Industrial music is a genre that draws on harsh, mechanical, transgressive or provocative sounds and themes according to Wikipedia.com. AllMusic defines industrial as the “most abrasive and aggressive fusion of rock and electronic music.”
In my personal experience, industrial music does carry undertones of both definitions, but has much more lying beneath its surface.
Industrial music is said to have started around the 1970s, which is possibly true, but those who know the band Depeche Mode might believe it started in the ’80s. A lot of the sampling and sounds used in industrial music are similar to those used in their song “People are People.” This song has a lot of creativity, using sounds of a war ship, such as gunfire, banging random pipes, window slats shutting and so on. These sounds are all turned into the main beat of the song, while the lyrics promote a message: “People are people, so why should it be?/You and I should get along so awfully.”
Peeling back the layers within industrial music, it is clear that while some songs are indeed harsh, aggressive beats, others are mellow and meaningful synthetic sounds accompanied by lyrics that appeal to a specific group of individuals.
The band Assemblage 23, with front man Tom Shear, is an example of industrial which goes against the “abrasive and aggressive” definition. Their album “Defiance” still resonates deeply almost 21 years after its release. Each song on the album leaves nothing to be desired, with my personal favorites being “Opened” and “Drive,” the first two songs on the album.
“Opened” tells of a journey in which the singer/listener is opening their eyes to a situation they have been entrapped in and blind to. Shear expresses feelings of seeing things with a new perspective and a sense of clarity being set free: “I opened my eyes today/The world looked so bright and strange/Now I see with clarity/I won’t be your casualty.”
“Drive” is one of my favorite songs of all time. As I am an avid car enthusiast whose world revolves around the automobile, Shear therapeutically combines my two favorite things — music and being in the driver’s seat— when he sings “Sometimes I drive to run from all my demons/Sometimes I drive so I can be alone/Sometimes I drive to see the world in a different light/Sometimes I drive for no reason at all.”
Very few forms of music can combine something so lyrical with such untraditional forms of music like industrial can. I would describe industrial music as music for those who understand. While I know industrial might not be for everyone, I encourage those few who do to branch out and give it a listen. If you’re looking for a place to start, check out my radio show on WSYC 88.7, “Industrial Inferno.”