Let’s take a trip back to the ’90s. Everyone wore ripped jeans and flannel, and we all knew the biggest names of the industrial music genre. Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson are still producing quality albums even today, after both forced their way into mainstream acceptance without making concessions. But do you remember all those other bands who felt like they challenged the mainstream through hard guitar riffs and dark gothic lyrics? Perhaps you listened to them on midnight metal shows. Perhaps you became obsessed with owning a trench coat. Perhaps you even went full goth and dressed in nothing but black throughout high school. Here are 10 industrial bands that you’ve probably forgotten, much to the chagrin of your teenage self.
Some of the videos are NSFW. This is industrial music after all.
The band that pioneered—and often filled—late night industrial radio. Originally a new wave band, the godfathers of the genre began driving the industrial scene in the 1980s. Their music was a mix of repeated noise environments, isolated drum assaults, heavy guitar riffs and droning electronic noise. Lyrics could be spoken, speechified, screamed or moaned, sometimes all at once.
Nine Inch Nails’ popularity created space for other industrial bands to gain recognition. After releasing their self-titled debut album in 1996, Gravity Kills seemed like they were ready to explode onto the scene. Unfortunately, their two follow up albums lacked the same drive and immediacy of the first. The band fizzled out, unable to sustain tour support from their record label on the strength of just one semi-popular album.
Arguably one of the most overlooked industrial bands of the early ’90s, Machines of Loving Grace relied on bass-heavy orchestration and a great deal of in-song melodic progression. A song would rarely end as it started, and various time signatures would often be interwoven, bucking the industrial trend of simply building off repeated core riffs.
A German band built on destroying sub woofers and “dancifying” industrial, KMFDM was built more for the club than the mosh pit. Their songs were some of the fastest in mainstream industrial music, but they had a uniquely Central European perspective on issues like the Cold War. They were more nihilistic than narcissistic, unlike many other industrial bands of the era. When the band reshaped itself between 2000 and 2002, they briefly became MDFMK but later returned to their original spelling.
Much of their work is more avant garde or ambient drone, but there’s no denying the intensity of Nurse with Wound when they do go more industrial. Formed in 1978, the ongoing art project of Steven Stapleton can be looked at as one of the earliest progenitors of the genre.
Early industrial is a beautiful thing, often three minutes of largely repeated and driving soundscapes. It has its own beauty; although looking back, the lack of true construction on songs like this makes them more an artifact of the past than really crucial listening.
Despite creating some of the catchiest riffs of the mid ’90s, Sister Machine Gun never managed to catch on. This relative failure demonstrates one of the more interesting qualities of industrial—that it’s often about the message as much as it’s about the sound. Sister Machine Gun created better music than many bands who ultimately surpassed them, but they never seemed to have as much to say. That shouldn’t keep you from enjoying their music today, though.
A playfully electronic take on industrial, Front Line Assembly derived much of its ’90s success from the meeting of front man Bill Leeb and collaborator Rhys Fulber—names which should sound familiar if you’re an industrial fan. Leeb was a member of Skinny Puppy, Noise Unit, and Equinox, just to name a few. Fulber has been a member of Fear Factory, Paradise Lost, and Econoline Crush. The two softened their sound when transforming their side project Delerium from industrial to ambient pop. Front Line Assembly developed a familiar and unobtrusively melodic form of the music—industrial to study by.
The most interesting thing about Genitorturers was the reason for their name, as the band often pierced, clamped and performed other BDSM acts during their shows. Owing as much to burlesque performance and the oversized stage acts of ’80s hair rock as they do to industrial, the band never achieved anything resembling mainstream fame. Despite this anonymity, they’ve kept going for a good 20 years and moved through as many different band members. The only remaining original member is singer Gen.
Chances are you haven’t really forgotten one of the best industrial bands of the ’90s. What they lacked in endurance, the band made up for with three of the most pop-accessible industrial albums of the decade. Their music was often surprisingly driven, creating insistent themes and forgoing the eerie, spare atmospheres that many other industrial bands liked to create. They had more polish than most, and helped industrial music bridge its raw, assaulting ’90s form over to the softer, more openly emotive ’00s era.