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Posts Tagged ‘industrial’

Mysticum – Planet Satan (2014)

Mysticum - Planet Satan artwork

When we last left Mysticum, they were preparing the release of Planet Satan. In the interrim, I managed to convince myself that this album didn’t come out until 2016, and that therefore it was a reasonable but overlooked choice for my DMU tenure. Instead, it’s been available since 2014, so I’m definitely behind the times here. You can therefore consider this review something of an attempt to fix a hole in my backlog.

Planet Satan is basically what Mysticum’s previous album should’ve been – better produced and mixed. I say this with full awareness of black metal musicians’ affinity for lo-fi recordings. Sometimes, that’s a desirable trait. In Mysticum’s case, though, the “industrial” aesthetic is better served by a cleaner sound. It isn’t entirely pristine, to be fair – Planet Satan‘s production channels much of its predecessor’s trebly hiss, but on equivalent stereo equipment the end result is more balanced and louder. The vocals are the major benefactor here – the screams and thickly accented ranting here are prominent enough in the mix to drive songs, but everything else has been boosted, making for an overall better sounding recording.

To be fair, there isn’t much on this album that would sound out of place on In The Streams of Inferno if it’d been recorded on the same equipment as that effort. I want to say that the songwriting here is more coherent, but this is a very minor change at best. The songs actually feel more compact despite the album’s greater length, although I’m not sure if that’s just a result of them grabbing my attention more effectively. One thing that is for certain is that there are fewer abrupt asides, and that when new instrumentation is introduced, it’s integrated into the actual songwriting more effectively. These aren’t especially complicated songs, and one thing I’ve noticed is that the overall rhythmic simplicity makes for a strange, inexplicable effect at times (is this, perhaps, the psychedelia that people have been claiming Mysticum channels for the last few years?). On the other hand, I consider it a good thing that a so-called industrial black metal album strikes a balance between a mechanical aesthetic and the other moods I typically associate with black metal – blasphemy, hellfire, derangement, etc. That last bit is probably Mysticum’s true strength, and one that not many bands have been able to capture on their own terms.

In short, Planet Satan pretty much obsoletes everything else Mysticum has created, by virtue of being essentially the same but shinier. Some bands lose crucial elements of their sound when they try to refine it, but not this band.

Highlights: “LSD”, “Far”, “Fist of Satan”

Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral (1994)

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So I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m fond of NIN’s 1992 EP Broken. About half of The Downward Spiral is in a similar vein, but it’s a more ambitious and varied work by far. Longer albums tend to do that; we’ve been over this many times in the past. This was arguably Trent Reznor’s big commercial breakthrough – the Black Album to Broken‘s And Justice For All, if you like extended Metallica analogies, since to be fair, the previous EP did sell quite well in its own right. What do we make of it?

Well, first of all, The Downward Spiral mostly resembles its predecessor in its most intense moments. The same mixture of pop songwriting with abrasive guitars and sampling is on display here, but it only takes us until the second track (“Piggy”) to learn of TDS‘s other ambitions. Interspersed with the stereotypical industrial metal sound are a couple of downtempo, and occasionally ambient tracks that are… less directly tailored to my interests, regardless of their merits/lack thereof. We might as well be honest about it – by ratios alone, this album panders less to me than the last one, but other listeners might appreciate the quieter moments and generally wider songwriting scope. To be fair, Trent doesn’t spend all that much time in interlude mode, but it’s still at least 25-30% of the album, so regardless of your opinion, it bears mentioning. The underlying electronic ideas remain.

If there’s one thing that’s definitely changed in the intervening two years, it’s the textures. The Downward Spiral is a more spacious album than its predecessor, with less instruments competing for the listener’s attention and the quieter sections being understandably sparser sounding. It also helps that the album features some very slow, almost doomy tracks. My knowledge of Nine Inch Nails’ discography is far from encyclopedic, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was new territory for the act, and the occasional slow, trudging, but still rock/metal oriented track is a welcome change, and certainly a viable way of adding more variety to the hour long degradation trip that is this album. I guess I pay more attention to the lyrics of this album than its predecessor, but as far as I’m concerned, they’re not really the selling point. I’ve seen Trent’s lyrical approach criticized in the past, but given that I tend to deemphasize lyrics as part of my own listening experience (with some major exceptions),  it’s not something I lose sleep over.

Ultimately, I think The Downward Spiral is a sidestep from Broken; it’s recognizably in the same genre, but the overall effect is quite different. One definite good that came of this album was that Trent got to practice his dark ambient skills, which definitely came in handy once id Software contracted him to score Quake. That game’s OST might be worth an Anatomy of VGM post someday, but until then…

Highlights: “Heretic”, “Closer”, “Reptile”

Front Line Assembly – Millennium (1994)

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After a couple years of increasingly commercially successful electro-industrial music, Front Line Assembly goes sort of metallic on Millennium. It didn’t get them onto Encylopedia Metallum, but the addition of a guitar attack and a more vigorous rhythmic section did a good deal to harden up the band’s already menacing sound. This is really the perfect album for the 1990s – darker and edgier than before, but still pretty much in line with the evolving trends of the decade’s rock/metal scene. On the other hand, this album is over 20 years old, and trends have changed. Does this album still hold up. The problem with asking me such a question is that like the vast majority of the music reviews here on Invisible Blog, this is an album I listened to fairly recently, so my opinions on it are shaded by the fact I never got to live the zeitgeist (If I had, I would’ve been an exceedingly precocious toddler).

Anyways, I chose to listen to Millennium mostly for its industrial metal sound. Compared to something like Ministry’s Psalm 69, the guitars are relatively subtle, and the emphasis is on how they mix in with the established electronic side of the band. Songs here generally fit into a standard pop mold, albeit with elongated, sample-driven bridges that admittedly vary in how much they actually contribute to the atmosphere. “Industrial”, as a genre, sometimes comes off as a genre more oriented towards film enthusiasts, and to be honest it sometimes tries my patience when Front Line Assembly bases part or all of a song off a couple quotes from some film I probably will never watch.

When the band relies more on their synthesizers and other instrumentation (As I was researching for this review, I learned that Devin Townsend provided guitar work for a few tracks), I find myself far more interested. Millennium sticks to a fairly narrow aesthetic, but the songwriting crew is creative enough to push it in a few unexpected directions, most notably the rap-rock crossover track “Victim of A Criminal”. Bill Leeb’s vocals are also a highlight – his heavily processed tones are an important mixture in the band’s multilayered synthesizer attack, and they effectively set the mood by texture alone, even when the lyrics are a bit hamfisted.

Overall, Millennium sounds strong and has enough of an accessible yet versatile songwriting style to succeed, but I’d probably try to edit out some of the filler if I had access to the master tracks. I don’t know why I feel this way about the album when some of the other filler-laden albums I’ve listened to don’t elicit such a strong response, but maybe it has to do with the whole mechanical aesthetic?

Highlights: “Millennium”, “Search and Destroy”, “Victim of a Criminal”, “Plasma Springs”

 

Nine Inch Nails – Broken (1992)

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Sure, it’s technically an EP, but bands have released shorter full-lengths. Even with its two “hidden” tracks, this remains a concise, coherent release, historically notable for being NIN’s first big foray into rock/metal tropes, as well as a lot of deliberately provocative music video material. Seems to do the trick for me, anyways, but you know my tastes and probably aren’t shocked by this, OR by my totally novel and rad appraisal of Broken as dumping tons of distortion and abrasive noise into pop/rock compatible songwriting.

What can I say? I like distortion and abrasive noise, and therefore, Broken‘s aesthetics and production offer me a great opportunity to nerd out. The soundscape here is rather dense – the actual amount of elements at any one time isn’t so immense, but they cover the frequencies of the mix in a way that only large, terrifying sounds can. The guitars here are particularly notable, and legends (er, I mean Wikipedia) tell me Trent Reznor used a program called Turbosynth to convolute them in interesting ways. Good luck finding it for yourself, but it does kind of just come down to algorithms that could theoretically be reprogrammed as needed.

Every fool with a blog will probably agree with me that this work did much to popularize the nascent “industrial metal” scene, which to be fair was already quite real and vital, with bands like Godflesh, Ministry, Fear Factory already in the process of existing in the moment of 1992. Other things that came into existence in 1992 include your author, but I digress. On their debut, Nine Inch Nails’s songs relied heavily on electronic dance tropes, and that understandably continues here. Seems to me, though, that Broken adopts a great deal of rock “language” (Whatever that means) in order to amp up its sound, which makes for more dynamic and less ambient songs than those of Pretty Hate Machine. What’s particularly important, though, is that the previous songwriting ideas aren’t abandoned – while this EP emphasizes its ‘guitar’ and drums more, quite a bit of the EBM/electro-industrial ideas remain under the surface, particularly in the rhythms. As someone who will not and apparently can’t stop writing about bands in transition, this Jenga-like restructuring isn’t all that common, and a lot of other bands who try it tend to collapse in on themselves.

Given that NIN’s 1994 break-further-through (The Downward Spiral) saw further norming and sonic experimentation, I’m sure you won’t mind me labeling Broken the band’s high point. It’s a concise blast of aggression that still impresses me with its ferocity despite presumably being smooshed by the weight and brutality of my death metal repository.

Highlights: “Last”, “Happiness in Slavery”, “Suck”

P.S: Today is the 5th anniversary of Invisible Blog. I may or may not have some ruminations on this in the next few days.

Aborym – Dirty (2013)

folderIt’s not a return to the approach Aborym used on Kali Yuga Bizarre, but Dirty might be the strongest record they’ve released since then. While Generator was an overall loss for me in the long run, and I skipped over Psychogrotesque entirely due to disappointing samples, this album seems to reinvigorate the band’s sound with a fresh aesthetic and improved integration of metal and electronic music techniques. On the other hand, the songwriting suffers from many of the same flaws that previous albums did; more on that later.

Shockingly, Dirty is… well… dirty. The guitars sound much filthier than they did on previous efforts, with less crunch and fewer chugs (if any), and the overall mix is much less treble heavy than it was in the past. This results in an overall muddier sound, although the electronics generally come through well. Dirty also has substantially more clean singing than its predecessors, which helps vary up the sound. The electronic side of things sees the most improvement from earlier works, primarily by drifting further from the symphonic undertones of previous albums (or overtones in the case of Kali Yuga Bizarre) into more synthetic forms. The aesthetic remains a few years behind trends – for instance there are no dubstep elements as far as I can tell. Fans of that may have to wait a few years to see Aborym’s take on that, assuming they ever experiment with it at all.

Oddly enough, Aborym’s songwriting on this album reminds me more of the ‘accessible’ side of industrial metal – see my review of Demanufacture by Fear Factory for my take on that. Either way, there are some obvious Nine Inch Nails references here – the bonus disc of the deluxe edition even includes a cover of “Hurt” from The Downward Spiral. The lyrics also take a similar vaguely personal turn at times (although they’re best described as mostly sex and societal decay), although comparing lyrical themes is a tenuously useful tool at best. Perhaps the major cause of this is the general deemphasis of metallic elements in the mix; while the compositional style is nonlinear and riff based, the aforementioned production changes play a major role in making more accessible elements stand out. There’s also a lot of repetition – sometimes a song dwells on an idea for over a minute, which usually feels like padding. Given that Dirty is only 49 minutes long, that’s a bad thing.

I don’t know how long my affectation for this work is going to last, but I do think actual improvements have been made from previous albums. It’s not entirely aesthetics – there’s a better sense of flow to the songs than before, although the coherence of the song structures still leaves somewhat to be desired. Either way, regardless of whether you like or dislike it, Dirty at least points the way forwards for Aborym – another album like this or better, and I might call it a full fledged revival.

Highlights: “Dirty”, “Bleedthrough”, “Helter Skelter Youth”

Aborym – Kali Yuga Bizarre (1999)

folderYou know, when I said I was going to write about Aborym’s debut album within the lifetime of this blog… I didn’t suspect I would want to do it now. Sometimes, though, it just happens, because my method of choosing what to write about for this site is… fairly arbitrary.

Aborym is a band I learned about fairly quickly once I started listening to metal, although I have long since forgotten the means by which I learned about them. They basically satisfied my ‘electronics’ niche for a while as I was starting to listen to the more rarefied, extreme forms of metal. Of the material I’ve listened to, though, Kali Yuga Bizarre seems to have the strongest compositions. It also doesn’t delve as far into the industrial side of the band’s sound, or any other bits of the aesthetic. There’s less overt electronica, and many of the songs are simply straight up black metal. The lyrics have less of a technological focus – in fact, there is a decent amount of past glorification going on here, exemplified by “Roma Divina Urbs”… and the cover art. It is not very techy.

In fact, Kali Yuga Bizarre often has more in common with the black-thrash movement, which include such bands as Absu and Dodheimsgard. This influence is prominent in the riffing, and shows up most in “Metal Striken Terror Action”. Keyboard/synthesizer presence is actually quite common given the underlying substrate, but most of the sounds the keyboardist uses lean towards the ‘instrument simulation’ side of things more than electronic sounds. Naturally, there are some exceptions, such as “Tantra Bizzara”, which is an accurately named bit of noisy, full on electronic music, albeit with black metal vocals running over it. However, for all the occasional electronic moments, much of this material wouldn’t be out of place on a Mayhem album. Needless to say, Mayhem is more relevant than one would initially think, because their occasional guest vocalist Attila Csihar performs a significant amount of the vocals on this album. Joining him is the band’s official vocalist (an unknown who went by the name “Yorga S.M”) – between them, they incorporate basically every style of vocals used in extreme metal. Given that Csihar likes to experiment with his vox, and that he went on to become the band’s official vocalist on their next two albums, I often have trouble determining who’s performing what – as a general rule, I assume that Yorga S.M is doing the absolutely bestial shouts in Italian that occasionally show up, and are probably the main type of vocals on “Metal Striken Terror Action”.

While this album has been out-industrialized by its successors, which make strides in adding electronics into black metal, the quality of the compositions (as previously mentioned) ultimately makes it more satisfying in the long run. To be fair, since this album doesn’t go all that far into industrial realms, the amount of difficulty in successfully bridging each aspect of the sound probably wasn’t that massive. The key, then, is that the band made the effort, and if they had sought to experiment more with this fusion, that would be important to their success.

Highlights: “Horrenda Peccata Christi”, “Roma Divina Urbs”, “Tantra Bizzara”

Sybreed – Antares (2007)

folderSybreed is a bit of an oddity, in that they fashion a very accessible, poppy sound from a set of relatively abrasive aesthetics and techniques. The standard explanation is that their music fuses the general approach of Fear Factory with the off-beat laden, rhythmic approach of Meshuggah. Add to this an overall glossy production and lots of poppy clean vocals, and you have Sybreed. Sybreed is a bit of an oddity, in that they-

…Actually, the strange thing about how Sybreed writes their songs is how they loop. Now, many bands I’ve written about use verse/chorus song structures, but when it comes to amounts of bridge material, Sybreed is near the top. Only a few bands, like Death have longer transitions between various ‘sections’ of their songs, although Sybreed writes better bridges than Death ever did. Despite their relatively basic song structures, Sybreed excels in their aesthetics – electronic and metal elements of their sound fit together perfectly, and are well integrated with each other to boot. Part of this is the very clean, almost sterile production – given the genre the band is aiming for this is justifable. Drums could afford to be more extreme – while there are a few blast beats and otherwise fast patterns throughout, most of the drumming is midpaced.

As it is, Antares is often a very upbeat sounding album, with a few major exceptions (like “Dynamic”). Given the relatively negative lyrics, this is a weird juxtaposition, and much of it is the clean vocals. Somehow, I get the feeling this wasn’t the intent of the band, but I don’t know enough about them to properly pass judgement on that matter. Then again, it might be my history of extreme metal listening continuing to warp my perception of light and darkness. I’ve mentioned this before occasionally; don’t expect it to go away any time soon. Intent of the reviewer and the reviewee aside, the introduction of pop elements into an extreme metal framework is pretty common. In fact, this band’s apparent muse (Fear Factory) did it quite a bit, as did some of the other bands they influenced, like Strapping Young Lad. One could even interpret Sybreed as the spiritual successor to Fear Factory, especially since SYL apparently played up the metallic aspects of their sound more on later works. The problem with this, of course, is that Fear Factory is still alive and kicking, but whatever.

Whether this is worth listening to depends primarily on how much pop/electronic influence you can accept in your metal, but fans of the other bands I mentioned will probably be able to appreciate at least part of this band’s sound, at least on this album. I’ve heard that later works by Sybreed fail to really live up to this, but it would’ve been nice to see them expand their fusion. Personally, if I were looking for extreme industrial metal, I’d probably start with Aborym’s debut. More about that within the lifetime of this blog… probably.

Highlights: “Ego Bypass Generator”, “Neurodrive”, “Permafrost”, “Orbital”