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

Leather Strip - Penetrate 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

Leather Strip - 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.

Solitary Confinement

Leather Strip - Solitary Confinement

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

Leather Strip - 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

Leather Strip - 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

Leather Strip - Legacy of Hate and LustLeather Strip - 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.

Self-Inflicted

Leather Strip - Self-Inflicted

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

Leather Strip - 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

Leather Strip - 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.

The Hourglass

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.

Controlled Bleeding is perhaps the strangest band ever to be categorized under the industrial umbrella, if only because their style has varied to such extremes that it could almost be considered 3 or 4 different bands and only a small fraction of their music could even really be considered industrial.  They have a long history going all the way back to the 1970s, and at various times they have been an ethereal medieval-influenced band, a harsh noise experiment, an industrial-dance outfit, a laid-back dub group, a hard-rocking guitar project, and various shades in between.

Because of these wild swings into new genres, I can honestly say that I only enjoy a small fraction of the band’s output: their brief foray into more mainstream industrial-dance which is mostly encompassed by the albums Trudge and Penetration.  I can also appreciate some of their ethereal/goth/medieval sound, when I’m in the right mood, and I really like Joe Papa’s almost operatic vocals.  Ironically, the industrial-dance stuff which I like the best and which I suspect is their most popular period overall is the one that that band seems to disown and consider a less artistic, “sellout” time.  But that relatively brief part of their history is what I’m mainly going to focus on here.

Trudge

Controlled Bleeding -Trudge

For the first year or two that I was discovering industrial music, I would often just go into a music store and blind-buy albums with the Wax Trax logo on the spine.  This was in the days before the world wide web, so it could be very difficult to become informed about industrial bands if you didn’t have friends or a local radio station to help guide your way.  Controlled Bleeding’s Trudge was one of those blind purchases.  I think my first reaction was one of confusion, because this didn’t sound anything like Front 242 or Revolting Cocks or KMFDM or any of the other bands who were on the Wax Trax label around this time.  But I loved the airy pad sounds that opened the album on Words of the Dying, as well as the interesting percussion.  The vocals were not the aggressive distorted sound I was becoming accustomed to and, being someone who didn’t and still doesn’t know much about goth music, I would have described them as more goth than industrial.  The strange-but-cool feeling continued into the second track, Crimes of the Body, which starts out relatively light and cheery but then switches to a brief segment of hard sludge with distorted vocals, before abruptly switching again to a fast guitar-driven momement with the angry, distorted singing I expected from industrial.  But just as quickly, it went back to the relatively cheery sound that started the song.  The three different styles thrown together in this song are indicative of Controlled Bleeding’s entire catalog, to my mind–always changing drastically to something you didn’t expect.

The third track, The Front, continued with the somewhat complex percussion that I enjoy throughout this album, but put the focus more on a repetitive bass guitar riff and angry vocals.  The most memorable thing about this track to me was always the vocal sample, “You can go to hell!”  And then the fourth track, Crawl, starts up and it sounds noticeably different than anything else on the album.  At this point I was really starting to scratch my head because I just couldn’t nail down exactly what this band was all about.  This variety, at least within their industrial-dance era, is something that I really appreciate these days because it seems most industrial bands seem to have one specific sound which they repeat in every song, but at the time as an industrial neophyte it was a little maddening.  Crawl has an energetic synth riff driving the song and some great percussion highlighted by a sharp metal clank as the snare sound.

Next up was The Fodder Song, which was yet another curveball.  The main element this time is a driving 16th-note bassline which seemed more like stuff I’d heard from other bands, and the vocals somewhat reminded me of Ministry’s album Twitch.  I originally wasn’t too interested in this song because it seemed plodding and overly repetitive, but I like it more now.  This was followed up by Kiss (the Hand of Genocide), which fascinated me and was one of my favorite tracks early on.  The incredibly fast bassline and frenetic drums mixed with the low, ominous monotone of the vocals just worked perfectly for me.

Healing Time was another song which sounded nothing like anything I’d yet encountered on the album, but which quickly became a favorite.  Starting off with an extended, plodding timpani beat that set an ominous mood, it was joined by screeching noise samples and then a main riff of dramatic brass sounds accompanied by low-pitched, heavily distorted vocals.  The effect was very dark and atmospheric, and I ate it up.  I especially liked the chorus which made use of a male chorus, low octave at first, but then giving the song more of a soaring sound when moving it to a higher register.  This song remains a highlight for me, more than two decades after I first purchased the album.

Assembly is an instrumental which is almost a percussion-only track, but it does have a simple melody of distorted, held notes to give it more body.  As I’ve mentioned, the percussion throughout this album is interesting and unique and clearly had a lot more thought put into it than most industrial bands bother with.  Unfortunately, I think the production on the album overall is a bit lackluster and I long for a remastering where the drum sounds could be beefed up substantially.

Christ Said is the only track from the album which I didn’t transfer over to my iPhone library.  I don’t dislike it, but for me it just sorta plods along and I rarely find myself listening through to the end.  But this is followed up by Save Us, which is possibly my favorite track on the album.  It starts out as a wonderful percussion-only intro that gets more and more complex as time goes on.  When the strings and vocals finally come in, the song proves to be another dark, slow track similar to Healing Time.  This is more of what I’d describe as a goth song with industrial tendencies, but again, I’ve never been very educated on goth so I could be entirely wrong there.

The final track, A Silken Barb, is one that I didn’t hear until many years later because it appears only on the CD and my original purchase of Trudge was the cassette version.  This track is a bit more like some of the medieval-tinged atmospheric stuff that Controlled Bleeding did on some earlier releases, so the change from the rest of the album is a bit jolting.  This track really highlight’s Joe Papa’s vocals, which are nothing like I’d usually want to hear in industrial music but for some reason work really well for me.

Overall, Trudge is a really interesting album with the main downside being in production.  The drums don’t sound as powerful as they should and some of the riffs are perhaps a bit muddy.  The overall effect is that the album sounds more dated than it should, but after a brief acclimation period it really doesn’t bother me anymore.

Penetration

Controlled Bleeding - Penetration

Penetration is for me the clear high point for the band and a real industrial classic.  It varies a lot in style, just like the previous album, but the production is better and the songwriting tighter.  It starts out with Blessed is the Burning Room, a track which had me scratching my head due to its funky vibe and horns.  For a time I didn’t really appreciate this song as much as others, but now I think it’s a solid track.

The second track, Now is the Time, is incredible.  I love the incredibly simple but catchy bass riff and the way the percussion dances around it.  The upbeat tone of the song contrasts sharply but perfectly with the distorted screaming of the vocals.  This is followed by the machine-gun percussion intro of Auto-Grind, and the frenetic, unnatural pace of the drums persists throughout the track.  The dance-friendly beat again is seemingly at odds with the heavy guitars in the chorus and again the screaming vocals, but it all ends up working very well together.  I’ve always been a bit unclear about the roles of the three members of the band, but I think the great screaming vocals are the work of the late Chris Moriarty.

The fourth song, Consecration’s Will, is one that mistakenly wrote off as filler at one point, but now I think it’s a solid track but just not one of the highlights for me.  Dead Man Reality, however, is a great danceable track with bass and drums again working together well with stabs of orchestra hits.  This is followed up by In Penetration, a blazing fast guitar-driven track that almost sounds like dark, electronic punk song.  This song originally appeared under one of the band’s brief side projects, Joined at the Head.

Next up is probably my favorite song on the album, Will to Power (And Throwin’ Down).  It slows the pace way down but has a great, dark groove and a thumping beat that will keep your head slowly bobbing.  I love the lightly distorted singing that is mixed with the more dark vocal delivery in the verses, and also the occasional sound of twin laser blasts to highlight the percussion.  Halfway through, the song halts abruptly and is replaced by by a noisy buzz and then the beat comes back in even harder and more distorted than before–my favorite bit of the song.

This is followed up by Praying in Fire, which my mind has always lumped with Consecration’s Will as good but not quite a standout.  But really both songs are very solid, I’ve underrated them.  I can’t say the same of the next track, Scrap Metal (Part 3 – Live), though.  I think this track is a bunch of pointless noise with no appeal whatsoever.  I can get into ambience and I like noise in some songs, but this is just a pure wall of noise with nothing to latch onto.  I hate the entire series of Scrap Metal songs which they’ve spread throughout many of their releases.  There are even full albums of this style earlier in their career.

The last song, Awakened Beneath the Ground, is unlike anything else on the disc.  It retains the dancy beat, but the organ sounds and the return of Joe Papa’s opera-like vocals make it unique.  It’s one of the highlights of the album for me, though, I love the atmosphere of it all.

Other Stuff

Unfortunately, outside of those two albums I have trouble finding much in the Controlled Bleeding catalog which I enjoy.  I have their 2-disc Greatest Hits collection, from which I only discovered a few great tracks such as Tormentor’s Song which is more in the vein of Awakened Beneath the Ground, being more of a gothic/medieval sound complete with a mandolin-like sound during part of the verses.  Also, from the album Buried Blessings which I believe is actually a collection of several singles from 1988-1990, I discovered a few greats:  Raid, which sounds like a more rough version of something on Penetration; Buried Blessing, which would fit in well with songs from Trudge; and Ring of Fire, which is another of the more atmospheric/operatic songs although with an interesting percussion section.

Because I like the aforementioned albums and single tracks so much, I find it really frustrating that the band has such a huge catalog and yet I don’t enjoy more of it.  There are a few albums of the ethereal/medieval/gothic sound which have some interesting clips, such as the album Songs from the Ashes, but as of yet I haven’t purchased any of that from iTunes.  But their noise experiments and their dub phase and their most recent efforts which I find hard to describe, all hold little interest for me.  So the band is strange for me because I hold them in very high regard, but only for one small phase of their decades-long existence.

For some reason, Nine Inch Nails stands apart in my mind from other industrial bands.  I just don’t categorize it with the rest.  Not because the band is better, or worse, or different.  Even though I tell myself that shunning something because it’s popular is a shallow, silly thing to do, I suspect that I still do this with NIN despite my best intentions.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I discovered industrial music roughly around the time 1989 faded into 1990.  The first bands I discovered were Ministry, Front 242, Nitzer Ebb, and Skinny Puppy, and this soon branched out to Meat Beat Manifesto, Front Line Assembly , and other bands mostly from the Wax Trax label.  One day in the parking lot at my high school, a friend was blasting this insane music from his car and it turned out to be NIN’s first album, Pretty Hate Machine.

nin - phm

I loved it instantly and bought my own copy.  NIN joined the ranks of all those other bands I just mentioned, all of which were blowing my mind as I was learning more and more about this whole new genre of music.

I vaguely remember that Pretty Hate Machine was a bit obscure at first, just like any industrial release, but eventually it caught on like wildfire.  Videos started showing up on MTV and people who would find industrial music revolting overall started to become NIN fans.  By the time the second album, The Downward Spiral, showed up, NIN were a bonafide mainstream success.  I remember being excited about this phenomenon at first, thinking that the industrial genre would somehow be legitimized by some mainstream popularity and that increased awareness would just allow for more bands to form up and deliver more of this great music.

After a while, though, I found myself sorta resenting the band’s success.  Not overtly, but it sorta crept into my subconsciousness over time.  Somehow it didn’t really mean anything to be a fan of Nine Inch Nails, because it seemed like everybody was a fan.  Industrial was some sort of secret club for people who like to wear a lot of black, and something seemed wrong when metalheads and football players also started to wear NIN t-shirts.  As I’ve recognized often enough in others, I guess too much of my personal identity had gotten wrapped up in being a fan of an obscure form of music.  Somehow, NIN breaking into the mainstream made them less cool.  I’m not proud of that, but I think that’s definitely what happened in my head at the time.

So, I mostly drifted away from Nine Inch Nails.  It wasn’t only because of the superficial reason stated above, but also because I found that the newer music didn’t grab me in the same way as the first couple releases.  I did love the single for The Perfect Drug and maybe one or two remixes along the way, but the only album I’ve purchased since The Downward Spiral is With Teeth, from many years later–I was briefly excited about it but that faded quickly and today I can’t recall any of the music from that CD.

Recently, the shuffle mode on my phone has seen fit to choose, from my library of roughly 3000 songs, several songs from Pretty Hate Machine.  And you know what?  They’re still really darn good.  It makes me want to kick myself for excluding NIN from my personal definition of “industrial music” for so long.  That album is just as much a part of the roughly-1990 scene as other releases such as Front Line Assembly’s Caustic Grip, Skinny Puppy’s Too Dark Park, and Ministry’s The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste.

So maybe in a way this is my personal apology to Trent Reznor for turning up my nose at his band for becoming too darn popular and no longer bolstering my identity as someone who was into cool music that nobody else even knew about.  I remain a fan mostly of his early work, but still, I think it’s time for me to bring Pretty Hate Machine back out into the light again.  I know that a few years back he released a remastered version–I think I’ll give that a listen.

KMFDM were among the first industrial bands I ever heard, when a friend loaned me the single for More & Faster.  It contained 3 tracks, all of which are classics–besides the title track, it also included Rip The System and Naff Off.  Okay, so maybe Naff Off is just a personal favorite, but I think the other two are widely considered classics.

I have a few gaps in my KMFDM collection, so there will be some albums not appearing on this list.  This includes their very first album, What Do You Know Deutschland?.  In the past I’ve listened to clips and never found any compelling reason to pick this one up.  However, in reviewing clips just now I discovered that Naff Off and Itchy Bitchy are basically two versions of the same song.  Except for that album, my collection is fairly complete up until the last 5 releases, which I never purchased.  I basically lost interest in acquiring more of KMFDM’s sound because I felt like they were just doing the same thing over and over and there was little new to experience anymore.  So since I’m not familiar with their latest releases at all other than brief clips, this list doesn’t include them.

Don’t Blow Your Top

KMFDM - Dont Blow Your Top

KMFDM’s 2nd album is the first one I’ll cover.  After being blown away by the More & Faster single, I asked my friend for more from the band and he gave me this album.  It was decidedly different and somewhat of a surprise.  It’s a very strange and quirky album which I couldn’t really get into then, and I still can’t really get into now.  I find that generally I’m not a fan of much that Raymond Watts contributes to, with the notable exception of Nihil we’ll get to in a bit, and his sound is all over this album.  I’ll try to pick three favorites:

  • Don’t Blow Your Top — This song is a blueprint for the signature sound which KMFDM would adopt and retain throughout much of the band’s career.  It doesn’t really sound like anything else on this album, but it does sound a lot like many of their songs on subsequent releases.
  • Disgust — This song has a cool bassline and good percussion.
  • Oh Look — I begrudgingly list this as a third favorite just to complete the list, not because I like it but because I don’t dislike it as much as the rest of the offerings.

Honorable Mention: None

Worst Song: So many to choose from!  I honestly can’t narrow it down.

UAIOE

KMFDM - UAIOE

This album also has it s quirky moments, such as the strong inexplicable reggae influence on several tracks, but I found it much more palatable than the previous release and there are songs on this one I genuinely like.  My top three:

  • More and Faster 243 — It’s not the same version that I originally heard on the single, but it’s close enough that this supplants it in my memory.  A real classic and one of the songs which cemented my fanaticism for industrial music for decades to come.  It also may be the first example of their self-deprecating humor which they would revisit years later on songs such as Sucks.
  • En Esch — A solid rocker that is a precursor to the more guitar-heavy sound which would become their bread and butter.
  • Thumb Thumb — This song was a late discovery for me, somehow I didn’t take notice of it until after I’d listened to the album many times.  But this is a great song with a driving beat and a lot of energy.  I wish the production on it was a bit cleaner, though.

Honorable Mention: Uaioe, Loving Can Be an Art, Thrash Up!

Worst Song: I’m going to say Rip The System, only because the reggae remix offered on this album pales before the greatness of the original single version.  This song is one of their all-time greats, but you wouldn’t really know it from listening to the version they included on UAIOE.

Naïve

KMFDM - Naive

Many fans hail this as one of the band’s greatest albums.  I’m afraid I can’t quite agree.  I originally bought it on cassette and I remember listening to it heavily back in the days when industrial was still very fresh and new for me, but eventually it faded from memory as I switched to listening to things on CD and all my cassettes started receiving less attention.  Many years later I was surprised to hear lots of praise for it and thought I’d revisit it and perhaps pick up the CD release, but when I went back I found that I didn’t actually like very many of the tracks.  This album does show KFMDM solidifying into their signature sound, though, so I can see why people would like it more than anything released previously.  Apparently this album was out of print for a long time due to legal issues with a sample used in the song Liebesleid, but was later reissued with an edited version of that song.  Wikipedia says the original release is now considered a collector’s item. I  wonder if my old cassette is worth some cash?  My three favorite songs from this one:

  • Go To Hell — This was a standout track to me from the very beginning, and it remains just about the only song from this album that I would want in my current rotation.  Stomping beat, angry guitar, and bombastic lyrics — everything that would make them arguably one of the more successful bands to come out of the industrial scene.
  • Liebesleid — Some great percussion on this one, everything else is secondary.
  • Virus — A fun song, I think a bit too noisy in the original version but the Dub remix on the full album cleans it up a bit.  I think this is hailed as one of their best songs from the early years, but it didn’t have such a big impact on me.

Honorable Mention: Godlike

Worst Song: It’s a tough call, but I’ll go with Friede just because that wah-wah guitar really annoys me.

Money

KMFDM - Money

I picked up the single for Vogue which was preceded this full album, and I remember being blown away by it — it seemed like a real step up for the band, particularly in terms of production.  I really liked Money when it first came out, I’m pretty sure I considered it my favorite KMFDM album for a time.  Alas, these days I find it a fairly boring album with a lot of plodding songs.  This album also seems to have some early examples of KMFDM stealing from themselves, something that seemed to become more common as time went on.  I’m positive that the main riff in Bargeld has been used elsewhere, perhaps in Sasha’s side project Excessive Force?  Also, the song I Will Pray uses the same Slayer guitar sample that they used in Godlike on the previous album.  My favorite three from this album are:

  • Money — A classic KMFDM song, catchy lyrics and some good song structure.
  • Vogue — Perhaps stronger than Money, it’s the other of the album’s main two highlights.  I have the nagging feeling that the single version was better, but I just did a little digging and it sounds more or less the same as this album version.
  • Under Satan (Dub) — Choosing a third favorite was more difficult because frankly nothing besides the aforementioned two tracks really grabs my attention.  I chose this because it’s almost a KMFDM great, but not quite.  It has some quirky samples including a little kid’s voice also heard two tracks previously on I Will Pray, and it’s missing vocals which for me are almost a necessary component to really catapult a song to greatness.

Honorable Mention: Sex on the Flag, We Must Awaken

Worst Song: I Will Pray

Angst

KMFDM - Angst

You could say that this album marked the beginning of a new stage in KMFDM’s career.  The template laid down here largely defined what they’d do on each subsequent release.  I remember being really excited about this album when it first came out.  Eventually there were just a few tracks from this album which I continued to keep in rotation, but in reviewing the whole album for this blog I’m a bit surprised by how strong it remains — there’s really just one stinker on the whole tracklist, and I should probably add some more of these songs back into the catalog of things I currently listen to.  My three favorites:

  • Hole in the Wall — For me, this is one of the greatest KMFDM songs of all time.  It is so dark and so serious, it almost seems like it was written by a different band.  But at the same time, it still has that signature KMFDM sound.
  • Glory — Just a driving energetic song, I remember the kick drum sound being amazingly heavy when I first heard this track.
  • Light — My first instinct was not to choose this song, but it has a lot of interesting things going on including a guitar riff that is hard to get out of my head once I’ve heard it.

Honorable Mention: I know many readers are probably shocked that I don’t have A Drug Against War and Sucks on my favorites list.  Those are both fun tracks, and actually, perhaps I should reconsider the former.  But the latter is good mainly because of the humorous lyrics, not the music.  Every song on this album has something interesting about it, though, except for…

Worst Song: The Problem — I don’t get this song, it doesn’t fit in with the album and all and it sounds like they were just doing a favor to their female vocalist by letting her have a track to herself.  This song gets skipped every time I play this album.

Nihil

KMFDM - Nihil

For me, this is KMFDM’s masterpiece.  I said earlier that I’m not a fan of the sound Raymond Watts brings to most things, but this album is the exception — the strongest tracks on this album seem to benefit from his involvement.  I saw the band play live during this tour, and sometimes seeing a band performing songs live will make me appreciate those songs more, but in this case I’d already recognized the greatness of this disc before seeing them.  A little while after this album was released, there was a big party thrown by my employer and they’d hired a DJ.  One of the first songs he played was Juke Joint Jezebel, and that’s when I knew KMFDM had really hit the big time.  Probably most of the people at that party didn’t know the song or the band, but I knew, and it was remarkable to me that they’d reached such a level of exposure.

The songs on this album seem to be ordered in a particular fashion:  The odd-numbered tracks seem to feature heavy involvement from Watts and are somewhat different from what the band’s usual sound, whereas the even-numbered tracks are more traditional KMFDM music.  I like virtually every song on this disc, but I do tend to favor the odd-numbered ones.  There are so many great songs on this album that it will be hard to choose a best three, but here we go:

  • Disobedience — This is, hands down, the best song KMFDM has ever released.  I just love everything about it.  It’s perfectly structured, with several great parts, and I love the way the guitar and horns play together.  Perhaps it’s more of a rock song than an industrial song, but that doesn’t make it any less great.
  • Terror — This song is all about the chorus, and it’s a great one that’s really fun to sing along with.
  • Brute — I love the dark, pounding sound of this track and the chorus has some powerfully dark lyrics that, again, you want to sing along with.  “Brutalize me / I will heal!”

Honorable Mention: Juke Joint Jezebel is probably the most recognized song from this album, and I do think the chorus is amazing, but I think the verses are boring.  I’d guess the band, or at least a label executive, thought the same thing because I’m pretty sure I’ve heard remixes that basically get rid of the verses so that listeners can have easier access to the catchy chorus.  But really, every song on this album is strong and deserves a mention.

Worst Song: Nihil — I can really appreciate some ambient dissonance when I’m in the right frame of mind, but KMFDM is not the band to deliver that style.

Xtort

KMFDM - Xtort

Even though I loved Nihil, I didn’t pick up the followup album Xtort until many years after it had been released.  I recall hearing very negative things about it and I didn’t like the clips that I’d heard, so I gave this one a wide berth.  Years later when I revisited clips, I was surprised by how much I liked them and so I finally purchased the full album.  This feels like a very back-to-basics KMFDM, which is a good thing, and I consider this one of their best releases.  If the reviews on iTunes are any indication, the negativity I remember upon release appears to have turned around and now the album seems highly regarded. My favorite three songs are:

  • Apathy — This is another fast-tempo song like A Drug Against War from two albums ago, but I think I find Apathy more interesting.
  • Rules — This is a slow, groovy track, the kind of song which is common on their album Money and which I’m not usually fond of, but this one is catchy.
  • Craze — I like how this is high-energy during the verses, and then slows down for the chorus with the monotone vocal delivery.

Honorable Mention: Power, Inane, Blame, Son of a Gun

Worst Song: Ikons, which isn’t really that bad, but I don’t like the chunky verses with the bad vocals.

Symbols

KMFDM - Symbols

This is a popular album, and it does have some good tracks on it, but for me this sorta marks the beginning of the end for me as a KMFDM fan.  I was momentarily excited about it, but these days I only find a few tracks worth listening to.  I’m not a fan of Tim Skold’s vocals, I think Ogre’s guest vocals don’t fit at all with the KMFDM sound, and Raymond Watts is back to doing things I don’t like such as the song with the vile title Spit Sperm.  Plus, the bombastic lyrics that KMFDM has always featured somehow started to sound a bit forced or disingenuous, perhaps a bit immature, starting with this album.  My three favorites would be:

  • Megalomaniacal — Very slick song, a KMFDM classic.  I remember it being the highlight of seeing the film Mortal Kombat in the theater.
  • Leid und Elend — Musically, this is probably my favorite song on the disc.  The vocals weaken it a little, though.
  • Mercy — Nothing remarkable about the verses, but the chorus is amazing!  This album needed more moments like that.

Honorable Mention: I like Stray Bullet but the lyrics make me roll my eyes too often for it to be considered a favorite.

Worst Song: There are a lot of candidates, but I think I’ll go with Torture just because to me it sounds like the music and vocals were done in complete isolation, without knowledge of each other.  Ogre and KMFDM just don’t mix well in my opinion.

Adios

KMFDM - Adios

I remember the confusion surrounding this album.  Was KMFDM really breaking up?  They actually did after this album, for a while at least, with Sasha forming the asinine-in-concept MFDMK project which wasn’t different enough to warrant being considered a new band at all.  I hate all the drama, hate that En Esch and Gunter Shulz were forced out and I prefer their subsequent project Slick Idiot over anything that Sasha would do without them as KMFDM.  But overall I do find this album to be pretty strong and a big step up from Symbols.  This is their last album for Wax Trax, and I do have to respect them for sticking with the classic label for so long while most of their labelmates had jumped ship at some point previous.  My top three favorites:

  • Sycophant — Catchy little song, and I love the stabs of aggressive percussion that appear hear and there.
  • Witness — I think a lot of the time, the addition of female vocals in KMFDM songs is a bit overrated and detracts rather than adds to the song.  Here, though, where there are only female vocals, it works great.  This is a quirky song with weird lyrics, but it’s fun to listen to.
  • Adios — KMFDM doing their typical bombast, but doing it well here.

Honorable Mention: D.I.Y. and R.U.OK?

Worst Song: A tie between That’s All and Full Worm Garden — as I mentioned before, I think KMFDM and Ogre are two flavors that just don’t work well together.

Attak

KMFDM - Attak

This album was technically the return of the band, after breaking up and reforming briefly with a different lineup as MDFMK.  There are some interesting tracks here, but by this time my interest in the band had really started to decline so this didn’t get as much play as previous albums.  Three favorites:

  • Skurk — The chorus is really catchy and usually has me singing along; a fun song overall.
  • Sturm & Drang — KMFDM at their bombastic best; top track on the album.
  • Risen — A nice, aggressive groove to this one.

Honorable Mention: Dirty and Save Me, the latter mainly for the chorus.  It’s archetypical Tim Skold, which usually I don’t like, but it works well here.

Worst Song: Either Yohoho, because there’s not much going on, or Preach/Pervert because outside of the Nihil album I just don’t find Raymond Watts’ contributions all that appealing.

WWIII

KMFDM -- WWIII

This is it, the last album I purchased from KMFDM before I determined that I was no longer interested in their sound.  This album got even less play than the previous one and I had to review the whole thing just to remember what songs it offered. In doing so, I mainly reminded myself of why no song on this album got ripped into my iPhone library except the title track.  I just don’t like this album at all.  But in keeping with the theme of this post, my favorite three are:

  • WWIII — This is a lot more heavy and metal-sounding than usual for the band, and it could almost be considered a Ministry song if not for the instantly recognizable vocal stylings of Sasha.
  • From Here On Out — This seems to be pretty solid, it could possibly be put back into rotation if I was looking to change things up a bit.
  • Intro — Not particularly interesting musically, but the lyrics are funny how they introduce each member of the band.  However, every time I listen to this I’m reminded of the song Linger Fickin’ Good by Revolting Cocks which does the same thing but in a much more interesting way.

Honorable Mention: Moron doesn’t seem too bad

Worst Song: Since most of the album doesn’t interest me, it’s hard to put in the effort to pick one that is worse than the others.

Newer albums not covered in this list: Hau Ruck, Tohuvabohu, Blitz, WTF?!, and Kunst

Bigod 20 existed as a band for about 4 years, releasing singles and compilation tracks, before they ever put out a full-length album.  I was first introduced to them via the tracks “Body to Body” and “Acid to Body” from the compilation Welcome to the Technodrome, and they were actually some of the first industrial songs I ever heard on a mix tape given to me by a friend.  Those rare tracks are minimalist, high-repetition songs with powerful basslines and sparse but heavily distorted vocals, but not much else.  Some time later they released the single The Bog, and although it wasn’t even identifiable as the same band as those early tracks, it was an instant classic.  This was followed by the Carpe Diem single, giving us another track in a very similar vein to The Bog.  And then finally, in 1992, they released their first album.  There was a followup album before the band parted ways.

One of the main guys in Bigod 20, Talla 2XLC, founded the music label Zoth Ommog.  This doesn’t quite compute in my brain and I often forget this fact, just because the music of Bigod 20 doesn’t sound anything like the Zoth Ommog sound.

Steel Works!

Bigod 20 - Steel Works!

The moment I popped this album into my car stereo, I was blown away by the pounding industrial rhythms of the opening track.  Most of the tracks on this album have some interesting sounds or clever riffs which were a bit different than what most other bands were doing at the time, and it’s a strong album overall.  Any weakness usually comes from the lyrics and vocals.  My favorite three songs from this album:

  • The Big Bang — As I said, the opening beat consisting of of metal clangs and air blasts rocked my world and I still think it sounds fantastic.  The synth and vocals that come in seem to be built around the beat, rather than pushing it into the background.  I’m a big fan of interesting percussion, something I didn’t quite realize until it started to disappear from newer industrial/EBM music.  I’d love to hear a resurgence of beats like this, which to me embody the term ‘industrial music.’
  • The Bog — Re-issued here although it had been available as a single for a year or two prior, this song is not only a classic for Bigod 20 but for the entire EBM genre.  Amazing synth sounds and riffs, complex percussion, and guest vocals from Jean-Luc De Meyer of Front 242.  The lyrical content is a little strange, about some sort of swamp monster, but it’s memorable and begs for a singalong.  “I’ll take you down there / I’ll take you!”.
  • It Doesn’t Matter — This is perhaps the most driving, aggressive song on the album.  I love the way the monosyllabic bass riff sneaks in some different notes in the second verse, adding a little extra level of interest.

Honorable Mention: On The Run, The Big Sleep, Breeders

Worst Song: America.  This was apparently a big club hit in the early days of the band, and I think a favorite for many fans, but I never found that there was much of interest going on.  It’s loaded with vocal samples, similar to the Front 242 song Welcome to Paradise, but America never grabbed me like the 242 track did.

Supercute

Bigod 20 - supercute

I found this album to be a bit of a letdown after Steel Works!, even though it’s definitely better produced.  It has a lot of quirky songs and not many solid memorable hits for me. In reviewing the tracks for this blog entry, I actually found some of the tracks better than I’d remembered so maybe I need to re-evaluate my overall appraisal.  I also have to applaud its variety from song to song, something that seems to have become more rare in the scene as time marches on.  My favorite three:

  • Swallow Me — I didn’t really notice this song when the album was new, but this has since become one of my favorite tracks in the entire Bigod 20 catalog.  It’s dark and brooding and emotional, with a great beat and stirring synth strings.  There isn’t really any other Bigod 20 song like it, which is unfortunate.
  • Retortion 003 — This is just a straightforward dancefloor stomper, and a solid one.  The metal clang used in place of a snare is a bonus.
  • One — The opening track on the album, this follows the pattern of the previous album’s opener with a rhythm of industrial sounds, but it’s not quite as strong and memorable.  The rest of the song is solid with some interesting synth riffs coming in and out, but this song rises to the top more because of what’s lacking in the rest of the album rather than just on its own merits.

Honorable Mention: Taurin and Slavery is Guaranteed, but both really need better vocal deliveries.

Worst Song: Are You Horney, Yet?  This brief track is just silly, with a rhythm consisting of cartoon sound effects and nonsensical lyrics, and I just don’t understand the point of it.

Cubanate is a weird band for me because I like their first album and their last album, but the stuff in the middle is less remarkable.  However, I think those middle albums are the ones that fans generally like the most and a lot of people don’t like the last album.  So it’s likely that my song choices here won’t exactly match up with what many people consider their greats.

Antimatter

Cubanate - Antimatter

The story I’ve heard is that this album was just a rough demo meant to attract label attention, but the label liked it so much that it went straight to press without bothering to record cleaner versions.  If that’s true, then this is a really great-sounding demo.  The first Cubanate songs I ever heard were from this album; perhaps I’d think more poorly of the production if I’d heard some more recent stuff first.  Normally I’m not a big fan of growly/screamy vocals, but something about Marc Heal’s voice just has the perfect amount of energy and aggression.  This is a pretty strong album overall, most of the songs have something to appreciate, but I do have some clear favorites:

  • Body Burn — A true classic in my book, catchy and so angry!  The chorus is great fun to scream along with.
  • Revolution Time — This shares a lot of the same qualities as Body Burn, but somehow the music feels a little more mellow and groovy. But still plenty of that trademark Cubanate angst.
  • Switch — The laid back verses in this song, with the unusually calm vocals from Marc Heal, work perfectly.  The bridge leads into the great singalong chorus.  I can’t listen to this song and not yell out, “Throw the switch!” every single time.

Honorable Mention: Autonomy

Worst Song: Exert/Disorder.  It’s not bad, but there’s not much going on except the main chant.

Cyberia

Cubanate - Cyberia

This album, and the next one, are ones that I’ve never been able to listen to heavily.  They occasionally get a full play, but really I think mid-period Cubanate has too much filler — songs that aren’t really bad, but just don’t generate too much excitement.  My three favorites for this one are:

  • Oxyacetylene — I think this is one of the most popular songs of the “regular” Cubanate sound, consisting of their first three albums, and with good reason.  It has that driving beat, the catchy bass riff, and the signature lyrics about taking out angst on the subject of the song.  “I’m gonna break you!  I’m gonna make you pay!”  Delivered with Marc Heal’s trademark angry scream, lyrics like that are just gold and make you want to chant along with them.
  • Hatesong — This song is very similar to others which I would consider filler, but for some reason this one works for me more.  Cubanate songs don’t usually have catchy melodies for you to latch onto, just a driving groove, so the element that always stands out are the lyrics and vocals.  I keep mentioning how a lot of these songs are fun to sing along with, with the simple and direct message and the fun angst, and this one is no exception.
  • Skeletal — I’ll just be repeating myself here, but this one is also all about providing some great angry lyrics for you to scream along with.  As usual for the middle-era Cubanate, the music is mostly relegated to a fairly unwavering groove which just supports the vocals rather than calling much attention to itself, but that formula seems to work well for them.

Honorable Mention: Build, Transit

Worst Song: Human Drum — I think some people consider this one of the best, but to me it just plods along and there’s nothing fun to sing along with.

Barbarossa

Cubanate - Barbarossa

It’s easy for me to get Barbarossa and Cyberia confused, because to my ear they both sorta repeat the same formula:  The music doesn’t have many flashy riffs but largely just lays down a groove to support the singing.  However, everything on this album seem more grungy and overdriven and the vocals are a bit harder to understand at times.  I think I prefer the cleaner sound of the previous album overall.  My three favorites:

  • Barbarossa — Musically this sounds like a close cousin to the classic Oxyacetylene from the previous album.  The vocals here aren’t quite up to par with that song, though.  Still, this song has that classic Cubanate groove.
  • Joy — The percussion is great in this song, a bit more complex than the stomping beat they usually employ.  Somehow this song seems laid back yet very aggressive at the same time.  The lyrics are unusually upbeat, at least for a Cubanate track.
  • Exultation — Another song cut from the mold of Oxyacelylene, but I think overall this is more listenable than Barbarossa.  It’s fun to chant, “I’ve got a big black car / from Tokyo!”  The lyrics in this song actually feel a bit like a precursor to the change in direction the band would take with the next album–much more of a storytelling quality to them, instead of just firing you up with catchy angst.

Honorable Mention: Why Are You Here?

Worst Song: The Musclemen or Lord of the Flies — the former is a noisy mess, and the latter is another plodding song with uninteresting vocals.  However, in reviewing the album for this blog post I did find that some people think Lord of the Flies is a true classic.

Interference

Cubanate - Interference

People seem to have a love or hate reaction to this album.  It’s a drastic departure in sound from their previous work, making use of a lot of breakbeat elements instead of the normal plodding stomper.  To me, this album is Cubanate’s masterpiece.  A lot of the music is great, but what really stands out to me are the lyrics — they come from a much more mature, introspective place, and there is some fantastic storytelling with just the right amount of detail to bring things to life.  Unfortunately, this is also Cubanate’s last album.  Several years after this release, Marc Heal toyed with releasing more Cubanate and a new song or two were made available on the internet, but then it seems he decided to just permanently retire Cubanate and move on.  It’s difficult for me to reduce this album to just three favorites, but nevertheless:

  • Isolation — After the first track, which is a bit more bombastic, this song really introduces us to the complex songwriting and the storylike, passionate lyrics.
  • 9:59 — The chorus of this song is so catchy and angry, it just compels to you sing along.  “She said, she said, she said I’m sick! / Cure me!”  Fantastic.  I have no idea what the song title has to do with anything, though; maybe I’m not paying enough attention to the lyrics during the verses.
  • Voids — I love the imagery in the lyrics of this song, basically a guy sitting around bored watching Japanese animation, sorta dead inside and just looking for anything that will spur emotion.  It feels very cyberpunk somehow, makes me think of some of the early stories William Gibson wrote.

Honorable Mention: Hinterland and Other Voices are virtually tied with the above three tracks for the album’s best.

Worst Song: Ex and Internal.  The former is just a short instrumental that doesn’t seem to have much point, and the latter is just noisy and ugly.

Nitzer Ebb is an unusual band for me, because I hated them when I first heard them but later learned the error of my ways and now have tremendous respect and rank them among the greats of the genre.

That Total Age

ThatTotalAge

I know some of you are thinking, “Basic Pain Procedure came before this!”, but I’m not familiar enough with its tracklist to really speak with any authority.  I know early Ebb was all about that raw sound, but to me BPP is a bit too raw and it’s never been something I wanted to listen to very often.  However, I will say that the song “Crane” is fantastic and would make my overall list of best Ebb songs.  But let’s move on to That Total Age.

TTA is actually the third Ebb album I got my hands on, after hearing Belief and Showtime.  Each of those three albums are drastically different, and the sound of TTA was a bit of a surprise at first.  For a while I listened to it heavily, but these days I seem to have less tolerance for extreme repetition at extended lengths, so this doesn’t get much play anymore.  Reviewing the songs to choose the top three, I found this a lot more difficult than expected because a lot of songs are actually really good and I think maybe I need to put this album back into rotation.  But here’s my attempt at choosing the best three:

  • Join in the Chant — I can’t imagine any Ebb list which wouldn’t include this song.  Such a classic, such a great bass groove to set your mind to, and fun to chant along with.  The extremely simplistic and repetitive lyrics would bewilder the unitiated who are used to more traditional structures, but it works perfectly once you’re able to make the mental adjustment.
  • Let Beauty Loose — I’m not sure that this is a standout track for a lot of fans, but this song seems to have an extra bit of aggression which I just eat up.  The vocals seem amped up on this song compared to most of the album, more of a yell than the singing on the rest of the album.  Plus, another great bassline and an extremely fast tempo to keep the energy level up.
  • Fitness to Purpose — This third slot was very difficult to settle on, and it was almost a three-way tie with Murderous and Smear Body.  But something about this song makes it extremely fun to sing along with, and surprisingly the bassline works even though it only consists of two notes.  Plus, the secondary laser-like percussion adds an extra layer of interest to the beat which otherwise is the same as on many other songs on this album.

Honorable Mention: Heck, pretty much every song on the album except for….

Worst Song: Alarm — it just doesn’t have much going on in the synth department.  Even so, it’s still not bad.

Belief

belief

This album is the first thing I ever heard from Nitzer Ebb, on a borrowed cassette back in 1989 or 1990, and I remember being frustrated because the songs sounded so similar that it was hard to tell where one ended and the next one began.  That seems silly now, but at the time when I was brand new to industrial music and it was so strange and unusual compared to my more mainstream experience, it drove me crazy.  A CD with track markers would have helped me greatly.  Now, though, I think this album is one of the highlights of their catalog and it seems bizarre that I had such a negative initial reaction.  My favorite three tracks:

  • Hearts and Minds — The opening track was about the only song that stood out when I first heard the album, and it has remained strong throughout the last two decades.  On an album of very minimalist music, this offers a bit more variety of sound than most of the other tracks.  Plus, it’s fun to sing along with.
  • Captivate — This one flew under my radar for a while, but eventually I noticed it and it has been a standout ever since; probably my single favorite track on the whole album.  The bassline is fantastic, but what really sells it is the ability to sing along.  I’m not the type that sings along with industrial music often, usually because I can’t understand the lyrics anyway, but there are a handful of Ebb tracks that I can completely lose myself in and sing out loud and proud.  As long as I’m driving in my car, alone, so nobody can hear how bad I am.
  • Without Belief — Somehow I completely ignored this song until I heard its bassline sampled in Front Line Assembly’s song “Final Impact,” and ever since then I’ve been madly in love with that riff.  I also love the brief injections of female vocals interlaced with the main vocals, like when she says “Not. Even. Forward.”

Honorable Mention: Control I’m Here, Shame, For Fun

Worst Song: A tie between Drive and T.W.A., both completely uninteresting to me.  Runner up would be Blood Money, it’s not bad but for some reason doesn’t really grab me.

Showtime

showtime

This was the second Ebb album I heard, shortly after hearing Belief, and I thought Showtime was just horrid.  Back in these early days of my industrial youth, I thought Doug McCarthy’s vocals were awful and they seemed much worse here than on the previous release.  Now, though, I find him to be one of my favorite industrial vocalists and I will seek out songs from other bands where he provides guest vocals.  Also, this album does a lot of crazy experimentation with the sounds used, and it took me a while to warm up to that.  I still find it somewhat unique and unusual, and it works better when I’m in a certain frame of mind.  I just discovered that this album is missing from the band’s offerings on iTunes.  Weird.  My favorite three:

  • Lightning Man — Dat bassline!  It’s simple and direct, but I never tire of that beefy sound they used.  I also like the sort of talky nature of the vocals in this one, where he’s telling a story.  It’s a style they would repeat on their least popular album, and I love it even more there, but we’ll get there in a bit.  Even the clarinets work in this song, although I’m sure they contributed to my initial disgust with this album.
  • Getting Closer — The noise-driven intro to this song lets you know you’re in for something special, and this is far and away the most aggressive song on the album.  It’s another one I find fun to sing along with.
  • One Mans Burden — This third slot was hard to fill, not because there are so many other great tracks in contention but rather because the two aforementioned tracks just really stand out from the pack for me.  I’m not sure I’ll agree with myself later on this third choice, but I went with it because the extremely slow, simple bassline is fairly unusual for the scene.  A lot of people may have chosen Fun to be Had as a favorite, and although I think it has some interesting things going on, it’s always been a bit too bubbly for my tastes…sort of like a machine-driven children’s nursery rhyme or something.

Honorable Mention: All Over, Hold On

Worst Track: My Heart.  It just never gets going.

Ebbhead

ebbhead

As I’ve mentioned, I wasn’t all that crazy about Nitzer Ebb when I first discovered them.  This is the album that turned me around and caused me to reevaluate their catalog and really see the greatness therein.  As much as I liked this album when it came out, it ironically has not aged well for me and now there’s really only one track I’m ever interested in hearing.  My favorite three:

  • I Give To You — Not only is this my favorite song on the album, it is perhaps my favorite Ebb song of all time.  It is just expertly crafted without an ounce of fat to be trimmed.  Plus, there is nothing like driving down the road belting out the chorus alongside McCarthy.  Just an incredible song.
  • Family Man — It gets more difficult now, because everything on the album pales in comparison to the track I just mentioned.  But Family Man is a solid track, something I tend to forget because perhaps I’ve listened to it enough to have worn it out a bit.
  • DJVD — I think the bassline and beat work well together in this one, and it’s fun to chant the song title along with McCarthy.

Honorable Mention: Reasons, Lakeside Drive, Godhead

Worst Song: My first instinct was to say Ascend because I noticed it’s the only track I didn’t rip onto my phone, but after revisiting it I don’t really understand why I would’ve passed on this one but kept some of the others.  I’m going to list Time as the worst track, although really I don’t hate any song on this album.  I just find a lot of them have lost whatever interest they once held for me.

Big Hit

bighit

This album is somewhat infamous among fans because it wasn’t well received and brought an end to the band for over a decade.  Although I had recently come to appreciate the band more since the release of Ebbhead, I avoided this album for years because of the extreme negative reaction.  When I finally got my hands on it just for a sense of completion, I found that while some tracks were as bad as everyone said, there were surprisingly a few gems that most people seem to have ignored.  I only found three tracks on this album worth ripping to my phone’s library, and they are:

  • Hear Me Say — This song is actually really good, I’d say it’s easily stronger than a lot of the stuff on Ebbhead. It seems very out-of-place on this album, because it’s not quirky or just plain bad like a lot of the other tracks.
  • Border Talk — I love the sorta mellowed out verses in this song with the talking-in-narrative vocals.  It has sort of a dark jazz vibe to it.  The chorus is…well, it takes some getting used to and I still don’t love it.  But the verses are fun enough to make me overlook the ugly chorus.
  • Kick It — I’m not really in love with this song, but in comparison to the remainder of the album, it’s pretty good.  I usually skip it if it comes up in shuffle mode, though.

Honorable Mention: Cherry Blossom.  I don’t actually like this song much at all, but I think others would list it as one of the few salvageable tracks so I went with it.

Worst Song: My first instinct was to nominate every song on the album I didn’t mention above, but I had to review all of the songs because it’s literally been years since I heard any of them.  As bad as some of them are, there is a standout winner for worst song:  Boy.  I don’t know who is singing in this song, it sure doesn’t sound like McCarthy, but the vocals are laughably bad.  Ugh.

Industrial Complex

industrialcomplex

Wow!  This album came out of nowhere and really bowled me over.  I can confidently say that this my favorite overall album they’ve ever released.  I sorta denied that for a while because the classic releases are, well, classics.  But this album is just consistently strong with great music and great vocal performances.  It frustrates me to no end that Ebb has not yet produced a followup to this album, which was released in 2009 (4 years ago, as of this writing).  My top three:

  • Promises — The opening track just hits you over the head with that incredible bassline which never gets old throughout the length of the song, and it’s another one that’s fun to sing along with.
  • I Don’t Know You — This one deserves a mention just because of that bassline.  So amazing, especially how it shifts to a different sound as it reaches its final notes.  Honestly I don’t know the lyrics of this song very well because my attention is always focused solely on hearing that great bass riff play over and over.
  • I’m Undone — There are very few songs in the industrial genre that could be described as ballads, but I think this one might qualify.  Controlled and heartfelt, with a passionate chorus, and the whole thing builds in power near the end.  I think the Alan Wilder remix has gotten some attention, but honestly I much prefer the original.  I hate the beat that Wilder replaced the original with, it sounds much more cookie-cutter and familiar and loses some of the unique feel of the song.

Honorable Mention: Every song on this album is so great, they all get a mention except for…

Worst Song: Payroll.  I can’t bring myself to sit through this song, it is loud and ugly in all the wrong ways and the lyrics seem bombastic in a juvenile way that is below what this band is capable of.  The one black mark on an otherwise fantastic release.