At first, "industrial" music meant rhythmically battering kitchen appliances with jackhammers. Later, it devolved into emaciated art-disco, until assorted reprobates added murderous metal guitar chug. By the '90s, Trent Reznor and Marilyn Manson had become the genre's stars, though sundry Teutonic types made them look like dreary thespians by comparison.
When these sprocketmeisters are remembered at all, it's for the Zbigniew Rybczyński–directed "All That I Wanted" video, which earned MTV airplay by depicting everyone in camera's range running furiously away from something unseen. On reflection, their insertion of tense guitar grind and hushed moaning into dirged-out metronomics (via Kraftwerk producer Conny Plank) on English-mangling tracks like "Comic With Rats Now" proved prescient and very goofy.
Wax Trax, 1987
Congealed and esophagus-charred Swiss cheese from oily Zurich primevals who seemingly cement-mix their musique concrete through the bowels of robots. A new-school cyber-gunk power trio — i.e., growler-drummer-sampler — they spike their gutter symphonies with landmine feedback and black-hole echo architecture, plus barely recognizable snatches of rock and classical. Most emotionally affecting moment? A Gary Glitter cover.
The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste
Anglophile synth-pop poseurs bucking for Spandau Ballet's MTV minutes on their earliest records, Al Jourgenson's Chicago outfit shape-shifted twice during the 1980s. First, letting Adrian Sherwood soak them in dense dub on 1986's Twitch, then deciding they could sound meaner than Big Black — which they couldn't, but nice try! By Thing to Taste, they were reveling in drill-sergeant barks and garbage-dump guitars, while somehow meticulously surveying industrial metal's roots: early Voivod here, early Buttholes there, slamdance hardcore, Killing Joke, PiL.
Wax Trax, 1990
Eventually popular among certain small-town Colorado Trenchcoat Mafiosi, these Hamburgers declaim, "Let me be your peeegy bank," in deadpan Schwarzenegger accents above Spartacus-tough Led Zep licks — made all the more wunderbar by Mantronix soft-shoe shuffles, locomotive-beat Hi-NRG lust numbers, phlegmed-out achtungs, reggaefied metal raps, and an operatic Carl Orff sample that proved legally confounding in subsequent years. Next time, get permission, guys!
War-obsessed Frenchmen named for a subspecies of spirochete bacterium known to cause syphilis serve up a beastly platter of bistro splat released just in time to assuage Desert Storm anxiety: smart-bomb technology, scud-boom sludge, pagan-ritual sorties conducted as if frontman Marco Neves is singing through a gas mask—not to mention a raunch remake of Kraftwerk's nuke-disco classic "Radioactivity," plus much absurdist advice to "bruzzers and seesters."
East German pyros unjustly accused of goose-stepping their fans down the road to fascism, led by an ex-Olympic swimmer known to simulate sodomy on his frail keyboardist in concert, this sexually torturous sextet hit bigger in the U.S. than any Aryans since before the Berlin Wall fell. And if beneath the noise, "mainstream rock" radio staple "Du Hast" was essentially an update of Trio's "Da Da Da" hiccupped Falco-style, Rammstein's Black Forest mix of morose beauty, heavy guitars, and hard consonants made them industrial metal's führers for life.
Tattoo of Pain
Vengeance Is Mine
Antler Subway, 1997
"Afraid to drown in the toilet bowl of life," three shirtless mole-men and a dominatrix friend mix neon-lit Nintendo beeps and shrunken-head Spinal Tap chords into bondage-and-discipline bubblegum. From nihilist hooligan raps to Flashdance Wicca trip-hop, industrial metal has rarely come off either catchier or more clueless. Yet still so sad! "I feel pretty fucking far from okay. It all seems so crazy, it just ain't my day." Awww…
Snake River Conspiracy
After 2001, these boy-girl Bay Area commercial flops never would've gotten away with that album title. But given liner notes thanking not only "Satan" but "Chaka Khan" and "the sport of volleyball," they probably weren't all that dangerous a conspiracy anyway. Sure had a way with a hook, though, and not only when covering the Smiths ("How Soon Is Now?") and Cure ("Lovesong"). Shamefully, their valley-girl-stuck-in-an-S&M-theme-park aesthetic was too exuberant for any radio format.