“Don’t know how much longer I can hide it from my friends/An alien intelligence is breeding in my skin” - Enemy in Me
This is going to sound quaint at best, loony at worst, but there was a time in the early 1990s when a lot of otherwise sane individuals thought “industrial” was the future of rock n’ roll. Seriously. Looking back, it makes sense, in a dopey 90s sorta way. It was clear even back then that we were about to enter a weird new world where technology infringed on our hilariously analog lives. We were still trying to cope with CDs, for chrissakes. We just wanted to smoke cigarettes, read punk rock zines, and listen to Superjudge on our cassette Walkman. Digital was freaking us out. Naturally, we imagined that in the future, evil robots would make evil robot music. Splatterpunk author David Schow even named it before it was a thing: “Metal Rape Music”. So, a few people, for better or (mostly) worse, gave it a shot.
The roots of industrial music stretch back to the late 1960’s. The free jazz movement had atonal saxes skronking wildly while unhinged drummers pummeled their inner-demons to death. In their reckless, relentless pursuit of musical freedom, the free-jazzers kicked open a door to the abyss that industrial bands later plundered and black metal bands still revel in. I mean, seriously: who’s really scarier, Marilyn Manson or Sonny fuckin’ Murray?
Mayhem or The Peter Brotzmann Quartet?
Anyway, there were also a lot of experimental bands, early pioneers of electronic music, goofing around with harsher sounds at the time. Cromagnon is the classic example, but proto-industrial (and electronic music in general) owes a lot to late 60’s NYC weirdos Silver Apples. Their 1969 album is basically the first Nine Inch Nails record minus all of Reznor’s crybaby bullshit.
So all that was swirling around in the ether already, but Throbbing Gristle are the ones that slapped a label on it and sold it to the masses. Bonafide weirdos, performance artists, sexual outlaws and agent provocateurs, Throbbing Gristle made wilfully destructive music cranked out of burping mutant machines that they built in their own Satanic garages. It was the sound of the 70’s imploding, gorgeous and grotesque all at once.
But it wasn’t rock n’ roll. At least not yet. In the early 80’s, Aussie mad scientist Jim Thirwell moved to NYC and began performing/recording under the Foetus banner, mixing the grating industrial sounds of Throbbing Gristle with beats you could dance, headbang, and bug-out to. By the mid 1980’s, he had perfected the sound, honed into a fearsome attack on the senses that could melt the headphones right off your skull.
Although he is rarely cited as an influence on the arena-dustrial bands that flourished in his wake, believe me, Reznor, Manson, and Jourgenson heard their fair share of Foetus records. I interviewed Thirwell once in the 00s and asked him how he felt about all these bands soaking up millions using a sound that he pioneered, but he was non-plussed. “I definitely don’t want to be known as the godfather of industrial rock,” he said. “All I can say is, people always go for the dumb bits.”
Anyway, you know the rest. Ministry and Nine Inch Nails ran with the industrial beats and cyborg menace and people ate it up. And it began to look like blips, bleeps and clanks were gonna be not just the next big thing, but the only thing. That’s how we got Danzig V, an album so woeful even Glenn himself doesn’t want to deal with it. Also how we got Billy Idol’s Cyberpunk and La Sexorcisto (OK, so that one worked out alright). Industrial metal became a sub-genre (Skrew, Die Krupps) as did industrial rock (Chemlab, 16 Volt). But industrial glam? Only one motherfucker was crazy enough to try that.
Sweden’s own Shotgun Messiah were always a cut above the hoi polloi of flash metal. Much like Dogs D’amour, Gunfire Dance, Hanoi Rocks or The Hangmen, they were performing in the same threadbare circus as the Britny Foxes and Dokkens, but their act was on a whole different level. They didn’t want to be Motley Crue, they wanted to be the Sex Pistols. They just wanted to be the Sex Pistols who dressed like Motley Crue. In 1990, their frontman, the awesomely named Zinny J Zan, left the band due to the usual ‘artistic differences’, leaving their scheming bass player, Tim Skold, to take over on vocals and vision. In ‘91, the band released their second album, Second Coming, which spawned the minor hit Heartbreak Blvd.
You can hear Skold’s skittering cyberpunk influence on the band even in that schlocker. They might’ve still been jockeying for a spot on the Sunset Strip, but it’s apparent Skold was watching Terminator and Blade Runner on the tour bus every night, dreaming of the day when he could replace these other idiots with gleaming new machines. And that’s essentially what he did. A year later, only Skold and guitar player Harry Cody were left, and together they created Violent New Breed, the band’s swan song and one of the most fully-realised industrial rock records of all time.
Violent New Breed is all upper-cuts. Essentially it’s a standard Shotgun Messiah album dipped in corrosive acid. The songs follow the recognisable flash metal blueprint of catchy choruses, fist-pumping hooks and pyrotechnic guitar solos, but it all sounds like it was created in some parallel dimension, some Dystopian high-tech wasteland where man and machine battle for dominance on bloody battlefields. It’s gloriously bleak, every song an ode to the death of something, whether it’s sex, revolution, or in the furious Enemy In Me, flesh itself. And the closer is an ode to Dolph Lundgren’s amazing/ridiculous 1990 sci-fi junker I Come in Peace!
Nobody bought the record or the notion of industrial flash metal and Skold went on to be a utility player in lesser-lights like the Flabby Antichrist and a slumming KMFDM. That’s cool, everybody’s got to make a buck. He’s also stated emphatically that Shotgun Messiah are never getting back together, although the rest of the dudes recently played a reunion gig for the 25th anniversary of their first album, Welcome To Bop City. Honestly, none of that matters, because Skold set out to create a new world with Violent New Breed, and he nailed it. It’s not his fault that everybody shrugged at the notion of industrial music and went back to moping around with Kurt Cobain. But if it turned out that industrial WAS the future of rock n’ roll? Well, Violent New Breed would be the new Dark Side of the Moon, I’m sure of it.
Next: Flash Cooney and the horrors of glitter-transvesto-billy.