Review Summary: A challenging, complex slab of prog bringing in everything from thrash to industrial to punk and alternative rock. The album that made Jason Newsted personally make sure they got signed.
Imagine a band that has decided to simultaneously embrace multiple sub-genres of metal and alternative music but at the same time alter them enough to force you to throw out all preconceived notions of what those genres should be about. This is what Thought Industry
have done on their debut album, Songs For Insects
. These guys have made such a twisted and unique album that it can safely be said that there is nothing else out there that is similar to this. Within the framework of each song is a plethora of influences all working together to create something greater then the sum of their parts. Imagine, if you will, listening to Metallica
, and Mr. Bungle
all as one band with a healthy dose of punk influence and attitude and you’re at least in the ball park of what you might expect from this album.
The first preconceived notion to be thrown out is that this progressive metal band (for lack of a better term) used a producer who is well known as a producer of traditional industrial and electronic music, not metal bands. Songs for Insects
was produced by David Ogilvie of Skinny Puppy
fame, and he was able to get a great sound for these guys. The guitars have a razor sharp tone and make it very easy for you to hear what they’re playing clearly. The bass is high in the mix and is always audible, which is a great thing since the bass player does some amazing things on this album, sounding like Les Claypool of Primus
on speed. The drums are also very clear allowing the listener to be able to tell that this guy could probably give Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater
a challenge. The vocals are also very cleverly done, as they don’t always just ride in the center of the speakers. The vocals fade in, fade out, swirl from one speaker to another, overlap and disintegrate, sometimes within less then a minute’s time.
In addition to the great sound that Dave was able to get for these guys, it’s also worth mentioning just how many great sounds there are. Generally, mentioning the instruments a metal band plays isn’t a requirement, but in this case it is. In order to get the sound and the unique style they were looking for, the guitar players play both fretted and fretless six and seven string guitars. The bass player plays fretted and fretless bass as well as Chapman Stick. The drummer plays an acoustic/electronic hybrid set that I’d imagine is similar to the one the drummer in Cynic
used. In addition you will also find acoustic guitars, samples, loops, keyboards, and piano over the course of the album. When brought all together it makes for an album that is very unique and challenging for the listener and definitely requires multiple listens to fully absorb.
All of those instruments, even if played well, wouldn’t really mean much if the vocals and lyrics didn’t match the unique and complex nature of the songs… fortunately they do, and the lyrics themselves even exceed the complexity of the music. Vocally this guy is all over the place. He doesn’t sing like you’d expect a metal singer to sing at all. There are no real metal vocals (i.e. Metallica
-style) nor are there any high-pitched vocals you might expect from a band labeled as “progressive”. He sings more in a mid-ranged style similar to a punk vocalist like Pennywise
or Bad Religion
, but he also uses all kinds of filters for his voice through out a song too. His vocals can go from a punk sound, to distorted Ministry
sounding vocals, to processed vocals similar to Ogre of Skinny Puppy
to hardcore screams (think Minor Threat
). If the spectrum of vocal styles wasn’t enough to challenge you, the lyrics are definitely what puts you over the edge. The vocalist writes in a stream-of-consciousness style and the songs are all very metaphorical with individual lines making sense, but when taken as a whole always seem to leave you wondering if your interpretation is correct. An example of that is from the song "Songs for Insects" which goes like this:
I sing poems of rebellion. Lax russet lips lavish scabrous empathy. Without rights I kowtow. A silly carcass burrowing forward. This reads terms of vast cosmos for Tiananmen Square or felt dampness in meat. I crave iced pavement to clot my languid flesh. Without rights I blunder. A bloated child lost in a flaccid smile…
In case it isn’t obvious, it’s worth mentioning that the vocabulary used on this album is definitely something that could even make Greg Graffin (Bad Religion
) stand up and take notice. Despite the fact that most the songs are average in length, they still come off as epic feeling, especially when listened to altogether. There is also very little in the way of anger present, which is odd for a metal album, instead it feels more like a news reporter speaking of what he sees. The complexity of the lyrics and the vocals make it seem more like you’re listening to a retelling of an epic poem, not anything that the singer personally witnessed or experienced… it’s an odd feeling.
Despite all this talk of complexity, the album actually starts out fairly unassuming with the first song being very listener friendly with only a few simple chugging riffs and no jarring musical changes to speak of except for when the guitar solo kicks in. It should be noted that these guys never succumb to needless solos; in fact there are almost no guitar solos at all. It’s always a band effort and almost always has vocals over the top of it. The next song, "Songs for Insects," is when you realize you’re in for a ride. This is a nine-minute song that has more time changes, riffs, notes, styles, and overall musical ability then most bands have over the course of an entire album. It starts out with a thrashing riff which switches into a prog melody with some punk sounding vocals, which switches back to the first riff but with industrial vocals over the top, it makes this switch three more times within the first minute of the song before dismissing it entirely and moving on to something new. It seems to be a metaphorical retelling of the incident in Tiananmen Square, with commentary and associations made to other regions.
Each song is so different and has so many things going on that no review could ever fully describe this album. With that in mind, I’ll just move on to another track of note called "Daughter Mobius". It starts out sounding like something that could be from the self-titled Mr. Bungle
album (minus the keyboards and horns), but in an instant changes over to one of the heaviest riffs on the album, but only for a few seconds before changing back over to the Mr. Bungle
sound but this time with a punk influence in the drumming and random industrial influences in the vocal delivery. It seems to be talking about the state of our political situation through a metaphor about an apathetic girl with “daddy issues”… weird stuff. Later in the album we have what could be considered the cornerstone of the album with "The Chalice Vermillion". This is the song that brings all the elements of this band together in the most cohesive and easily digestible state as it is probably the most traditionally prog song on the album. It has the prog melodies, the amazing technical drumming, the thrashy riffs, all the vocal styles, and some of the best bass playing in memory. This song seems to have something to do with a girl slitting her wrists because of God, and the protagonist uses the blood to write a poem of his love for her as she bleeds to death.
Throughout the album as a whole you’ll constantly find yourself challenged by the sudden musical changes, the virtuosity of the musicians, the complexity of the lyrics, as well as the vocal delivery of those lyrics. You’ll find yourself hearing new things with every listen and you’ll find yourself slowly coming to some conclusion of what the song is actually talking about. If you like your metal easily digestible or at least only taking a few listens to really understand then this is not for you. On the other hand, if you like your metal to be as engaging, technical, challenging and unique as possible then you shouldn’t find yourself disappointed. Also, since it’s been around for quite a while it should be fairly cheap when you do find it.