This stomping mechanistic racket

This, stomping, mechanistic racket has the distinct sound of its era, despite sounding decidedly atypical. Its huge, rectangular, electronic drum beats have that 80s electro vibe, and its guitars are heavy in a harsh, post-punk sort of a way. KMFDM is a band with a recognisable sound, and the elements of that sound are present on this, their 1986 debut—which is to say aggressive guitars, thundering electronica and angry, politicised lyrics, but the later high-energy fusion of techno and speed-metal to which those components eventually led is not intimated here.

In a sense then, What Do You Know, Deutschland? is their most industrial sounding record. The band is known as an industrial metal outfit, but its later stylistic touchstones are oriented more towards a festival-going audience, without much of the commodified fetishises common in the electro-industrial underground. Firstly, this record does have a tendency towards lewdness for its own sake (‘Itchy Bitchy’ for example), and secondly, its sound is that of an EBM band being assaulted by a gang of punk guitarists. It batters the listener with beats like iron bars, and you can almost smell the bondage gear.

For me this is all to the good. I love the band’s later work, but for completely different reasons. This album, recorded before Sascha Konietzko decamped from Germany to the US and found the audience that he is still addressing today, appeals to me in the same way as Nitzer Ebb, Skinny Puppy or Front 242. It’s a music of anomie and atavistic rage, an atavistic form of punk absorbed into the machine and ground back out with a sound that really is industrial, like steel being forged in a mill.

Lyrically it’s less interesting for me than the later work, and some language that’s clearly intended to be transgressively explicit may sound misogynistic to twenty-first century ears. There is of course a good deal of historical interest to be found here, for anyone who enjoys KMFDM’s later work—there’s a gulf between this sound and the sound for which they are known, and it’s fascinating to hear what Konietzko was up to before he hit on the formula with which he conquered the US. The cover will be a draw as well, as it marks the beginning of Aidan Hughes’ long association with the band, one which has yielded one of the most coherent and powerful collections of album art in modern music history. I’ve had a good deal of pleasure from this record, and although it’s probably not one I’ll revisit again, it’s a powerful document of the first wave of commercial industrial music.

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