Industrial metal

Industrial metal is the fusion of heavy metal music and industrial music, typically employing repeating metal guitar riffs, sampling, synthesizer or sequencer lines, and distorted vocals.[1] Prominent industrial metal acts include Ministry, Godflesh, KMFDM and Nine Inch Nails.[3][4]

Industrial metal developed in the late 1980s, as industrial and metal began to fuse into a common genre.[3] Industrial metal did well in the early 1990s, particularly in North America,[5] with the success of groups such as Nine Inch Nails. The industrial metal movement began to fade in the latter half of the 1990s.[6]


Early innovators

Though electric guitars had been used by industrial artists since the early days of the genre,[3] archetypal industrial groups such as Throbbing Gristle displayed a strong anti-rock stance.[7] British post-punk band Killing Joke pioneered the crossing over between styles,[8] and was an influence on major acts associated with industrial metal such as Ministry, Godflesh, and Nine Inch Nails.[9] Another pioneer industrial rock group, Big Black, also impacted some later groups.[8][10]

By the late 1980s industrial and heavy metal began to fuse into a common genre,[3] with Godflesh's self-titled EP[11] and Ministry's The Land of Rape and Honey at the forefront. Godflesh was founded by former Napalm Death guitarist Justin Broadrick.[12] Drawing from a wide array of influences—power electronics forefathers Whitehouse,[13] noise rock band Swans,[14] ambient music creator Brian Eno[12] and fellow Birmingham hard rockers Black Sabbath[15]—the Godflesh sound was once described as "Pornography-era Cure on Quaaludes".[16] Though not a top-seller,[17] Godflesh nonetheless became an influential act, their name mentioned by Korn,[18] Metallica,[19] Danzig,[20] Faith No More,[21] and Fear Factory.[18]

Ministry emerged from the scene surrounding Wax Trax! Records, a Chicago label dedicated to industrial music.[22] Ministry's initial foray into guitar rock happened during a recording session of The Land of Rape and Honey on Southern Studios, in London.[23] The band's frontman, the Cuban-born Al Jourgensen, explained this transition:[24]

Rediscovering the guitar on this record was almost like the first day I got my Fairlight. The possibilities just seemed endless on something that had seemed so limiting before. That's really funny. I started out as a guitarist, but I hadn't really touched a guitar in five years. Then I heard that first feedback come out of the Marshall stack and all of a sudden it was like there was a whole new parameter within guitar playing itself – especially in combination with sounds that you get out of a keyboard.

Al Jourgensen with Revolting Cocks

Jourgensen seemed particularly fond of thrash metal. After the release of Land, he recruited guitarist Mike Scaccia from Texas thrashers Rigor Mortis.[25] On one occasion, Jourgensen told the press that Sepultura was his favorite band.[26] He also expressed the desire to produce a Metallica album.[27] Jourgensen's interest in dance-oriented electronic music did not entirely fade, however; he also formed the side-project Revolting Cocks, a more electronic body music-inflected collaboration with Richard 23 of Front 242.[28]

German band KMFDM was another seminal industrial metal group. Although not a metal fan, KMFDM leader Sascha Konietzko's "infatuation with ripping off metal licks" stemmed from his experiments with E-mu's Emax sampler in late 1986. He told Guitar World that,[3]

It was just interesting to use it as a kind of white noise reinforcement for our music. All of a sudden heavy metal was free from all those tempo changes and boring attitudes it always had. What I always hated most about heavy metal was that the best riffs came only once and were never repeated. So the fascination, actually, was to sample a great riff, loop it, and play it over and over again.

A Swiss trio, The Young Gods, brushed with the style on their second album, L'Eau Rouge (1989). Prior to its release, singer Franz Treichler declared:[29]

We just wanted to hear guitars. We missed the attack of 'Envoyé'. That's what we want to hear right now, pure power. A metal sound that isn't revivalist, isn't biker style, speed metal style, any style, just WHAP!

Canadian thrash metal band Malhavoc became another early pioneer of the genre when they began to mix thrash metal with industrial music in the late 1980s[30]

Pigface, formed by Martin Atkins and including Ministry drummer Bill Rieflin, emerged as an industrial metal collective of sorts, participating with many figures from the noise rock and industrial worlds.[31] Nine Inch Nails, the "one-man-band" formed by Trent Reznor, brought the genre to mainstream audiences with albums such as the Grammy-winning Broken[32] and the best-selling The Downward Spiral, accompanied by their groundbreaking performance at Woodstock '94. The rivethead subculture also developed at this time,[33] along with the so-called "coldwave" subgenre, which encompassed Chemlab, 16 Volt, and Acumen Nation.[34] Some electro-industrial groups adopted industrial metal techniques in this period, including Skinny Puppy (on their Rabies, co-produced by Jourgensen),[35] and Front Line Assembly.[36]

British band Pitchshifter, formed in 1989 by brothers Jon and Mark Clayden, also started as an industrial metal band.[37] The band later included elements of drum and bass.[38] Frontman JS mentions:[39]

[...]In the early days we were inspired by bands like Head of David and Swans and the like... coming out of punk into the weird, angry, total noise, kind of pre-industrial music. It gets called industrial but I don't know if it really is.

Industrial thrash and death metal

Industrial metal's popularity led a number of successful thrash metal groups, including Megadeth, Sepultura, and Anthrax, to request remixes by "industrial" artists.[40] Some musicians emerging from the death metal scene, such as Fear Factory, Nailbomb, Autokrator and Meathook Seed, also began to experiment with industrial. Fear Factory, from Los Angeles,[41] were initially influenced by the Earache roster (namely Godflesh, Napalm Death and Bolt Thrower).[42] The German band Oomph! after their second album Sperm started to play industrial metal combined with elements of death metal and groove metal until the album Plastik. Sepultura singer Max Cavalera's Nailbomb, a collaboration with Alex Newport, also practiced a combination of extreme metal and industrial production techniques.[43] A lesser-known example of industrial death metal is Meathook Seed, made up of members of Napalm Death and the Florida death metal group Obituary. An industrial music fan, Obituary guitarist Trevor Peres suggested drum machines for The End Complete,[44] Obituary's most successful album.[45] The other band members' refusal led him to form Meathook Seed.[44]

Industrial black metal

In the early years of the 21st century, groups from the black metal scene began to incorporate elements of industrial music. Mysticum, formed in 1991,[46] was the first of these groups.[47] DHG (Dødheimsgard), Thorns from Norway and Blut Aus Nord, N.K.V.D. and Blacklodge from France, have been acclaimed for their incorporation of industrial elements.[48] Other industrial black metal musicians include Samael,[49] The Axis of Perdition,[50] Aborym,[51] and ...And Oceans.[52] In addition, The Kovenant,[53] Mortiis and Ulver emerged from the Norwegian black metal scene, but later chose to experiment with industrial music.[54][55]

Commercial rise

Nine Inch Nails in concert, 2009
Rammstein Live at Madison Square Garden.

Industrial metal blossomed in the early 1990s, particularly in North America,[5] where it would eventually sell close to 35 million units.[56][57] It first became a commercial force in 1992 when Nine Inch Nails' Broken and Ministry's Psalm 69 went platinum in America, though the latter took three years to reach that status.[57] Both groups were nominated for the Best Metal Performance in the 1992 Grammy Awards, with Nine Inch Nails winning.[32] Two years later, Nine Inch Nails released The Downward Spiral, which debuted at No. 2,[58] and would eventually go quadruple-platinum.[57] This record is considered by AllMusic as "one of the bleakest multi-platinum albums ever".[59]

Overall, popular heavy rock music has changed to become more "industrialized". This robbed the industrial hardcore movement of any hopes of establishing a new identity of its own. The style is dead (or at least dying); the elements of the style continue on in new musical settings.
          – David A. Locher, Professor of Sociology, Missouri State University, 1998[60]:115

Following Nine Inch Nails' success, Marilyn Manson, led by a protégé of Reznor's,[61] came to prominence.[62] The group's live performance and its transgressive appeal was often more commented on than their music.[63]

Industrial metal reached its commercial zenith in the latter half of the 1990s – according to the RIAA databases, its top-selling artists sold around 17.5 million units combined.[57][64] Records by major industrial metal artists routinely debuted on the top spots of the Billboard 200 chart: Rob Zombie's Hellbilly Deluxe (No. 5),[65] Marilyn Manson's Antichrist Superstar (No. 3),[66] and Nine Inch Nails' The Fragile (No. 1).[67] A number of industrial metal albums performed well on Billboard's Heatseekers chart: Filter's Short Bus (No. 3),[68] Stabbing Westward's Wither Blister Burn + Peel (No. 1),[69] Rammstein's Sehnsucht (No. 2),[70] Orgy's Candyass (No. 1),[71] and Static-X's Wisconsin Death Trip (No. 1).[72]

During this era, Trent Reznor was chosen by Time as one of the most influential Americans of 1997.[73] The genre's popularity was such that established glam metal groups, including Guns N' Roses and Mötley Crüe, began to dabble in the style.[74][75] Figures from the hip hop scene also began to seek out collaborations with and remixes from industrial metal musicians.[76][77][78]

When industrial metal climbed the charts of the late 1990s, its sudden popularity was met with negative reactions from the early innovators of industrial music. Peter Christopherson told The Wire that he no longer felt any kinship with the industrial scene: "this is not me, this is not what I'm about".[79] Lustmord, a prominent early industrial musician,[80] declared that "Ministry just doesn't interest [him]" and "[he has] no time for all this rock and roll shit they're doing now."[81] Skinny Puppy frontman Nivek Ogre dismissed Nine Inch Nails as "cock rock"[82] but have since patched things up and have even performed on stage together.[83]

Industrial metal suffered a critical backlash at the turn of the millennium. In an April 2000 review for the Chicago Sun Times, Jim DeRogatis dismissed Nine Inch Nails' new music as a "generic brand of industrial thrash" and accused Ministry of repeating an act that "was old by 1992".[84] Although The Fragile reached the top spot of the Billboard 200[85] and went on to earn double platinum status,[57] DeRogatis considered it a "flop" nonetheless.[84] Around this time, veteran industrial metal artists (Ministry,[86] Godflesh,[87] and White Zombie[88]) began to repudiate the industrial label. Sales remained high throughout 2000–2005; at least 10 million records were sold during that time frame.[57][64] Many groups began to take influence from hip hop and electronic music, in addition to industrial metal. As a result, acts like Powerman 5000 are often described as industrial metal as well as nu metal.[89]

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