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KMFDM - WWIII Tour 2003

Sanctuary Records // PG // June 22, 2004
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Bill Gibron | posted July 10, 2004 | E-mail the Author
Of all the modern sub-genres of music, industrial has the most enigmatic moniker. Suggesting so much while revealing so little, this aural onslaught style of sonic rage has long been the extreme sports of songwriting and performance. Sure, death metal has its aggressive grind, and some of techno's more intense digitizing can grow gruesome and horrific, but when it comes to the instrumental equivalent of an atrocity or the sound of a menacing machine's death throws, industrial delights in the terrifying sounds of technology spread out over the primal scream scars of a bitter, indifferent dominion. The music is hard and fast, filled with gearbox bravado and plenty of solid steel shredding. For the uninitiated, Trent Reznor and his seminal "band" Nine Inch Nails, and the volcano ferocity of Ministry and their enigmatic frontman Al Jourgensen, usually make for recognizable references. But there are several dozen other influential bands that have not had the cultural limelight of these two mainstays. One act that should join the triumvirate of decibel demons is KMFDM.

Formed in 1984 by sole remaining original member Sascha Konietzko, the cryptically named band (while many fans have guessed at the meaning, the abbreviation stands for "Kein Mitleid Für Die Mehrheit" which is German for "No Pity for the Majority") slowly worked its way into the realm of big beat royalty with a combination of hard-hitting albums and take no prisoners concerts. As the 80s moved into the 90s and tougher music was becoming fashionable, KMFDM was poised to break into the big time, especially in America. But this never came about, mostly for reasons of bad luck/timing (a tour with media darling Ministry fell apart when Jourgensen got sick, the difficult financial times of the label, industrial giant Wax Trax Records) and the general shift in musical tastes. After briefly breaking up in 1999 (Konietzko then forming MDFMK – clever, right) the real deal reappeared in 2002 with another new line-up (KMFDM has a "revolving door" policy regarding its band members). 2003 saw the release of WWIII, their 14th album (including live sets and compilations) and the tour supporting that record makes up the vast majority of the incredibly exciting DVD presentation entitled KMFDM: WWIII Tour 2003.

The DVD:
Filmed over the course of several stops on their US tour and featuring almost every song from their 2003 album WWIII, KMFDM takes the small stage in front of a very vocal crowd and proceeds to blow the roof off the sucker. Using a combination of keyboards, guitars, samples and lead vocalists, the band careens through a set list that contains the following songs:

"WWIII" – from the 2003 album WWIII
"From Here On Out" – from the 2003 album WWIII
"Blackball" – from the 2003 album WWIII
"Brute" – from the 1995 album Nihil
"Stars & Stripes" – from the 2003 album WWIII
"Pity for the Pious" – from the 2003 album WWIII
"Moron" – from the 2003 album WWIII
"Revenge" – from the 2003 album WWIII
"Bullets, Bombs & Bigotry" – from the 2003 album WWIII
"Light" – from the 1993 album Angst
"Juke Joint Jezebel" – from the 1995 album Nihil
"Intro" – from the 2003 album WWIII
"A Drug Against War" – from the 1993 album Angst

There are also three bonus music videos offered, representing the following songs and sources:

"Skurk" – from the 2002 album Attak
"Ultra" – from the 1995 album Nihil
"Stars & Stripes" – from the 2003 album WWIII

The reliance on the newest material makes a lot of sense for this DVD presentation. The recent addition of female lead singer and instrumentalist Lucia Cifarelli really broadened the scope of KMFDM's music and her proto-pop sensibilities propel the band into new, undiscovered (and somewhat tamer) territory. The vocal and lyrical work of longtime group member Raymond Watts also adds to the band's current radical political stance. KMFDM are all about the confrontation of conformity and Watt's makes sure that any philosophical dogma they wish to defend gets a regular repetition in their songs. Easy listening this is not...but neither is it some cacophony of chaotic caterwauling. There is a real classicism to KMFDM's sound, an arena rock anthemic quality that causes the anarchy to gel into powerful statements of sonic superiority. This is not the introspective, self-loathing work of Trent Reznor or the drug-fueled frenzy of Ministry. Using their decidedly European mindset to their distinct advantage, KMFDM does not shy away from controversial subject matter or stances. With a reliance of graphic design elements reminiscent of the former Soviet Union in their album covers and stage design, this is rebellious riotousness primed for a radical attack on the world.

With titles like "Pity for the Pious", "Bullets, Bombs and Bigotry" and "A Drug Against War", KMFDM practices what they preach. They fill their music with the sounds of destruction and then use their words and their urgency as a call to rational arms. This is not the sound of war or the backdrop for battle. KMFDM are pounding peace and prosperity, using the same sledgehammer approach the Establishment wields (only in audible form) to get their well-considered point across. Sometimes, the histrionics of the heavy metal genre can get in the way (what is metal without a few slam bam guitar solos and power chord audacity) and industrial is not known for having several divergent nuances that help save the songs from sounding the same. But KMFDM finds a way to circumvent the conventions to make each entry distinct. With three different voices onstage (Cifarelli, Watts and founding member Sascha Konietzko) the diversity in the band's blasts of sound is very compelling. Interestingly, KMFDM is a much better sounding LIVE act than when recorded. The attention to detail in an album setting seems to get lost in a wash of production effects. But when recreated onstage by skilled musicians who understand the dynamics of playing as a band – not just as a solo aspect of a 24 track presentation – the disturbing din gels magnificently into a single supersonic explosion.

This is not to say that WWIII Tour 2003 is a perfect concert film. Indeed, this is merely a visual representation of the performance, not some Stop Making Sense conceptualization of the music being offered. Now, there is nothing wrong with a straight-ahead presentation and KMFDM are such great musicians that they compel just by playing. But there are a couple of flaws here that grow dull and distracting very quickly. First, the lighting used during the show only has one single mode – strobe light disturbing. Each song is accented by a billion blinking lights, guaranteed to induce – or cause – epilepsy in more susceptible metal heads. And then there is the direction. Most of the concert here is drawn from a camera placed high in the rafters near the back of the auditorium. Most shots are then long frames of indistinct individuals roaming around the set. When we do get the occasional close-up, it's in far too tight, removing any of the interplay between the performers. Only on rare occasions does the cinematic compositions compliment the energy and evocativeness of KMFDM's dramatic music. Other times, your just watching a very good live show play out before your eyes, not really experiencing it the way some other DVDs offer their concerts.

Still, these are minor quibbles for what is basically an excellent performance by a sensational band. Wearing a kinky and seductive vinyl cat suit, Cifarelli mixes sex with strength to make an effective onstage symbol. Watts – cowboy hat cocked over his big, broad face – is like a combination vampire and cattle rancher, his stick figure demeanor casting an unearthly pale glow from beneath his massive black coat. Other band members strike sufficient cock rock poses, looking like members of other acts carted in to temporarily fill out the group's rotating roster. And then there is Konietzko. Like a deranged Hunter S. Thompson (isn't that a contradiction in terms?) with an unoriginal Mohawk, Konietzko stands to the far right of the stage, behind a bank of keyboards (or a bass guitar) and rules the roost from his prime position. Stalking the stage to stab out a line, or arching over the edge to sing his statements to the masses, the cold, calculating leader of this longtime band of master blasters adds that final element of gravitas to the onstage sense of KMFDM. Between Watts and Cifarelli, they have all the lead singer shenanigans down pat. Konietzko brings it all together, rendering the politics that much more prevailing and the music that much more menacing. As a representative of the industrial scene for over 20 years, KMFDM have found a formula that fits their desire to make ever-evolving music and self proclaimed ultra heavy beats. WWIII Tour 2003 shows them living up to this construct brilliantly.

The Video:
This is a fantastic looking concert, perfectly balanced between darks and lights and never experiencing video issues even when the strobe lights are in full effect. While the detail is not rich enough to see everything going on during the show (the video screens behind the band offer very few discernible images), the overall effect is kinetic and electric. The sole downside to this near-pristine presentation is the 1.33:1 full screen, non-letterboxed transfer. While this may have been the intent of the band (opening up the entire field of vision to take in the entire stage setting) the TV friendly picture removes any cinematic aspect from the image.

The Audio:
As good as the visuals are, the sound is just as startling. So crystal clear you can actually understand every lyrical line amongst all the destructive clamor, the Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo is reference-quality. It illustrates a marvelous level of depth achieved via a more or less standard sonic offering. While 5.1 would have opened up all manner of aural possibilities for the DVD (including a sense of concert audience immersion) the sound on this digital presentation is actually superior to the rather flat noises coming out the companion CD of the concert.

The Extras:
Aside from the exceptional audio and visual elements offered here, KMFDM: WWIII Tour 2003 is practically overloaded with bonus features. This DVD is a real multimedia experience requiring DVD-Rom capabilities to enjoy all its divergent dimension. The wealth of information includes:

After Show and Backstage Footage – used as linking material during the live set, this 30-plus minute compilation of clips shows the band rehearsing, arguing, celebrating birthdays and enjoying the swimming pools of various hotels around the country. The best bit, though, is the massive security check at Disneyland where the House of Mouse puts the group through a humiliating screening process "for their own protection". They get so aggravated that lead singer Watts demands to speak "to the Mr. Disney person". Classic behind the scenes stuff.

Interviews with the Band and Crew – we are introduced to all the members of KMFDM, either with a personal in camera Q&A or eavesdropping as they speak to other journalists. Most of the material here is very interesting – they discuss everything from politics to fan support – but the group is cast aside far too quickly. Then they trudge through a dozen or so members of the road team who use this on camera chance to try out jokes and comic routines. Ha Ha. Still, to hear and see the nature of touring and what KMFDM think about the state of music, makes these interviews very engaging.

Horde Fan Club Section – a chance for the fans to speak out on this DVD (actually, a very novel idea). The best material here comes from in-store 'meet and greet' footage where we watch the band interact and exchange interpersonal connections with their devoted admirers. The constant mantra from everyone in this sequence is that KMFDM are the most fan-friendly, appreciative and giving group in all of music, and watching the material here you get the impression that everyone is telling the truth.

'WWIII' Recording Studio Footage – Just what it says, a chance to watch Konietzko and Watts make music. Listening to his speaking voice, you'd never guess the power and presence Watts has as a singer. Yet he turns it off and on with ease as he works through the lyrics to "WWIII" and "Stars and Stripes". Too bad it's only around 6 minutes long. More of this material would have been terrific.

Whale Watching with KMFDM – again, just what it says. The band takes a private plane (which Watts is deathly afraid of) to a remote location to sail out and watch whales. They see a few. They make some jokes. Then it's back on that waterlogged airliner for the return trip. A nice, pleasant pro-Earth example of KMFDM's socio-political beliefs in action.

The Videos – as stated above, there are three video clips included here and each one uses a different artistic approach to detail the message in the music. "Stars & Stripes" uses archival footage of nuclear war and warnings to sell its serious political points. "Ultra" is a goofy, Lego-inspired romp about a team of scientists who create an inhuman monster that they are incapable of killing. But the best, most breathtaking clip here is entitled "Skurk" and it is absolutely brilliant. A 3-D animation attack on corporate consumerism, American imperialism and crass commercialism this is not only a great music movie, but it's one of the best, most powerful and penetrating short films ever made. The imagery is too sensational and symbolic to describe. Basically, ex-band member Tim Skold (currently working with Marilyn Manson) is a post-apocalyptic entity roaming a ravaged countryside battling insane American government officials, out of control fast food and sexually provocative imagery. All of this is meant as a commentary on the shallowness and sinister quality of the world around us and "Skurk"'s volatile visuals indicate this clearly, cleverly and concisely. It's a stellar work of genius and reason enough to buy this DVD for any fan of KMFDM – or people interested in 3-D animation - for that matter.

Add in massive journal entries from a couple of the band members, lyrics to each song included on the disc, a peek behind the making of the "Wild West" intro the band used to open each show, a couple of snapshot slideshows and much more hidden DVD-Rom product (links to the band's website, a full press kit – even an e-card). Frankly, the extras here deserve the highest score possible for doing what bonus materials are supposed to do for a digital presentation – flesh out and provide necessary context for the subject of the disc. And the wealth of additional contents here does just that.

Final Thoughts:
It's a shame that KMFDM never saw the mainstream popularity of fellow noisemakers Nine Inch Nails or Ministry. Reznor became an MTV poster boy and worked with his fellow idol David Bowie. Ministry went on to star in Stephen Spielberg's A.I. as the Flesh Fair band. Judging by the quality of performance and the overriding good vibrations the band presents on KMFDM: WWIII Tour 2003, Konietzko and his cohorts are on more than equal footing with their far more famous counterparts, at least as dynamic, daring musicians. Though the direction throughout is not half as inventive or electrifying as the band and fans of their former incarnations may balk at the lack of early songs, this is still a wonderful document of an extraordinary group in full sonic thunder. Along with a full compliment of incredible bonus materials, a video clip that is mandatory viewing for any fan of computer animation and a rousing performance of some aurally ambitious, contextually confrontational music, KMFDM deliver a superb DVD package. There is indeed no pity for the majority when a clever cult act like KMFDM can make most metal musicians weep with defeat. The battle lines have been drawn, and this is one war the industrial entity known for ultra heavy beats refuses to lose.

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