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Surreal music - 80%

failsafeman, May 28th, 2008

I'm sure anyone who has dipped more than a big toe into the internet is aware of the plague that is the "random lol" style of humor. Perpetuated by holes like Adult Swim and the seemingly never-ending stream of captioned pictures and worthless webcomics, it's basically just based around juxtaposing different things in an effort to make the least sense possible. But what, then, is the difference between that kind of banal crap and something superficially similar but worthwhile, like Monty Python? To someone unfamiliar with both, "The Ministry of Silly Walks" might seem cut from the same mold as "12 Oz. Mouse". Still, with even the most cursory study, it becomes clear that there is a significant underlying difference (if only that one is funny while the other is not). Without delving too far, suffice it to be said that the difference is composition. The Pythons didn't just pull random situations and characters out of a hat; they took the time to craft their sketches and were damn good at it. This, I believe, is the key difference between the "random lol" and the surreal; the former is sheer or barely-controlled chaos meant to elicit a cheap laugh, while the latter is carefully composed to challenge or tickle our perceptions of reality, often with humorous results. This is the difference between a crappy webcomic and a Dali (such as the apt album cover), the difference between schlock and art. Well, this brings us (finally, huh?) to the realm of music. A lot of bands have attempted randomness and chaos, often seemingly for their own sakes (Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and their crappy avant-garde metal counterparts are fine examples) but few actually accomplish anything. Frank Zappa's early material with the Mothers of Invention would be a fine example of surreal music done right, but within the realm of metal, examples are few. I believe Thought Industry to be one of those few.

Mods Carve The Pig: Assassins, Toads and God's Flesh is really some crazy music, something obvious from the very start. However, they restrict their craziness to the composition, rather than instrumentation; no nonsensical, gimmicky avant-garde everything-and-the-kitchen-sink orchestra to be found here. Reminding me of a metal Primus, but with thrash and hardcore influences (I even hear a bit of surfer rock in there), Thought Industry play violent, aggressive music that lapses into acoustic interludes at times; but don't worry, this is no Opeth-style random alternation, but rather feels like the natural ebb and flow of emotion. Still, it's intentionally jagged music, with an almost stream-of-consciousness approach (this is especially apparent in the lyrics). In this regard it reminds me of a less-shitty Dillenger Escape Plan. After all of that, I've probably scared most metalheads away (if I hadn't heard the album already, I'd be heading for the hills by now too); however, there are still definitely metal elements to be had, such as good catchy riffs, and Brent Oberlin employs a good clean voice as well as his typical hardcore screams. The album seems to calm down as it goes, with the acoustic parts becoming progressively more prominent along with the clean vocals; a couple of tracks towards the end are positively serene.

I've purposely avoided mentioning tracks individually, as I really feel the album is less a collection of songs than one long one with sections. It's definitely meant to be appreciated as a whole, rather than dissected and examined piecemeal. Anyway, there's only so much I can say about this album, especially to someone who hasn't heard it; I don't fully understand it myself. I'm not terribly familiar with Thought Industry's "subgenre", if there are even enough similar bands to merit one (I seem to remember Buzzard being similar, but I digress). That ignorance is partially the reason I gave the album a conservative score; but also there are times when Mods Carve The Pig doesn't totally succeed and drags or annoys. I can say with utter confidence though that overall this is one of those rare instances of successfully surreal music, carefully composed to be meaningfully challenging to the ear's common perceptions. You might not enjoy the ride, but you certainly won't forget it.