The Thrash, the Techno and the Metal

As a musical label, "rock" has long since passed into the realm of hazy, general nothingness. Divisions and subdivisions abound--sometimes providing focus in a bewildering maze of new music, sometimes only fueling petty, elitist wars of words and pigeonholing. One sect, industrial rock, has been divided and subdivided ad nauseam, into categories foreign to all but the most completist of modern-music consumers. Ever heard of coldwave, electronic body music, synthcore?

Today's industrial music can trace its origins to two disparate sources: the metal-on-metal percussive clanging, electronic experimentation and sound collages of the late '70s/early '80s (from bands like Throbbing Gristle, EinstYrzende Neubauten, early Cabaret Voltaire, and SPK); and the synth-based, dance-oriented strain by groups like Twitch-era Ministry, later Cabaret Voltaire, and Front 242.

Influenced by music as varied as techno and heavy metal, these two "traditions" have merged and mutated, and mutated again, into myriad guitar-based, synth-based and various other hybrid industrial groups.

Most bands that call themselves industrial rely to some degree on fierce, dark lyrics and pounding, cyclical rhythms. A major theme is technology as an alienating and dehumanizing element, as well as a tool for survival in the struggle against "Big Brother."

Such definitions are loose, however, and industrial fans are notoriously divisive. The genre's more popular bands--Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, KMFDM--are reviled by self-proclaimed purists, much in the same way Green Day has been denounced by hard-core members of the Bay Area punk scene. If a group's sound depends on hard-edged guitars, synth-dedicated industrial fans will dismiss it out of hand as "mere metal."

Such debates can be observed in excruciating detail on the Internet newsgroup rec.music.industrial (rmi). The rmi newsgroup also serves a crucial function as a networking tool. Industrial music is largely ignored by the mainstream, music and alternative press, and the concert reviews, event listings and club playlists posted on the site provide a vital center for an already fragmented scene.

Three bands representing separate extremes in industrial music are all scheduled to play the Mason Jar on Thursday. Think of it as a wine-tasting of industrial bands, suitable for connoisseurs and neophytes alike.

The British band Cubanate is a premier industrial-dance act, creating a judicious mix of the common industrial-anger/alienation element with the more energetic and inspirational elements of techno. Cubanate unites serrated-metal-guitar riffs with acidic 303 synthesizer workouts (the Roland TB-303 is the synthesizer unit that's almost solely responsible for the trademark "trance techno" sound). Cubanate is touring in support of its new album, Barbarossa (Machinery Records), the follow-up to 1993's classic Antimatter.

Acumen is another story altogether. This Chicago-based group represents the guitar-based, heavily metal-influenced subsection of industrial. With vocals reminiscent of Alice Cooper, Acumen integrates minimal synth-based rhythms with relatively radio-friendly songs to create a style perilously close to bands like White Zombie and Helmet. Fans of trailer-park thrash will not be disappointed by this hard-driving band. Its most recent album is the dense, aggressive Territory=Universe on Fifth Colvmn Records.

The local band Nihil completes the lineup. On record, Nihil is one man--Scottsdale's Scott Crowley, whose 1996 recording Drown has received good national airplay on industrial-radio shows. Live, Crowley is joined by a full band to re-create his hard-hitting, often brutal (and that's a good thing), guitar-laden brand of industrial.

As in most cities, industrial music in the Valley is largely an underground phenomenon, and a lineup of such varied, national-scale acts at a commercial-rock club is a rare chance to see what all the noise is about.

Cubanate, Acumen, and Nihil are scheduled to perform on Thursday, September 19, at the Mason Jar. Call for showtimes.

The bands' Web sites are:
Cubanate: http://www.fiu.edu/wjones01/cub.html; Acumen: http://www.mcs.com/sburke/acumen/index.html; Nihil: http://www.goodnet.com/nihil/

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