Industrial Culture, Part 2

by Kiko Matsing

Gravity Kills Nine Inch Nails

Having passed its peak in the late 1990s, industrial music is now more amenable to being surveyed at a critical distance. After Nine Inch Nails’ (NIN) debut in Pretty Hate Machine (1989) and their commercial success in The Downward Spiral (1994), American industrial music was defined largely by the blend of heavy rock beats and electronic sounds of NIN. This is evident in how ensuing groups were always measured against NIN by reviewers even when more experimental bands like Skinny Puppy were playing it rough since the early 1980s.

I myself have no taste for Skinny Puppy’s early fare, and even the granddaddy of the genre, Throbbing Gristle’s analog screeches are difficult to listen through. Contrary to being radical, NIN actually brought Throbbing Gristle’s moribund noise-making from the fringes of the avant-garde into mainstream pop, and allowed bands with more polished rock textures such as Gravity Kills, Sister Machine Gun, and Econoline Crush to emerge.

Punk rock tamed the dissonance of early industrial music with rhythmic beats, while the goth leather-and-lace style provided a studied deviance, which made the whole industrial/punk/goth scene more and more superficial and affected, becoming the fashionable attitude of bored suburban poseurs. Take for instance the NIN video Closer. It is very hard to take its lyrics of despair and self-negation seriously with its over-produced images self-consciously calibrated for maximal shock value: the gouged-out beating heart, the crucified monkey, the severed pig’s head, the costumes of kinky sex and satanic rituals. Yawn. We get it Trent.

Closer
by Nine Inch Nails

You let me violate you
You let me desecrate you
You let me penetrate you
You let me complicate you

(Help me…)
I broke apart my insides
(Help me…)
I’ve got no soul to sell
(Help me…)
The only thing that works for me
Help me get away from myself,

I wanna fuck you like an animal
I wanna feel you from the inside
I wanna fuck you like an animal
My whole existence is flawed
You get me closer to God

You can have my isolation
You can have the hate that it brings
You can have my absence of faith
You can have my everything

(Help me…)
You tear down my reason
(Help me…)
It’s your sex I can smell
(Help me…)
You make me perfect
Help me become somebody else

I wanna fuck you like an animal
I wanna feel you from the inside
I wanna fuck you like an animal
My whole existence is flawed
You get me closer to God

The operative word here is studied: what is signified–the despair, the self-negation–is literal; it is that which is expected to be read in the carefully arranged signs. To borrow Barthes terms in his analysis of photography, it is all studium, and no punctum; there is nothing here that blindsides, nothing that truly lacerates. The refrain in Gravity Kills’ WantedI’m all you never wanted/ I’m all you never needed–employing a simple play of words that are deceptively stripped of profundity, sounds to me more ironic, but also earnest and convincing.

Wanted
by Gravity Kills

Feel me – I crawl inside your veins
Give in – consuming what remains
I am the one that you adore
You know that you’ve been here before
You have a gun up to your head
You think you’re hearing what’s been said
You know that I’ll be back again
Feel me beneath your skin

I’m all you never wanted
I’m all you never needed
I’m all you never wanted
I’m all you never ever needed

I know you want to feel inside
You know it’s all a fucking lie
I am the one that you adore
Feel me beneath your skin

I’m all you never wanted
I’m all you never needed
I’m all you never wanted
I’m all you never ever needed

I crawl inside your veins
Consuming what remains
A gun up to your head
You’re hearing what’s been said
You want to feel inside
It’s all a fucking lie
I crawl inside your veins

I’m all you never wanted
I’m all you never needed
I’m all you never wanted
I’m all you never ever needed

And I’ve been here before
And I’ve been here before
And I’ve been here before
And I’ve been here before

Despite having taken the red pill, I still enjoy milling around the local goth scene, and the society of elaborately costumed crowd dancing to (dis)affected industrial beats. There is something deliciously deviant in all that apparent fakery. “You have to be a little bit silly to do this,” I told a friend as we walked home last night from the club.

Skinny Puppy
“Pro-test”
(from The Greater Wrong of the Right, 2004)

They’re no longer the scary Puppy of the Eighties that inspired Nine Inch Nails. But there is still enough edge–musical and political–to fuel this streamlined return. Pro-test is a standout with its mechanical heartbeat, crunching chords and rat-a-tat vocals…
     –Paul Robicheau
       (Rolling Stone)

Official Skinny Puppy Website
Other Videos:

Econoline Crush
“Sparkle & Shine”
(from The Devil You Know, 2001)

[You’ll] know the style that Econonline Crush specializes in–buzzing guitars, frenetic drumming, vocals that alternate between sung and screamed, and subtle electronic experiments.
     –Greg Prato
       (Allmusic)

Official Econoline Crush Website
Other Videos:

VAST
“Touched”
(from Visual Audio Sensory Theater, 1998)

[Jon Crosby has] drawn comparisons to Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor. However, Crosby’s musical vision is unlike anything else–mostly Industrial rock with beautiful ambient melodies washed with unusual spiritual and vocal samples.
     –Chad Bosworth
       (Ear Medicine)

Official VAST Website
Other Videos:

Course of Empire
“59 Minutes”
(from Telepathic Last Words, 1998)

Telepathic Last Words dealt with conspiracy theories and America’s growing obsession with secret plots and treachery. And since it was produced by John Fryer (Nine Inch Nails, Gravity Kills), a slight techno edge was added to COE’s trademark metal.
     –Greg Prato
       (Allmusic)

Official Course of Empire Website
Other Videos:

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