The Agit Reader

From Dancefloors to Mosh Pits

November 6th, 2017  |  by Brian O'Neill

KMFDM

It shouldn’t be shocking that metal has incorporated goth and industrial elements. Whether it was Prong covering Chrome (and later employing Raven from Killing Joke), or groups such as Theater of Tragedy or HIM, whose output would sound just as appropriate at a goth bar as Dead Can Dance or Sisters of Mercy, there’s been a lot of crossover. (And fans of both genres share a love of girls in leather.) Of course, industrial metal made it okay for heshers to eschew head-banging to get their groove on the dancefloor.

KMFDM
Underground Arts, Philadelphia, October 6

Although grunge got all the headlines, the pulsing heartbeat of the ‘90s belonged to industrial music. Sure, the genre’s genesis was in the ‘70s with Throbbing Gristle’s performance art-noise, Chrome’s psychedelic plodding, and Einstürzende Neubauten’s deconstructed krautrock, but industrial music truly took off when it went from goth dancefloors to sweaty mosh pits.

Al Jourgensen went from synth-pop to something much more aggressive and Nine Inch Nails recruited Richard Patrick (later in Filter) to add enough loud guitar that Kerrang! and other metal mags took notice. Soon afterwards, metal bands with funny haircuts and keyboards were peppering the landscape and breaking into the mainstream consciousness with the likes of Stabbing Westward, Gravity Kills, and Orgy.

Come 2017, Ministry is taking out alternative rap groups and Trent Reznor has long since graduated to rock stardom. That means this tour has everyone you need for an Industrialpallooza redux. Seeing ohGr performing on a stage cramped with the headliner’s gear was a little stunning when you consider that the duo of Nivek Ogre and Mark Walk also make up the creative core of the legendary Skinny Puppy. That band was a heavy influence on Nine Inch Nails and spearheaded the new wave, but they opened the show tonight. The spooky costumes and makeup looked so real you could almost smell the decaying flesh. Ogre wore an articulated, corpse-like plastic mask that was especially frightening.

Although ohGr lacks the visceral gristle of Skinny Puppy, the group makes up for it with a far less abrasive attuned pop sound. There was a keyboardist who added flourishes, but what dominated the sound were the guitars, drums, and bass of traditional rock bands. The vocals were not angst-ridden screams, but almost pleasant actual singing.

Their bark is far nicer than the bite might have indicated. Respect was given, but also earned. Certainly, ohGr is not Skinny Puppy, but the best compliment you can give the band is that they don’t have to be.

As En Esch hasn’t been with the group since the turn of the century and Raymond Watts hasn’t performed with KMFDM (pictured top) for almost as long, at this point the band is pretty much Sascha Konietzko’s baby.

Forces can conspire against Sascha, though, which is what happened on this tour: Members of Lord of the Lost who played on the newest KMFDM album were supposed to not only open, but also perform with the headliners. This didn’t happen when they were unable to get their work visas. As such Brooklyn guitarist Andee Blacksugar from Black Sugar Transmission and also Peter Murphy’s band recently, joined the band for these shows.

Given the lineup snafus, it’s not a huge surprise that nearly half the set was culled from Hell Yeah, the band’s 20th and most recent album. It was also probably for the best that multiple musicians were not employed, at least at the Philly stop which might have been the smallest venue on the itinerary. The stage was cramped enough and the relatively stripped-down sound was a nice change of pace from the days when KMFDM frankly overextended itself.

Much like ohGr, the keyboard contributions were minimal. KMFDM at its best is a rock band who employed electronics. It used to set them apart from the rest of the Wax Trax stable and for a minute there, it made them the biggest band on the label.

If you were fortunate enough to see KMFDM when they were in top form, seeing the band live now is not as revolutionary. Fortunately, the performance of classics such as the grinding Teutonic hip-hop of “Virus,” the unrelenting thrash metal of “WWIII,” and ubiquitous set closer “Godlike,” with its Slayer riff, showed that old dogs didn’t need new tricks.

Antisect
The Rising of the Lights

The Rising of the Lights will probably be the most unlikely release of 2017 for a couple of reasons. It’s only the second full-length album from Antisect, and the band’s first in nearly 35 years. (Take that, My Bloody Valentine.) It’s also the diametrical opposite of what fans would have ever expected.

The Daventry, UK group’s 1983 debut In Darkness There is No Choice was Discharge worship played by spikey-haired anarchists who pilfered Motorhead’s need for speed and a bit of post-punk orthodoxy. Alongside Amebix, Antisect unwittingly invented crust punk. That seminal album, as well as the Out from the Void EP two years later, ensured punks would scrawl their logo onto bomber jackets for generations to come.

Since cashing in on punk was ludicrous in the ‘80s, it’s not a huge shock that the band was unable to sustain momentum. There were lineup changes and material for a second album tentatively titled Welcome to the New Dark Ages that never appeared, though some songs did show up on live releases. But they weren’t even a band when those came out, having finally broken up in 1987.

In 2011, founding members Pete Lyons and Pete Boyce (guitars and vocals, respectively) reformed for a punk festival in Finland which sparked more activity—and more lineup changes, of course—but no new material. (A 10-inch to support the tour came out, but it only featured a re-recorded “Out from the Void” and a previously unreleased 1982 track.)

Lee Dorian’s Rise Above Records rectifies that by releasing The Rising of the Lights. The band’s original sound would seem at odds with the label which is better known for doom metal, but the new release is unusual for very different reasons. Now a trio featuring Lyons, bassist John Bryson, who dates back to the original Out from the Void release, and Joe Burwood, who has been drumming with the band since its reformation six years ago, the band has kept the speed, but rather than unrefined bluster, there is a machine gun like precision to the album. Riffs chug ferociously and meticulously, not unlike early crossover outfits such as Cryptic Slaughter or Suicidal Tendencies’ Join the Army skate-punk opus, though the lyrics are still political, anti-authoritarian think-pieces. “Something to Hate” is especially feral and unhinged.

The median song length is more than six minutes long, at odds with the short blasts of inspiration for which the band was known. The metallic parts are fused together with art-rock flourishes (see the title track) and the post-punk inclinations of past incarnations are far more pronounced as well. This is especially evident on “Weapons of Mass Distraction.” The track is like Killing Joke doing a rock opera, fitting in its seven-plus minutes Kurt Vonnegut-inspired spoken word over ambient droning before screaming guitars knock you to your senses. It and lead single “Black” closely resemble the kind of cynical plodding that Jaz Coleman and Geordie Walker perfected: music to dance to, to war dance.

This may seem a controversial statement, but one of the greatest things Metallica ever did was cover “The Wait.” It exposed a generation of metalheads too young to experience Killing Joke to the fascinating band and also alluded to how Hetfield’s ability to churn out fantastic riffs could turn the song into something else. The Rising of the Lights is like Antisect took that one important cover song of two contrasting styles and expanded it across an album, adding over three decades worth of anger and disgust. The squatters might not agree, but Antisect is better than ever.

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