Few projects are as brashly political as KMFDM. Throughout their three-decade career, the rabble-rousers have continued to deliver aggressive industrial music that opposes rampant injustice and corruption. Keeping with the Bush-era critique WWIII and the Arab Spring-influenced Our Time Will Come, the band’s 20th studio album Hell Yeah is a stirring, brutal rally cry against fascism, conformity, and America’s new administration.
This time around, the studio team is simplified to a duo. Frontman Sascha Konietzko is again joined by frequent collaborator and wife Lucia Cifarelli, the firebrand vocalist who has co-written a third of the songs. The selections feature electro barrages (“Murder My Heart”, “Rx For the Damned”) industrial rockers (“Total State Machine”, “Burning Brain”), and cuts with breakneck-fast guitars (“Hell Yeah”), a pillar of the band’s sound.
As always, the band’s messages are as combative as the music. Just listen to the wall of guitars on “Total State Machine”, with verses like “Barren words, abject deeds / Paranoia to the nth degree / Despotic rule by fire and sword / Lady liberty’s been raped and cored.” Its blistering chorus screams, “Your government hates you.” “Fake News” contains the cynical lyrics “Detached from opposing points of views and values / The top of the food chain will decide what they’ll tell you.” Kellyanne Conway’s notorious “alternative facts” television interview is also sampled and buried deep in the mix. Taking a somewhat poppier approach, the anthemic “Freak Flag” asserts individuality, positioning the marginalized as true individuals against conservative normalcy. The rhetoric gets hammered home in a pair of short interludes recalling Xtort’s “Dogma”, where the band spouts their paranoiac thoughts in the most direct manner possible — though these exaggerated claims could, in fairness, soon become reality.
KMFDM’s music is often self-deprecating, providing levity with such serious subject matter. This comes into play when the band writes songs about themselves, a frequent exercise. In the past, they’ve quoted their album titles in “Inane” and “Kunst”, referenced their German heritage in “Genau”, and released the tongue-in-cheek “Megalomaniac” and “Sucks” (today, saying “KMFDM sucks” is an in-joke salutation among the band’s fans). This braggadocio gets old, and sometimes comes across like the songwriters are low on ideas. Refreshingly, Hell Yeah contains little of these detours, though reliably true to form, “Rip the System” updates the band’s 1989 tune, adopting its chorus “Black man, white man, yellow man / Black man, white man, rip the system.” Of all previous material to choose, this particular quote feels dated in 2017, a rare misstep for a band who must be intimately aware of political correctness.
Hell Yeah alternates vocalists between the industrial couple on nearly every track, with Cifarelli exhibiting range in her technique. Her most striking performance is “Rx for the Damned”, where she belts out the chorus with a gravelly howl. Juxtapose this with her ravey ballad “Murder My Heart”, the closest the band comes to a love song on this release. Konietzko tries his hand on singing on the title track, but seems more at home in the propaganda recitation of “Rip the System” and “Fake News”.
KMFDM hit a sweet spot in the ’90s with the trio of albums Nihil, Xtort, and what has become known as Symbols. These all feature pounding industrial workouts like the classics “Juke Joint Jezebel”, “Power”, and “Megalomaniac” kickstarting each album, and serve as touchstones for how thrilling the music can get when the band is hitting on all cylinders. Hell Yeah provides some material sure to get the adrenaline pumping at first, but there is little that sustains its power. The tracks feature few memorable hooks, with the cuts near the end of the album, “Burning Brain”, “Only Lovers”, and “Glam Glitz Guts & Gore” being especially forgettable. Overall, the Hell Yeah experience falls short of some of the truly great material the band already has in its catalogue, and sometimes retreads their post-2000 material — “Murder My Heart” sounds like Kunst’s “Ave Maria”.
KMFDM are German industrialists in every sense of the term, churning out material, not unlike a factory. After all these years, the band is still adept at creating industrial tunes that advance their dark, confrontational aesthetic. This round, Hell Yeah misses the mark for something truly enduring, but as long as political outrage persists, their voice is always welcome.