The Knife made a return to the spotlight earlier this week with Full of Fire, their first official track since their 2006 acclaimed album ‘Silent Shout’. It followed a hiatus that, amongst various DJ monikers, remixes and guest spots, saw one half – Karin – go off to make another acclaimed album as Fever Ray, and both reconnect to score an opera about Charles Darwin with Berlin-based experimentalists Planningtorock and Mt. Sims.
The duo are full of surprises, but the new track is still a real revelation, a ten minute assault that takes techno’s propulsive core and runs wild. European dance music has long been the group’s template, and the rhythms of a lot of ‘Silent Shout’ or something like Is It Medicine on ‘Deep Cuts’ before it are similar to Full of Fire, but the new track is far more abrasive. The meticulously constructed progressions are replaced by jarring synths that lash out more than they ever did before. The pitch shifting vocals are also more obviously ugly and grating than the rich expressive howls that characterise their sound.
A lot of the words are difficult to pick up, but the track’s central question, “When you’re full of fire/ What’s the object of your desire?”, is both angry and confused. The Knife have never flinched from taking on political issues, but the smart parodies of sexual and economic biases (see Hangin’ Out and the whole ‘Gender Bender’ EP) are laid bare now. The accompanying short film, directy by Marit Östberg, is about the cracks beneath civilised veneers and features the the duo – this time in conventional character rather than behind masks or face paint. Östberg uses the line “who looks after my story” as the base and sets most of the narrative in a single street in Stockholm. A single street where the principle characters occasionally hover and pass each other by.
The Knife – Full of Fire
The initial shocks come from exciting shots of motorcylists screaming through the city and groups protesting by the bay with placards reading “OCCUPY THE CASTLE” and “SOLIDARITY IS SEX”, but the nuances are in the thematic echoes: the BDSM bikers and the army officer cuffing a protester whilst sharing bedroom eyes, or the lady urinating in the street being passed by a blind man led by his guide dog. Most important is the section that stars Karin and Olof themselves – the comfortable but distant couple with a maid they only communicate with through a nod, smile and a roll of cash in hand. She smashes a set of wine glasses in what you think is a fantasy, but the couple’s estranged young daughter can see the fragments too. The maid walks to a pier and rejoins the other mysterious character from the start of the film as – in a typically The Knife move – the song ends by switching sex with gender in that famous 1991 public service announcement by Salt-N-Pepa. Full of Fire is angry, yes, but it’s really hopeful too.
Stripping away boundaries and shaking the habitual is the heart of the track, and it draws heavily from the two main project breaks: with the raw emotional honesty of Fever Ray and the interest in Darwin’s open-ended biological networks from ‘Tomorrow, In a Year’ both forming strong influences. Full of Fire is a pointer; expect the duo to do what they do best but in a far more direct and confrontational mood on ‘Shaking the Habitual’.