by Eric Evans
Exactly when early industrial music broke with electronica to embrace noise metal is a matter of debate. As early as their 1985 single “Assimilate”, Skinny Puppy was distorting their vocals, and there are hints of what’s to come on “We Believe” and other tracks on Ministry’s seminal Twitch. But maybe the best example of the transition is that band’s 1988 album, The Land of Rape and Honey. Al Jourgensen’s hook-writing skill is present, but the vocals are distended hisses and machine growls, the music angry and brutal. “Stigmata” was hooky and “You Know What You Are” had a giant stomping beat, but the clean, club-ready melodies of earlier work like “Over The Shoulder” or “Everyday Is Halloween” were buried under a barrage of chainsaw guitar. Most tellingly, the industrial genre’s most popular and enduring album – Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine – was widely considered “soft” by contemporaries upon its release in 1989. Most of the rancor the record incurred from those within the industrial scene had more to do with its success than its content, but the move away from synth and toward more extreme noise and distortion was made.
Listening to Transfer of Energy [Feelings of Power], the new album by Toronto’s Egyptrixx (a.k.a. David Psutka), is like an industrial time machine of sorts. It’s not retro, it sounds fresh and contemporary, but the record creates – and, more impressively, maintains – a balance between synthesizer and industrial samples that recall the golden years of the genre before noisier was better and noisiest was best. Opener “Halocline Trance” and the title track both start sparse and moody but build up as they go, in the latter case ending with dueling percussive effects that say 1985 in the best possible way. “Discipline 1982” could be a lost Front 242 track – it has a dark, infectious groove similar to that band’s best work. “Mirror Etched on Shards of Amethyst” begins on the factory floor with hydraulics humming, hissing, then dissolving into washes of synth and electronic percussion.
What Egyptrixx really brings to the party is a fusion between the early industrial aesthetic and straight-up dance music. You wouldn’t describe any of this as techno, but in the collection’s most transitional track “Body II Body”, the various elements synch and merge effortlessly, flowing from moody sound effects to trance and back again. It’s also the only track with vocals, provided by Nyssa Rosaleen* of the sadly defunct Modern Superstitions, utilizing a vocal drone of sorts that lends itself well to the thrum and thump of the song. The final track “Conduit [Repo]” mines the same veins of industrial and dance then relaxes into lush synth. It’s both curious and impressive that Egyptrixx makes the specific choice to fuse these elements into single tracks when they could easily be split into two: it’s easy to imagine DJs queuing up parts of each track, but having to stay alert for those transitional elements.
Transfer of Energy [Feelings of Power] is not a dance record, but there’s plenty here to interest you if that’s your thing. It’s fans of early industrial who will find a lot to love on these seven tracks. If the collection lacks anything it’s compelling melodies, but, as in many industrial tracks, that’s not really a weakness so much as a choice. It’ll be interesting to see if Egyptrixx evolves more into what “Body II Body” suggests or continues to delve into the factory clanks and rhythms that power the record. Either way it’ll be worth a listen.
Release date: February 9, 2015
*Side note: Speaking of dark electro-pop, Psutka produced Nyssa’s 2013-14 work to great effect: “Swear 2 Me” provided a clean break from the signature post-punk sound of her previous band and “All Us Boys” put her in the same sonic realm as Karen O. A full-length collaboration between these two promises something special.