The Strange Case of Controlled Bleeding

Posted: December 10, 2013 in General Rants and Raves
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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.


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.


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.

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