My first few years of industrial fanaticism was filled mostly with bands from the Wax Trax label: Ministry and various side projects, Meat Beat Manifesto, Frontline Assembly, KMFDM, Front 242, and lots more. Plus there was Skinny Puppy, Nine Inch Nails, and probably a few other non-Wax Trax bands I’m forgetting. Although some of those bands came from other countries, collectively they defined what I considered to be the “domestic” sound.
A friend and I frequently traded mix tapes as we were both expanding our knowledge of the genre, and on one of these tapes was a song that bowled me over and started a whole new phase of industrial fanaticism: Torment Me by Leather Strip. The synth sounds were more biting, the drums were bigger, the song structure quite different, and overall it was more aggressive than what I was used to hearing at the time. Compared to the whole of Leather Strip’s catalog it may not be one of Claus Larsen’s strongest and it may sound a bit primitive or dated compared to some of his later efforts, but it’s a song that still works well for me and is an impressive bit of songwriting with several different movements. This single song was responsible for my discovery of the Zoth Ommog label, but it made my hobby more expensive because many of those bands were only available as high-priced imports at the time.
I don’t own every Leather Strip release, and that’s particularly true of his very prolific output since reappearing on the scene, so this is going to be an incomplete list. But I’m familiar with a significant chunk of the sizeable catalog, so I’ll rank what I know.
Penetrating the Satanic Citizen
Because I raved so much about the song Torment Me, which is all I knew of the band, my girlfriend bought me two LS albums at the same time: Penetrating the Satanic Citizen and Solitary Confinement. This was an expensive gift, given that these albums were both imports and we were still students and working for minimal pay. Though similar and both released in 1992, the two albums sounded noticeably different, and I eventually learned that this was because Penetrating was a collection of material from the band’s first two albums. A lot of the stuff on Penetrating sounded dated to me even back in 1992, with more primitive bass sounds and sometimes a throaty vocal style which I never cared much for, so I much preferred Solitary Confinement. My three favorites from this album:
- Japanese Bodies ’92 — Amazing song, particularly the opening melodic riff before the proper bassline kicks in. The rest of the song actually isn’t as strong as that riff, but it’s still a good track. Hearing that riff in the Zoth Ommog megamix is always a treat.
- Torment Me — I’ve already mentioned this one, and it’s still a standout for me. Starting with the George Bush samples and then moving a biting synth bassline that sounds like two different riffs partially overlapping. Then there’s a proper bridge section with Claus yelling “Freedom!” followed by a chorus that gets stronger in the second half when the sounds become more layered. There’s then a somewhat slower section with a slower bass riff and different vocal pattern, and the song ends with another fast and completely different bassline. It may not sound so revolutionary, but the songwriting is really a cut above the ultra-repetitive one-riff songs that usually dominate the scene.
- Razor Blades ’92 — More great, aggressive basslines and characteristic electronic strings at times.
Honorable Mention: Rotation — An instrumental track except for various vocal samples, this is a fun track with several cool riffs and sort of a funk feel at times. Also, What’s Hell Really Like is a fun, high-energy track.
Worst Track: Choosing a worst track was harder than I thought — my memory of the album is that there was a lot I didn’t like, but on reviewing everything I found that most tracks aren’t all that bad. I’ll go with Touchdown Breakdown, largely because it represents the primitive sound and throaty vocals which made some of this stuff sound dated even when I first heard it.
Fit For Flogging
This album was released a year after Solitary Confinement, but I’m listing it first because it’s another collection of older material. Like Penetrating, it has some songs I really like and then some which have always sounded a bit dated. I don’t know the original source of all these songs; I think some come from the first two albums, and then maybe some from various singles or EPs? Three favorites:
- Fit for Flogging — The title track is amazingly catchy, the bassline and beat work together perfectly. Except for the vocals, this song sounds a bit more upbeat and fun Leather Strip’s usual dark or aggressive sound.
- Antius — The music in the song sounds a bit ahead of its time, when compared to other offerings on this album. The main bass riff sounds like something Claus might have done a few albums later than this.
- Nosecandy — This song is mostly about the high-energy chorus, but what a great chorus!
Honorable Mention: Black Gold is a great song, perhaps overall better than Nosecandy. It has a bit of that fun sensibility also found in Fit for Flogging.
Worst Track: I just can’t get into Break My Back, with its uninteresting bass sound and early-sounding vocal delivery. Khomenin has a similar primitive sound which just doesn’t do much for me.
For me, Solitary Confinement and its follow-up album, Underneath the Laughter, are the pinnacle of Leather Strip’s catalog. The sound quality is noticeably improved and Claus Larsen’s strong songwriting abilities are on full display. When going back to listen to Solitary Confinement, sometimes I think that the lyrical distortion is a bit too heavy, but I much prefer it to the more clean sound the band has adopted on more recent releases and sometimes I think I’ve just gotten soft because many modern EBM releases have no vocal distortion at all. The lyrics on this album also seem to be among the best the band has done; I find the lyrics on most of the more modern Leather Strip albums to be quite a step down. My three favorites from Solitary Confinement:
- Strap Me Down — Incredible riffs abound in this song, with lyrics that are understandable and fun to sing along with. The melodic chorus is a highlight of the entire Leather Strip catalog, one of those my wife and I would sing together while barreling down the road with this album playing. I’ve listened to this one so much that sometimes the effect is a bit dulled, but it is still an absolute industrial classic.
- I Am Your Conscience — I love the fast, pounding verses, but again this song really comes alive with the amazing chorus. Another one that just begs you to sing along. Then the song winds down with haunting strings and a woman screaming for quite a long time — a bit disturbing, maybe, but somehow it works perfectly.
- Evil Speaks — Such a fun song, with the swing beat which is so unusual for this genre. I can’t get enough of the moment in the bassline where it descends in double time. The common thread among my favorites is the catchy, singable chorus, and this one is no exception.
Honorable Mention: The opening track, Mortal Thoughts, has such an amazing bassline that I want to consider it among my favorites as well, but I don’t know which of the above three songs I’d be willing to bump in favor of this one. Also, at the beginning of Nothing Seen – Nothing Done, right after the vocal sample “Follow your spirit!”, the bassline that starts up there blows my mind every time.
Worst Song: Red Meat Attraction has never done much for me, it just seems overly noisy and doesn’t have elements as catchy as what you find on the rest of the album. It’s not a bad song at all, just a lesser track among an album of greats.
Underneath the Laughter
First off, the cover above is not the one I own. But the original cover, a smiling face with an upside-down cross cut into its forehead, has always seemed a bit offensive to me. I’m not sure why, since there are plenty other examples in the industrial scene of similar imagery in song lyrics if not on album covers, but I’ve just never cared for it.
At any rate, this album is also one of Leather Strip’s strongest, something which I didn’t quite recognize at first but have since come to appreciate. I still prefer Solitary Confinement overall, but there’s plenty to like here as well. Three favorites:
- Another World — The bassline is absolutely delicious, especially the way the song starts out with the bass playing slowly and gradually speeding up to full tempo.
- Don’t Tame Your Soul — Somehow this song completely escaped my attention when I first heard this album, but it’s another high-energy Leather Strip classic with a powerful chorus.
- World’s End — For a few years I ran an internet radio station, and I’d never really noticed this song until a listener requested it. It’s a more laid back song, perhaps a ballad but I hesitate to call it that. A really powerful, emotional chorus is the highlight of this one.
Honorable Mention: Depending on the day, I might list Turn To Stone among my three favorites in place of World’s End. It’s a very solid Leather Strip stomper. As is Prying Eyes. The White Disgrace is very high-energy but it is also a bit too noisy. And then We Will Follow deserves mention as an actual Leather Strip ballad worth hearing.
Worst Track: I’ll go with Atheistic Sermon because, at over 11 minutes, it really just asks too much from the listener.
Serenade for the Dead
I’m not qualified to choose three favorites from this album because, frankly, I listened to it once or twice and it has remained permanently shelved ever since. I know it has its fans, but I consider it to be a colossal mistake which killed the band’s momentum while it was at its height. Also, the band emerged from this dark orchestral, instrumental album irrevocably and fundamentally changed, and nothing they’ve released since this album has been of the same caliber as the albums I’ve already discussed.
Legacy of Hate and Lust, The Rebirth of Agony
These two albums are ones I never purchased because, to be blunt, the early stuff I heard from each were a big letdown as a fan of the earlier sound. Both albums contain some classic Leather Strip music, but it’s mainly the vocals and the lyrics which are notably different. From this point forward, Claus would attempt to do more straightforward singing instead of yelling, and also removed some of the distortion from his voice. The problem is that singing is not his strong point and the vocals often do a disservice to the music supporting it. Also, the lyrics became decidedly more personal beginning with these albums, which is fine in theory, but something was lost at the same time and I find the words to be less cleverly crafted and sometimes come off as amateurish in their stark directness. Some people claimed that Rebirth of Agony was the return of classic Leather Strip, but I found it to be anything but. It is a noticeable improvement over Legacy, though, and has a few tracks worth noting:
- Lies to Tell – A strong Leather Strip track, as long as you can get past the singing.
- How Do I Know? – Incredible music in this one, it could have been a classic for the band if not for (you guessed it) the singing during the verses.
Although this album, like pretty much every album from here on out, perpetuates some of the problems from the last two releases, I did actually purchase this one and think it’s an improvement. By the time this album came out my days of being blown away by Leather Strip were long gone, but this is maybe a step up from the previous two releases. There aren’t any songs on this album which I really love, but three that I like more than the others are:
- Tell Me What to Do — The driving beat and bassline on this one are nice and the vocals seem more under control.
- Under My Control — This bouncy song is just fun, even though the vocals epitomize what I don’t like about the “new” Leather Strip sound.
- Understand My Torment — This song has shades of earlier Leather Strip, but it might just be that the vocals are more distorted here which masks problems I might otherwise have with the vocal delivery.
Honorable Mention: There are songs on this album with interesting riffs but which don’t completely come together for me, such as Black Candle and Give It Back. I also think Face the Fire is a solid semi-ballad, perhaps it would replace one of my three favorites above depending on my mindset on a particular day.
Worst Song: There isn’t really a song that stands out as much worse than the rest of the album, but maybe I’ll go with the X-Files Theme cover just because Claus singing the melody doesn’t work nearly as well as the original song.
Long Break and then Returning with a Vengeance
At about this point in the discography, Leather Strip completely disappeared from the scene for several years and there were all sorts of rumors about what happened, I think even rumors of Claus’s death. But he surprised everyone by returning with new material after about 9 years, and he has been extremely prolific ever since 2006. I only own a few releases from this 2nd coming of Leather Strip — I won’t bother to mention all the ones I don’t have, but here are the ones I’m familiar with:
Walking on Volcanos
This is apparently considered an EP, but at 9 tracks it seems like a full album to me. The return of Leather Strip essentially continues the pattern he’d established before his break — his knack for songwriting still shows through a lot of the time, often with stronger music than his last few releases before the break, but the vocals and/or lyrics continue to cause me to hold this material at arm’s length rather than fully embracing it. My three favorites from this release:
- Hate and Fear — This is about as close to a classic Leather Strip song as I’ve heard since the band’s return. Powerful, aggressive, and the vocals don’t bother me much at all.
- Life is a Kick in the Balls — Absolutely love the the dark bassline and catchy beat in this song, and I even like the vocals in this one with their low-pitched, menacing delivery. However, the best part is the first couple minutes. After that it develops into more of a “normal” Leather Strip song and the magic from the opening minutes is somewhat lost.
- Walking on Volcanos — I’m not thrilled about the singing in the verses, but I think this song has a strong chorus and there’s sort of a soaring quality to the music.
Honorable Mention: I Love the Sound of Acid Rain is a quirky track with a videogame sensibility to the music, and it’s fun to listen to.
Worst Track: What If sounds a lot more like synthpop than I’d expect to hear from Leather Strip, which isn’t necessarily bad, but the singing is particularly bad here.
The Giant Minutes to the Dawn
This album from 2007 is the most recent release I’ve purchased from Leather Strip. There have been a bunch more releases since then, including at least one more double album, but to my ear it all sounds more or less the same as this album so I haven’t been particularly motivated to keep adding to my Leather Strip collection. I always think of this as a double album because I purchased the limited edition which includes The Hourglass which is listed as an EP but is really a second full album — I’m going to list it separately so I can pick more favorites. Combined, this is actually some of the strongest work from Claus in a long time and makes me think that maybe I need to take another listen to his subsequent releases. Here are my three favorites:
- Blah Blah Blah — An aggressive beat with a swing time beat reminiscent of Evil Speaks from Solitary Confinement, this sounds more like a classic Strip track than most of the album. Claus even sings the chorus of Fit For Flogging at the end, although it’s a “new style” vocal which is not as good how he used to sing it.
- Will the Sun Return — This almost sounds like a song that could have appeared on Underneath the Laughter, except the vocal delivery is not quite the same.
- Kill the Predator — Although this has some singing which totally kills the song for me, it has such an amazing musical moment that it’s a favorite anyway. Before the first verse starts, there’s an incredible melodic riff in the style of the classic Japanese Bodies, which is only enhanced when a bassline is added underneath it. But then the singing starts and the magic pretty much dies until later in the song when this excellent musical part appears again.
Honorable Mention: Commotio is a fast, aggressive song with angry, distorted vocals. Perhaps I like it better than Kill the Predator overall, but that riff in Predator is probably my favorite moment on the entire album. Also, the song Go Ahead is a fairly strong semi-ballad although I have to make allowances for both the lyrics and the vocals. I also like Crucify Them, even though I feel like I shouldn’t for some reason.
Worst Song: Seconds Last Forever is a song where I can see what Claus is going for, and the music isn’t bad for a ballad-like song, but he just doesn’t have the vocal chops to pull this off.
As mentioned above, this is the bonus album with the limited edition of Giant Minutes to the Dawn. This is actually a stronger album than that, and here are my three favorites:
- Pain is Beautiful — Musically, this is easily one of the best songs I’ve heard from Claus since the return of Leather Strip. It’s slow tempo but definitely not a ballad, rather it’s aggressive and dark. The problem for me is, as is becoming a common refrain, the lyrics and the vocals. The lyrics are all about sado-masochism and are rather blunt about it, and I find them to be a bit unsettling overall. They’re delivered partly in a low growl which I like, but then also in the typical “new style” Leather Strip singing which I usually think sounds terrible. So while I do really like this song, I usually find myself listening past the lyrics and vocals and focusing on the cool music. It’s a skill I’ve developed over years of listening to various industrial songs with lyrics or vocal delivery that just don’t work for me.
- Global House Warming — A really strong track with a beat that has me bobbing my head. The usual caveat applies — the lyrics and vocals require a bit of leniency so that you don’t allow them to ruin the song.
- Amphetamine Boys — A fast, aggressive track with vocals that actually work for me better than usual.
Honorable Mention: Beyond the Black Hills is a really strange track with a quirky chorus which seems like something I shouldn’t like, but somehow I really like the sorta haunted, dream-like delivery. Also, the title track The Hourglass is interesting. Oh, and Hate & Fear appears here as well — it was one of my favorites from Walking on Volcanos.