This is a certain strain of industrial dance music that existed in the ’90s, one that we need back in our lives. This is the music that would be playing in the B-level action movie when the camera panned into the villain’s gothed-out nightclub lair, when it lingered lovingly on the girls in vinyl dresses and on the piles of cocaine on the bar tables. It’s loud, nasty, serrated music, music built on thudding drum machines and squalling sirens and scuzz-rasp vocals and house pianos and distorted guitars. It’s music that flaunts its transgressiveness, like Marilyn Manson, but also its knowingly goofy playfulness, like the B-52’s. It’s the music of My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, of Lords Of Acid, of KMFDM, of the Ministry side project Revolting Cocks.
This music has generally been written out of history, and it wasn’t exactly dominating charts or best-of lists even in its time. But it’s also music that retains its sticky late-night power. And we’re starting to see it come back gradually, bit by bit. We can hear distant echoes of it in Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy,” say, or in some of the warped edges of the SoundCloud-rap underground. And we can hear it in Animated Violence Mild, the beautifully ugly new Blanck Mass album.
Beautiful ugliness is nothing new for Benjamin John Power, the man who records under the Blanck Mass name. As the Bristol duo Fuck Buttons, Power and his bandmate Andrew Hung took basement-noise sonics and blew them out, transforming them into something sweeping and cinematic enough to get played during an Olympic opening ceremony. (This really happened in London in 2012. An early Blanck Mass track also got some burn in that same ceremony.)
It’s been six years since the last Fuck Buttons album, and Power has spent that time making searing, apocalyptic dance music under his Blanck Mass moniker. With Blanck Mass, Power seems to see tension and catharsis as the same thing, mashing euphoria and nightmare into one spitting, seething, slamming, whirling whole. He’s been honing that sound — music for the rave that he’ll throw on our last night on Earth — ever since he released the first Blanck Mass album in 2011. And with Animated Violence Mild, he’s made it into something heavy and emotional.
Power spent a year recording Animated Violence Mild in his Edinburgh studio, and he evidently named it after the dry descriptive speak that a studio uses to explain why a movie got a PG-13 rating. (“Animated Violence Mild” would be fake violence — soldiers in Captain America: The First Avenger dying of bloodless laser-gun bursts even though the damn movie is supposed to take place during World War II.) The album is an overwhelming mass of sounds — riffs and drones and shudders and howls all brickwalled into a mix together, washing over you and cleansing you. It’s darkly ecstatic music, music that sounds like it’s channeling vast and impersonal forces.
Like that industrial dance music of the ’90s, Animated Violence Mild is positively full of hooks — strobing trance synths on “House Vs. House,” gasping pianos on “Hush Money,” ethereal psychedelic harp-washes on “Creature/West Fuqua.” But just like that industrial dance music, it defaces those hooks with squalid bursts of noise. There are vast stretches of Animated Violence Mild that strive for black-metal fury, or gut-lurch experimental noise. And most of the best moments fuse melody with crushing force. “Death Drop” even has the thundering calliope glam drums of Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead” — a song that, now I think about it, was basically ’90s industrial dance itself.
Writing about the album, Powers says that grief, both individual and societal, was one of the main forces behind it: “Grief, both for what I have lost personally, but also in a global sense, for what we as a species have lost and handed over to our blood-sucking counterpart, consumerism, only to be ravaged by it.” And Animated Violence Mild really does sound like capitalism at the breaking point — music that blasts you full of tinny, fragile pleasures even as it rips you apart. And maybe that’s where it diverges from the ’90s industrial dance that, at least for me, it so vividly recalls. That stuff was degraded music for innocent times. Animated Violence Mild is innocent music for degraded times. We’re our own juke joint jezebels, and Power has made the sound of our cremation.
Animated Violence Mild is out 8/16 on Sacred Bones.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Sleater-Kinney’s anxious digital-pop departure The Center Won’t Hold.
• Young Thug’s as-yet-unheard So Much Fun.
• The Hold Steady’s singles-plus-more return Thrashing Thru The Passion.
• Oso Oso’s tricky, emotive Basking In The Glow.
• King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s metal-influenced bugout Infest The Rats’ Nest.
• Jack Antonoff-led trio Red Hearse’s self-titled debut.
• Shura’s romantic boutique-pop reverie forevher.
• Maria Usbeck’s introspective bilingual electronic popper Envejeciendo.
• Ride’s expansive guitar-wrecker This Is Not A Safe Place.
• Oh Sees’ roiling, psychedelic Face Stabber.
• Maneka’s skronkily hooky Devin.
• Uniform & the Body’s layered noise attack Everything That Dies Someday Comes Back.
• Peaer’s scrappy, introspective DIY jammer A Healthy Earth.
• Here We Go Magic frontman Luke Temple’s solo LP Both-And.
• Versus’ sci-fi concept album Ex Voto.
• Yeesh’s post-breakup goodbye Saw You Up There.
• Cerebral Rot’s ADD metal brain-rupturer Odious Descent Into Decay.
• Devourment’s death metal rager Obscene Majesty.
• The commercial rap compilation Quality Control: Control The Streets Volume 2.
• Channel Tres’ Black Moses EP.
• Ross From Friends’ Epiphany EP.
• Dry Cleaning’s Sweet Princess EP.