to himself as “Käpt’n K,” has a ridiculously high opinion of his band’s live merit, or he’s in desperate need of money. Unfortunately, a closer look at WWIII Live 2003 answers the question quite obviously: “Keep my fans doling money,” says Käpt’n K.
Konietzko must find development meaningless. After the promising kick-off of this live set, signaled by the sounds of a cork popping and the title track’s surprisingly bluesy acoustic guitar intro, the band explodes into typical industrial-metal aggression, offering something tuneless and indiscernible from most of KMFDM’s music since 1995’s era-defining Nihil, the point at which the band truly stopped expanding their sound. In fact, KMFDM are stomping all over their status as underground legends at a meteoric rate: at the height of their genre-crossing WaxTrax! hipness in 1993, they declared themselves “a drug against war”, whereas now they clumsily “declare war on the war against drugs.”
The Käpt’n is joined here by his current ornamental eye-candy for teenage boys, Lucia Cifarelli, who handled much of the vocal work on KMFDM’s failed major label opus at the turn of the millennium. She still goes over well as the token sultry hot chick for whatever industrial circles exist today, and she effectively maintains a certain Shirley Manson balance of prettiness and toughness when given the chance to sing (e.g.“From Here on Out”). However, as an angry, croaking goth harpy, evident on the title track and the chorus of “Blackball,” she is hardly a replacement for the endless barrage of top-notch guest vocalists KMFDM once featured throughout their prime years. And honestly, as eye-candy goes, she doesn’t hold a candle to former percussionist En-Esch, the sweaty six-foot-four lanky bald man often clad strictly in a bikini and fishnet stockings.
“Blackball” also reintroduces the growly slur of the other longtime member of the band, the oversexed vocalist Raymond Watts, known on his own for two decades now as simply Pig. His sleazy flair finally opened KMFDM to mainstream America with “Juke-Joint Jezebel”, the quintessential recording (from the aforementioned Nihil) in that very important “video game metal” genre that has been so artfully pushing the boundaries of hard rock for most of a decade. On studio recordings, Watts is appropriately miked up and overproduced to sound like a beast from hell; on WWIII Live 2003, he sounds like a man desperately trying to sound evil and ending up more like Otto the Bus Driver from The Simpsons. Another Watts showcase, “Pity for the Pious”, swings and profanes the way Pig’s solo music always has, trying to use gutter-minded vulgarity to cover up the fact that he’s ultimately nowhere near the talent of his drinking buddy and onetime mentor, Jim “Foetus” Thirlwell. The similar-sounding “Revenge” may as well be Godsmack covering Pig’s own “Shit for Brains”.
“Ultra” and “Brute” are two of the oldies on display, both also from Nihil, and though neither sounds too similar to their studio counterparts—a criticism that can often be applied to live albums such as this—the songs rather painfully emphasize how little the band has developed in ten years. Not only does their inclusion underscore the weaknesses of the new material (“Stars and Stripes” actually has to feign melodic complexity by weaving a part of the American national anthem into its chorus), but the performances demonstrate how the latest crop of musicians pale in comparison to the major players KMFDM lost back in 1999. The guitars formerly employed by the undervalued Günter Schulz were never used as posturing sludge meant to toughen up the music—instead they gave brute force to the band’s defining characteristic: rhythm. So where is the Ultra Heavy Beat? The sound of today’s KMFDM isn’t only devoid of the danceability that once defined it, it is helplessly, aimlessly generic. Dressing up an empty punk call-to-action like “Moron” with symphonic undertones and electronic midsections seems like an obligatory concession to something the band has long since passed.
Additionally, Konietzko’s confession in the admittedly funny “Intro” (“Nothing new, it’s the same old shit / If it works this good, why fuck with it?”), does not absolve him from the crime. Tethered to a history that cannot faithfully be revisited without the involvement of the proper players, yet reluctant to move forward, Käpt’n K. is simply wasting everyone’s time; KMFDM’s music feels deeply monotonous.