So today marks the last part of my rundown of the decade’s music. Next week will be the usual rundown of the month’s best tracks, and then I’ll be starting at some point after that with a rundown of the 90s in a similar style – after all, this autumn marks twenty years since I first got into/was exposed to “alternative” music, and this is a good time to do this, I feel. Anyway, on with the show.
Like the tracks, this was a tough list to compile, and took a long while to do.
(Also, as I re-post this with new formatting in 2017, this is entirely untouched in terms of what I chose and what I wrote from back then, and will remain so).
The Axis of Perdition
The Ichneumon Method (And Other Less Welcome Techniques)
“Industrial Black Metal from Middlesborough” is perhaps not the way to sell yourself as a band. But if you are looking for something extreme, heavy, and most of all dark, you’ve come to the right place. A viciously loud, murky production, with the vocals treated to resemble beasts emerging from the pits of hell, and the music itself is black metal as you may not have heard it before. Riddled with samples, programming and savage riffs, this such a fascinating spin on the genre that if you have any interest in it, it’s worth giving it a listen.
We perhaps have a fire to thank for the way this album turned out. After a studio fire destroyed years of their work for dance act Sub Sub, they changed direction and ended up with this. A beautifully understanded, mellow album, in the main, it has moments though that are utterly extraordinary, and is also imbued with a surprising warmth, too. Some people have dismissed this band as dullards, but really, they are anything but, and are vastly more talented and interesting to listen to than a number of their peers.
From Mars To Sirius
An intriguing, unusual band in the metal scene – “progressive death metal” is about as close a description as I’ve seen, but frankly they cover so many genres that trying to nail it down too closely is all but impossible – they are a band who actually have something to say. Most of their lyrics have an environmental theme, some of their songs become epic soundscapes, but then they also rock like bastards. This was the album that I, and probably many others, discovered them on, and as concept albums go it’s really pretty fucking special.
The whole genre termed nu-metal hardly seems to have had much of a shelf-life, and to be frank I’d be happy never to hear some of those bands ever again (*cough*Crazy Town*cough*), but Deftones were always different and a cut above their peers. It wasn’t just the astonishingly abrasive sound, or the use of actual tunes, but the way that Chino Moreno managed to include all of his influences, including bands like The Smiths and The Cure, in amongst the metal grooves. This all came together to amazing effect on this album, considerably darker and at points more experimental than ever before (or since).
Panic Drives Human Herds
Nowadays Robbie Furze has left this band behind for a perhaps more mainstream band in the form of The Big Pink. A damned shame, really – this, the only studio album Panic DHH ever released, is a brutal exercise in using power electronics to bolster what at points is otherwise somewhere in the realms of punk. The sheer savagery of this album really cannot be understated, particularly in the opening few tracks (Leader and Spare are pure power noise), and live they incredibly upped the ante even more. I only wish more material got released, although I really should check out The Big Pink.
Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire and Demise
The last new material from the greatest of the black metal bands, and what a way to finish. I’ve already mentioned the jaw-dropping closing track, but the rest of the album is hardly bad. In fact the rest of the album is nearly as astounding. Opening with a harpsichord intro (no, really), it explodes into the appropriately-titled The Eruption, before taking you on a nine-track, hour-long journey through an incredible, ultra-technical symphonic black metal masterpiece. It’s probably a good thing that they never recorded anything more following this – they were never, ever, going to top this.
Six By Seven
The Closer You Get
I’m not really certain that many people knew what to make of Six By Seven when they first appeared. Their debut single, European Me was lauded like the second coming in the music press, but in my view there are a number of far better songs on that album. But then, the barely disguised contempt for the world at points in it got unleashed in full on the follow-up, which really was quite a shock. Gone were the epic songs of the first album, instead a number of shorter, snarling beasts of tracks that were a torrent of fury and hatred. Opener Eat Junk Become Junk had psuedo-industrial beats and programming to add to the punch, while Ten Places to Die suggested a list of ways to finish it all. But then on the flip side was the joyous New Year, and the giddy rush of Another Love Song. While schizophrenic in mood at points, this remains an essential listen.
The Fall of Math
In the development of the “post-rock” scene, 65DoS deserve more than a footnote, perhaps, judging on some of the bands that are now appearing here and there. More than anything else, they could be seen perhaps as trailblazers in realizing that the genre had so much more scope, and mixing in disparate influences, clever and targeted use of glitchy electronics, and an astonishing focus that came across in the quite staggering technicality and emotions that their music invokes. Obviously, they are even more astounding live, and you may have seen me wax lyrical about that before. But even so, on record they are still a thrilling experience.
I still don’t quite understand how this album passed me by for over two years, maybe more. I don’t think I’d ever noticed them on regular viewings on MTV2 or wherever else, never followed any links…and then one day, I did listen. And was sat there scratching my head. It sounded great, heartfelt, driving rock that was instantly memorable, and I had the tune (I think it was Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)) in my head for days. Once I got my hands on the album, I quickly realised that there was so much more to the band than what I had heard. There are elegant, beautiful ballads, songs that just demand to be sung by a huge crowd (Wake Up, I’m looking at you), songs that evoke extraordinary atmospheres (Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)), and more than anything a general feeling that life is too short, in an urgency to enjoy life to the fullest in the time we have. Maybe that’s why this band are so loved. They somehow take cliched ideas that would feel like cheap shots with other bands, and make them into things that sound brand-new and life-affirming. And a great album to listen to, too.
The Sea and The Silence
Released right at the end of 2008, this is yet another astounding step forward by Jamie Blacker, to the point of it probably eclipsing his two previous, really quite remarkable albums. Taking the basic premise of reasonably extreme, powerful industrial electronics, and stretching them into shapes and sounds that other contemporaries probably haven’t even thought of trying yet. Again there is a concept, but this time rather more abstract, but musically this album destroys any idea of boundaries that might constrain it. There are elements of world music, of live instruments, of pitch dark black metal, dark ambient, and straight up industrial power. Either way, an absorbing listen that rewards repeat listens in spades.
In Strict Confidence
This decade was an extraordinary one for ISC: they released four extraordinary albums, all of which showed a distinct growth and evolution, culminating in this absolutely exquisite darkwave/gothic/electro meisterwerk. A shimmering production, some of the greatest songs they’ve ever written, and a visually stunning theme that enveloped everything to do with the album (lyrical themes, videos, images, even the music at points). We’re still awaiting the follow-up, but tracks from it are finally due to be unveiled in the coming weeks, I understand.
A Violent Emotion
As I noted when awarding this album of the year for 2008, this album’s concept is seemingly all about channelling violent energy to make a positive difference, and in that respect – and in it’s brilliantly varied musical conception – it works brilliantly. Yes, it has dancefloor-friendly tunes, but really this is all about so much more than that, and works equally well as an album to listen to at home miles from any dancefloor.
Some Kind of Strange
Amazing to think that this is now six years old, really. An ageless sound that gently seduces your ears for just shy of an hour, it’s an album to luxuriate in. Little on the album goes faster than languid, but then that suits Karin’s vocals perfectly, as the songs unwind around her voice, sometimes used to great effect wordlessly. The opening pair of tracks are absolute belters, but the rest of the album takes it’s time to work it’s magic…
Who Killed Amanda Palmer
Daisy disagrees with me on this, I think, but I still believe that this AFP album is better than all her albums with the Dresden Dolls. Rather than being constrained by the stylistic and musical influences they made such a play of, here AFP and producer Ben Folds allow free reign for everything to come out, resulting in joyous blasts where everything and probably the kitchen sink too are chucked in (Leeds United, Guitar Hero), covers of show tunes, very, very dark ballads, and just generally a broader musical palate. And she even manages to crowbar in a jaunty, bright 60s-influenced pop tune about rape and a subsequent abortion, and just about get away with it.
An album that really took me by surprise, this. A staggering mashing of drum’n’bass, breakcore, glitchy electronics, and industrial/dark ambient atmospheres, it sounded like no-one else at the time, and it’s still pretty damned unique now, too. A rare album in these realms, too, for me that I can happily listen to the whole thing in one go, too, rather than dipping into bits of it every now and again. Hardly one for the dancefloor – I’d love to see rivetheads try and dance to the seemingly-calculus-derived time signatures of Cohesion – but it is an awesome album to listen to at a hefty volume.
Light It Up
Still a regular album to listen to in my house, Stromkern remain probably the only band in the industrial scene to successfully hip-hop stylings to their music. That and their searing, highly-charged political lyrics have them stand out as a band with something to say, even if they refuse to publish the lyrics, leaving you to interpret them for yourself. Some might still only know Stand Up following it’s playing everywhere in recent years, but delve deeper and you’ll find a great album too – even the shorter, intermission-esque tracks don’t feel out of place, and both of the tracks with guest vocalists are awesome. Still waiting for that follow-up, though, and with changes to the political landscape since this, it will be interesting to see what they do do next.
The opener to this (Scorch The Ground) I named my track of the decade the other week, and really the album is not far behind. All about lust, obsession and revenge-best-served-cold, it’s icy, gently-seething façade only breaks a couple of times to let some warmth in, and it’s perhaps notable that these couple of tracks are the weaker songs here. Where the album really, really scores spectacularly is when Frank Spinath let’s his hate and bitterness really spill out in the lyrics, devastating lines delivered with a lightness of touch that almost wrongfoot you every time. Also, musically, it’s electronics fit the mood perfectly, and never intrude on the words taking centre stage – and when they are this good, as they should, too.
Drenched in darkness in just about every way – not only musically, but in the look of the group, the artwork, the videos…this was an unsettling listen that was to begin with, pretty much inpenetrable to me. But I kept plugging away at it, and eventually just how brilliant this album is became clear. There isn’t a single bad song here, but sometimes it can become all a bit much. Where they go from here should be interesting, but seeing as the recent Fever Ray album is almost a pitch dark as this, I’m not expecting it to be a ray of sunshine. I’m not sure being exposed to that much light would suit them, anyway…
My entry into anything noisy-rhythmic-industrial came from this album, and I’m still not sure it’s actually been bettered by any of his peers, although some have made a bloody good go. At points extraordinarily extreme (Red Crystal in particular), it perversely also spawned a massive industrial dancefloor hit for a while in the lengthy form of Death Time, and perhaps also was in some respects one of the most “commercial” “noise” albums yet released. Those who listened in casually, purely because of that track were in for a shock, though, but it was worth persevering. The Blast Furnace title was no accident, as metallic effects were all over the place, in samples, machine-like rhythms and even the atmospheres created. Little humanity was allowed a look in, but then why should it? The machines simply crushed all that out, and this is the soundtrack to that very event. Be afraid.
I noted the other week that five years have now elapsed since the last recorded output from Rico, and I’m increasingly of the fear that this was the last word from him on record. Shame. Also as I noted then, the second half of the album is much the stronger, some feat when the first half features contributions from both Tricky and Gary Numan – also a sign of the wide appeal of Rico’s music. Unfairly pigeonholed early on as the “British Trent Reznor”, he was never quite that, but deserved far more success than he ever got.
Best. Comeback. Ever. Those three words are going to be endlessly associated with this – the hackneyed tale of a band fallen on hard times, the creative well empty, or so we thought, and then they roar back with this. Fucking hell. That was pretty much what most of us said once we’d heard the monstrous, ten-minute opening track, never mind the rest of the album. The good thing was, the rest of it was just as good. Making no concession to trends in metal, this was just simply the metal album that Robb Flynn and his band wanted to make, and not a minute was wasted in creating a brilliant, brilliant hour of thrash metal. They are still touring it now, mind, and while they are fucking ace live, it would be nice to hear something new soon…
The single most enduring and remarkable album to come from the futurepop/EBM/electro-industrial/call-it-what-you-like period in the early couple of years of this decade, this album transcended the usual limitations of the genre in some style. At first listen a cold, aloof creation (to go with the frozen figures and icy landscapes that dominate the sleeve), a few listens thaws it to an astounding effect. There are belting dancefloor monsters (Call The Ships To Port), astonishing pop songs (Bullet), choral-backed ballads (Invisible & Silent) and also one of the most euphoric, uplifting songs ever released in this scene (We Stand Alone). Oh, and not to mention the many, many references to Greek Mythology scattered through the album that makes the lyrics worth listening to (and fun to work out what on earth they are on about, too).
I loved this band from the moment I first heard Atlas, and I’ve still not stopped loving it yet. An endlessly fun album, that twists and turns, playing with the structures of rock music, dance music and twisting them into a hugely enjoyable take on post-rock that pretty much immediately made everything else look deadly serious. That few bands have dared to tread the same path is telling – it took four seriously talented and respected musicians to even approach music this complex-but-accessible – and perhaps they will remain standing alone in a musical universe bathed in a bright spotlight.
I remember being played a couple of tracks from this as my first exposure to the band, and being bowled over to the point that it didn’t take me long to go and hunt out the album. Starting with the template of industrial-noise – and at points, this band are unbelievably harsh – but adding in twisted, heavily treated vocals and rhythms, and emotional outpourings based on pure rage, this sounds different. Very different to what has gone before. Slowly twisting the knife further as you go into the album (the last couple of tracks being the harshest and closest to pure noise), before ending in an unsettling silence, this was an album that I’m not sure you were ever meant to unlock a deeper meaning to. The followup album, based much more on old-school industrial, was great, but never quite had the sheer visceral power that this one has.
I could equally have made a case for the reworked Transhuman 2.0 to be in the top spot with this, but there are reasons why this album makes it to the top spot on it’s own. Firstly, for me this album gave my interest in industrial music a shot in the arm. In 2005, there wasn’t a lot for me to be excited about. Most of the albums I was bothered about around that time were either not industrial, or were older bands making comebacks. So to hear this, a new band doing interesting stuff with a genre I was beginning to fear was stagnating badly, was seriously exciting to me. That and the fact that this album made a perfect synthesis of industrial and metal influences, nodding back to the past and Sean Payne’s formative years listening to Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Numb and others, but also looking to the future and fusing other, outside genres to the sound to create a hybrid that sounded both familiar and new, and tremendously exciting, all at the same time. I’m not going to pick highlights from the album, as it’s all great, and indeed as I’ve been DJing industrial to a greater extent in recent years, Cyanotic remain the one band I can play and get asked “who is this?” by punters more than anyone else. In addition, Sean Payne’s ceaseless promotion of his peers on compilations, remix work, just linking to others, and high quality of all his musical output have opened my eyes to a whole scene across the Atlantic that gives me hope for industrial music in the future. There is so much more out there, we just need to look for it. And I’m glad I found this. I’m still a regular listener to this album now, as my play charts on Last.fm will attest, and with The Medication Generation finally nearing release, I’m sure I’ll be playing this band for some further time to come yet, too.