[Note: This essay was first posted on my profile at last.fm; I'm posting it here as well, just to make sure all my related writings are in one place. This version is slightly edited.]
I call myself a rivethead. I have diverse tastes in music, but I’d say about 75% of my music library could be classified as gothic, industrial, EBM, electro, synth-pop, futurepop, neofolk, darkwave, drone, and dark ambient.
The music I listen to and love the most can be classified into two subgenres:
1) Danceable industrial, dark electro, harsh electro, aggrotech, and terror EBM.
I love to dance, and I prefer club-ready tracks with hard pounding beats, moderate-to-heavy distortion, and deep pulsing bass lines. Even better if there are short but very ominous intros that grab attention and build anticipation before the rhythm kicks in – the kind of intro that would make a good opener for a dance performance. Thought-provoking and emotional (but not sappy) lyrics are a favorite of mine as well.
A few tracks I love in the first category:
- Glis - No Pulse (Tactical Sekt Remix)
- Patenbrigade: Wolff - Gefahrstoffe (Hocinoizeflug Club Mix)
- C/A/T – Denied (Ghost of Disco Past Mix by Alter Der Ruine)
- Tactical Sekt – Xfixiation (Hellfire Mix by [:SITD:])
- Funker Vogt – Harvester of Sorrow (cover of a Metallica track)
- Siva Six – Heart of the Master
- E-Craft – Revolts Blood v1.0
2) Magnificent haunting, eerie, cold, desolate, cavelike, atmospheric, minimalist, droning layered soundscapes.
Usually I prefer this kind of music with no vocals or samples from movies, but there are some exceptions. Many of my favorite artists in this subgenre are from Sweden (where my maternal ancestors hail from) – what is it with those awesome Swedes and their great dark ambient music? They make layers of pure sonic wonder, just as the Germans seem to do with the danceable industrial tunes. I love it!
A few tracks I love in the second category:
- Lustmord – Immersion
- Apoptose – Nordland
- Desiderii Marginis – Deadbeat I
- Bleak – Everything is Cold
- Atrium Carceri – Illusion Breaks
Themes also matter to me. Generally speaking, when I listen to music – whether danceable, or more sedate – I’m looking for emotional depth, poignancy, and beauty in dark or unexpected places, rather than shock, terror, or titillation. I don’t like or listen to music focused on gratuitously grisly murders, corpses, gore, torture, rape, or any kind of sexual degradation of women. (For example, I object to the portrayals of women in some of the music of Combichrist and Northborne, so I don't support those artists). I don’t care much for anti-Christian, demonic, or horror movie themes, though I can understand the appeal. And I don’t care much for vampire-themed romance, BDSM, or other stereotypical/campy goth fodder, but again, I understand the appeal.
I try to be especially careful about what I expose myself to in terms of violent or grisly images in music videos, because images can be very powerful. Once you see something, you cannot “un-see” it. There are some disturbing images I saw 25 years ago that are still emblazoned on my brain in ways I can’t overwrite.
That said, I am most strongly drawn to a dark industrial aesthetic with apocalyptic, dystopian, military, heavy machinery, and winter themes: gas masks, biohazards, nuclear waste, forlorn ruins, decayed, abandoned and burned-out cities/buildings, arctic landscapes, suspense, and emotions such as dread, sorrow, loneliness, or mourning. Certain kinds of ritual, pagan, and occult themes also appeal to me.
Vocals are very important too. For example, I think [:SITD:] could be much better with improved vocal range. They’ve got a good handle on the beats, but their vocals sound flat and uninspired. The club mix of “Snuff Machinery” is a good example. Love that beat, but the vocals just don’t do it for me.
I’ve been listening to gothic/industrial/EBM for more than 20 years now. Once upon a time, way back when, I listened to old-school EBM and industrial such as Skinny Puppy, Ministry, Front 242, and Nine Inch Nails. Then, later, I focused mostly on danceable futurepop – VNV Nation, Covenant, Assemblage 23, etc. – and inexplicably lost some of my interest in harsh or growly vocals (except for certain oldie favorites like “Desire” or “Wasted Sky” by Numb or “Praying in Fire” by Controlled Bleeding). But things have shifted again in recent years, and I’ve rediscovered all my old favorites as well as expanded my music library. The kicker that got me into enjoying harsh vocals again was the track “Parasitic” by Psyclon Nine. When I first heard it, I loved the beat, but turned up my nose when the vocals kicked in. And I still don’t like some of their vocals; they’re just too distorted for my tastes. But “Parasitic” grew on me quickly, and now, it turns out, I enjoy this kind of music again.
Still, with a few notable exceptions, most of the work of industrial bands with really, really harsh vocals (e.g. Dawn of Ashes) doesn’t appeal to me. I love the danceable beats of Die Sektor, for example, but most of the vocals are too much even for me.
I do like some “metal-ish” songs and industrial metal, and an occasional black metal track or two, but death metal and thrash metal don’t appeal to me.
I keep an open mind about all of this, though, and am usually delighted to be exposed to new music. There always seem to be at least a few good exceptions to every generalization I make about my musical tastes, and I like that.