ABSURDIST PRE-MATHCORE FROM SURREALIST BRAINIACS
For some reason, the late 80s felt like a time when bands of riotous technicolour ruled the rock soundscapes, or were at least allowed to explode and shower the place briefly. Some of them were no-bounce fad balls, some were screwball goof-clowns, and some were genre-colliding pioneer heads. Some were just ‘mad, I am’ knobheads.
But whatever they were, dull wasn’t it. You can’t put po-faced monochrome on albums like Introduce Yourself, Freaky Styley, Time’s Up and Nothing’s Shocking, and the bands who took the best of that crossover wave and rode it into the early 90s – some of them dubbed funk metal, some not – ended up as victims of timing. Colourful came to be the enemy. After all, Poison were colourful. Flamboyance was out, so was irreverence. It’s no coincidence that Anthrax, before Persistence of Time, were seen as the least credible of the big four. Why? Bermuda shorts, cartoons and I’m the Man raps. Grunge – and Metallica’s Black Album – killed that frippery right off.
By the time Thought Industry‘s second album, Mods Carve the Pig, appeared in 1993, the US North West had gone so viral that Kurt Cobain was staring the brink of his own end-time. Through no fault of its own, Seattle stole our eyes off some quality balls, and this album was one of them.
Grunge it ain’t. What happens when you press play?
Thought Industry: not regular
First, a warning: BE READY. Don’t expect to have a minute to kick back or scratch arse while the album warms up because there is no warm-up. There is no room to be a casual motherfucker. Track #1 HORSEPOWERED fires off a hyper assault from the very first scream, a full-on synapse scraper – but give it a minute and they’ll chop out a jazz prog intercept.
Not for long though. They’ll revert to frenzy then forge a full metal bridge. After that, what? A Primus funk blowout?
Yep. What is this shit? Mathcore?
Probably not – it’s too wayward, and anyway mathcore wasn’t even A Thing back then (was it?), but Thought Industry are/were hard core musos for sure. They play a lot, they play a lot fast, they switch at warp speed, they fry, and that’s just the opening track but there’s no chest-beater machismo or brow-scrunching hardman angst here – the aggression is musical: scalpel precise, yet free-wheeling. Mr Bungle’s attention-deficit splatter would be an influence if Bungle had been older, but looking at the dates, they were contemporaries. Bungle’s big number 2, Disco Volante, was still two years unborn at this point.
But we mention Mr Bungle because Mods Carve the Pig is also hyperactive and overstimulated, and this is why the saturated-colour hybrid funked-thrash and crossover metal of the late 80s feels like a factor in their sound. Death Angel mixed it up on the brilliant Act III. The Beyond got busy and tinny on Crawl. Primus and Fishbone’s goof-off masked big-time muso talents. Steve Vai crammed a career’s worth of ideas into Passion & Warfare, a masterpiece of colour and theatrics.
Thought Industry orbits this kinda mutoid prog space, hardcore style.
Anyway, back to Mods. After HORSEPOWERED’s blistering flay and DATERAPE COOKBOOK’s low-life beat-writer lens, we get GELATIN’s wicked, fast-sliding intro riff and outlaw-tough bass under a grinding little groove that’s upended by a what-the-feck waltz of a lull (for a minute) and a volte-face to a lacerating chorus (NO … SKIN). Then repeat. Sort of. Chaotic to the end.
And this is how it goes throughout the album. WHITFIELD is hardcore funk but no jollies. BOIL cools the temperature with a fearsome rhythm that revels in quiet creep till shattered by a blast beat. As for MICHIGAN JESUS …. how do you fancy Minor Threat loaded with thrashers’ proficiency and a la-la-la chorus? Demented, speed-punk catchy and the hookiest track of the album for sure.
Then, maybe, the peak: SMIRK THE GODBLENDER rams clipped thrash riffs into clean-pick arpeggios, a Helmet semi groove and a ton of other touches that demand ears not words, and that’s typical of this untypical record: it IS groove metal, of sorts, though it’s not always obvious. The fluidity is astonishing.
And even if the gentlest offering, the acoustic PATIENTLY WAITING FOR SUMMER, doesn’t always convince – it’s like the vocal melody can’t find a way in to the music – so what? It still bores awkwardly into your head. Cool instrumental exit, too.
HALCYON PRICK ABSINTHE LOADED
While you’re trying to catch up to the music, open out the artwork and decipher the lyrics you missed – just don’t expect it to make sense. Not literally. Halcyon prick absinthe loaded are the first four words. Thought Industry’s aesthetic is its own World, like those Dead Kennedy inner sleeves, except TI’s storytelling is much more oblique, surreal, gonzo, beat, squalid, conceptual. And with Salvador Dali’s ‘Apotheosis of Homere’ on the cover, the artwork’s an art work. Check the typography cap-O quirk too.
But the last track has none of those literary elements. TO BUILD A BETTER BULLDOZER drops the vocals and winds up the pace with a fiendish rhythm-riff intro and some Discipline-ery King Crimson guitar interplay. Shit, man. Stripped of word and voice, a fearsome prog band is revealed.
Would you listen to this album every day?
Perhaps not, unless frazzle fry is a state you’re striving for. Then again, in the years since this album came out, mathcore became real and System of a Down reached millions, so maybe Mods Carve the Pig’s hyperactivity doesn’t sound like that much of a big deal to new ears. I don’t have that perspective. I got it when it came out and it sounded so unlike anything else that it shocked, but it compelled too and it stands up now because it’s aggressive, colourful, hyperactive, musical and unbound by genre codes. Free and visionary. An obscene talent.
So if Mr Bungle, Dillinger Escape Plan, Faith No More, Primus, Galactic Cowboys, Infectious Grooves, System of a Down, Voivod, Devin Townsend and any of their restless genre-crossing ilk are twitching among your grooves, yet Thought Industry passed you by, check this album. Every track explodes.
And if you’re hooked, here’s a tip: album #3, Outer Space is a Martini Away, is at least as good.
But that’s for another day.
mOds carve the pig: assassins, tOads and gOd’s flesh
Dustin Donaldson – drums and percussion
Brent Oberlin – vocals and bass
Christopher Lee – guitars left
Paul Enzio – guitars right
Released 1993 on Metal Blade