Conclusion: Wanna Hear Me Out About Thought Industry? (2/2)
Hey MetalSucks readers! Welcome to second and final part of our look back at one of metal’s unsung greats, Thought Industry. In 2013 we’d call them avant-metal, or post-everything metal, but in their early-’90s heyday fans described anything unpredictable and weird as prog-metal. And though there are hints of the noodly, the technical, and the djenty, mostly TI and their ilk played tons of parts and explored tons of weirdness.
But heck, we’re not revisiting their amazing first two albums for the sake of re-categorization (nor to provide a forum for those who noticed TI the first time around). Nay, this discussion is for the benefit of readers of MetalSucks who like challenging, cool, virtuosic stuff and who will find TI’s wildest moments familiar — and may recognize their boldness as pivotal to metal’s future titans. We set the scene last week with an overview of TI’s 1991 debut Songs For Insects (here); now, let’s bathe in the champagne of their second and awesomest album, Mods Carve The Pig: Assassins, Toads, And God’s Flesh (Metal Blade) — which turned 20 years old in October. Read on and crank it up!
Contrary to the murk of its unknowable title — itself tantamount to an act of self-sabotage — Mods Carve The Pig is tighter and meaner than TI’s first outing, Songs For Insects (here). And it’s not left to chance for the listener to register that S4I‘s artsy playtime is over; the TI guys skip intros and warnings, and throw us in at the deep end of “Horsepowered,” a frenzied proto-Dillinger Escape Plan skronk in which we find S4I‘s wine-drunk university guy plunged into blue-collar grind and mainlining heroin. Buckle up!
In 1991, we could hail the ambition that resulted in the imperfect perfection of Songs For Insects. But in 1993, we could rejoice (and sigh in relief) that the TI guys heeded nearly every revision in red ink that filled the margins of S4I. Bigger production, more respect for range (ie. less drumming/caterwauling), tighter hooks … On Mods Thought Industry somehow found space to get much, much bigger and way better. If S4I was an outsider art masterpiece drawn in pen on a picnic table, then Mods is a Vermeer at MoMA. I’m in awe of the guitars’ beautiful, ringing chords, which seem to sound more tones than is possible for the four hands and 14 strings of guitarists Paul Enzio and Christopher Lee — but it doesn’t sound like the product of studio tricks either. It’s like viewing a portrait of a guitar which only when you squint turns out to be composed of a million little guitars. Sorry about these art metaphors :)
Those guitars might’ve made others join me in drooling — Greg Fulton, Devin Townsend, Tommy Baron, John Petrucci, Ben Weinman, and Mikael Akerfeldt, for starters — but still it was lyricist (-singer-bassist) Brent Oberlin who was most responsible for my urge to break an arm patting their backs. If S4I vented the anger of the smartest poli-sci guy at a thousand all-nite coffeehouses, Mods‘ lyrics are written as only one individual could. Pure expression. Again: Only Brent Oberlin could’ve written these lyrics, they’re so singular to him. Know what I mean? I mean, shit, he doesn’t turn away from the “bigger picture,” the politics, the theories, the incursions into his consciousness of right-wing ideologues and the great unwashed. But we listeners see these things through the eyes of a lonely midwestern guy on drugs who fears the future and misses the simplicity of his childhood. This time there are no judgements, no solutions. He’s part of it, not damning it. For it is what it is.
For the next phase of Thought Industry, they hired a new drummer, became a quintet, and donned suits and ties. Just as TI once was proto-post-everything metal, this new, streamlined TI — with singer Oberlin trading bass for guitar — played awesome proto-post-rock that was rooted in Mods‘ hookiest moments. It was after TI2’s second album, the morose Black Umbrella, that I finally met and gabbed with Oberlin about Elvis Costello (about whom we didn’t agree), drugs (he wasn’t sharing much), and the future of his superband that at that time was relaunching in the same way that, say, Cave-In would attempt a few years later with Jupiter and Antenna. I remember raving to Oberlin about my admiration for Mods‘ mini-bridges, its recurring characters and settings, and its chilling, unforgettable vibe. I was like, “If XTC’s Andy Partridge were younger, crazier, and from the midwest, he’d be you!” Crickets. lol