Every month, we’ll be looking back at the music from 1995 to explore why these albums are still relevant to us 25 years later. This month brings us Strapping Young Lad’s Heavy As a Really Heavy Thing, KMFDM’s Nihil, Mike + The Mechanics’ Beggar on a Beach of Gold, and Moby’s Everything Is Wrong.
Strapping Young Lad- Heavy As a Really Heavy Thing by Laura Stewart
Heavy As a Really Heavy Thing by Strapping Young Lad, was the debut LP from Devin Townsend’s dementedly mad psyche. According to him, it’s the coming of a new age. It’s also frenetic. Unhinged. Madness personified. Crazy.
I don’t think that’s good enough, though. The best way I can describe it is as follows: This album has one foot in the grave and the other foot’s slamming on the pedal so goddamn hard that the grave is only the first stop. This album is like mixing an I.E.D., Molotov cocktail, several hundred thousand sticks of TNT, a nuclear bomb, and whatever corrosive deadly explosive you can think of in a blender and distilling it down into a suppository. This album sounds as if all the wars of the world are taking place at the same time.
It is also an interesting little piece of history. Looking back on this record and understanding where Devin’s head was at the time of writing HAARHT, it’s not hard to understand why this album came into existence in the first place. Much like the subsequent (and infinitely superior) follow-up that was City, it was written from the standpoint of someone young, angry, and sick to death of the minutia and bullsh*t of all the people around them. Devin is pretty well-known in interviews for his candid honesty about his music, what he thinks of it, and where his head was at the time of writing said music. I’ll be honest, even what he says about this album on his official website doesn’t really come close to describe exactly what lies within this odd, odd, odd as hell metal album.
This album seemingly shifts tones and styles and genres from one song to another and, in some cases, within the same song. When you have a song like “In The Rainy Season,” a fast as hell death/thrash song change to this weird industrial song, it’s such a jarring experience. You sit there and wonder what the hell just happened in the studio to allow this to happen? In fact, there are only two really amazing songs on this album. The remaining songs range from decent to pretty bad to really weird. Let’s talk about them.
“S.Y.L.” and “In The Rainy Season” open the album and are the two reigning champions, without question. They’re the only two songs on here with any semblance of cohesion, forethought, and vision. Devin knew what he wanted to create with these: fast-paced, adrenaline-pumping, hate-filled anthems laden with all the profanities under the rainbow. What’s great about both of these songs, too, is that it shows early examples of his incredible singing range.
The ironically titled “Happy Camper (Carpe B.U.M.)” is the personification of sonic bipolarity. It’s absurdly fast, Devin is screaming so loud and so fast that I don’t even know what to say about it (listen to his performance at 2:21 onward and understand why this man’s vocals are so lauded), the drums are impossibly fast, too—everything about this song is just fast. Beyond fast. Only the middle of it gives the listener a moment of respite. “Critic” has its moments like the thrash break in the middle of the song that effortlessly carries the song towards its confusion and yet another fantastic vocal performance from Devin, but it’s mostly forgettable.
So there we have it. The debut album from the mind of the Canadian maestro himself and his band, Strapping Young Lad. To sum up, this album is confusing. It’s unsettling. It’s unnerving. It’s weird. It’s catatonic. It’s raw and dirty. And it’s not very good. He says so himself. You may wonder why I decided to write about it at all? Well, S.Y.L. was such a great track to go mental to in the club I frequented back in ‘95 and yes, the rest of the album was a huge disappointment, but nevertheless it brought me Devin Townsend, a man quite possibly entirely made of cheese and definitely my guilty power metal pleasure.
KMFDM- Nihil by Caemeron Crain
When I was a teenager in the mid-‘90s, I’ll be honest, my entry point to industrial music was Nine Inch Nails. First it was The Downward Spiral, but then my friend got a copy of the ”Broken” video somewhere. We watched it one night when I slept over, with his parent s in bed upstairs. I’m still pretty haunted by that “Happiness in Slavery” video.
It was a little while later that he bought this WaxTrax! boxset that we listened to together, and I was in love. I’m not sure if I’m getting the order of things right, but I began to discover this new world of music I didn’t know existed. I’d been listening to Green Day and stuff like that. And while I’d had exposure to metal for a while, discovering the industrial scene opened me up to something that I think was pretty life changing.
Ben made me a tape that had KMFDM’s Nihil on one side and Skinny Puppy’s Too Dark Park on the other. You know, it was one of those 90-minute tapes, and dubbing tapes was pretty normal back then. I’m pretty sure it was legal, and this was the basis of Napster’s defense when the time came.
But I digress. Anyway, I took that tape with me on a trip to Chicago (it was a band trip) and listened to it I don’t know how many times. I don’t think I listened to anything else. I was fascinated by what these bands were doing, and it felt like I’d found something illicit. This was a thing then that would be hard to describe to young people now, I think. It was like you’d found something that other people didn’t know about, and they couldn’t find out just by doing a quick google search or through YouTube recommendations or something like that.
I proceeded to buy every virtually every KMFDM album (and every Skinny Puppy album) and went on a tear about how great they were. This probably annoyed some of my high school friends.
Nihil is actually a bit distinctive. It doesn’t really fit with the style KMFDM had previously, or afterwards. It’s darker in a certain way. Perhaps this is in part due to Raymond Watts rejoining the band. His vocals inflect things in a meaningful way, and his influence is felt even more than it was on something like Don’t Blow Your Top. The band’s tone changed a lot over those years. But here, Watts feels like the main vocalist, with Sascha K. coming across more as a backing vocalist who inflects things.
Their ethos, however, has not changed. KMFDM might feel a little surface level when they ask us to “rip the system” but they’ve been there pretty consistently. I suppose this is the big difference for me, listening to Nihil now. I didn’t used to think there was anything shallow about this album at all. I thought it was deep, even. Now it feels a bit like they are throwing around images in a way that almost feels clichéd. I still enjoy it, but things feel so much thinner than they did to me 25 years ago. Listening to Nihil now elicits a nostalgia in me for that time in the world when I discovered it, before 9/11 and before Columbine. But I also feel like that was a time when I was young and naïve. Was KMFDM, too?
I don’t know, but they don’t seem to have changed much. Perhaps it is to KMDFM’s credit that they can continue to pump out album after album every year or two but I haven’t kept up. I haven’t listened to everything they have done since the late ‘90s, but what I’ve heard feels right in line with what they have always been.
Anyway, if it’s been awhile since you’ve listened to Nihil I’d recommend that you do. It’s been 25 years since it came out, and we’re old now, but it’s interesting to reflect on how much has changed and how much hasn’t in relation to the experience of this music.
Mike + The Mechanics- Beggar on a Beach of Gold by Jan Kalina
Mike + The Mechanics’ Beggar on a Beach of Gold is their fourth album and features arguably their most played song. “Over My Shoulder” has become a rock radio staple and has been in my life ever since I was a kid. My dad is a music buff, and music curated by him was always playing, if not then surely a radio was playing. There are certain songs that even though they were played on repeat you never get tired of them. “Over My Shoulder” is one of them. It took over more than a decade to sit down and listen and take in the whole album. And it’s so worth it. It’s an essentially ‘90s piece. Several of the tracks on this album were hits on radio, and deservedly so. I was introduced to tons of amazing music by my dad and I took it one bit further and kept on finding great music by myself in movies, TV shows, radios, books and on the streets and shops.
(My dog has proven herself to be a great reviewer- when she is calm and doesn’t bark or try to hide then it’s a good album- she particularly liked this one- she slept throughout most of it.)
As someone for whom English (that ever present encryption device- all languages are just codes but about that later) is not their first language, most music heard was just utter and complete gibberish. I understood a word here and there—for years I didn’t know what “Walking on the Milky Way” by Orchestral Maneouvres in The Dark (one of the songs I heard the most in my life and of my favorites) is about, again I understood parts of it, vaguely—“Over My Shoulder” is transcendent in its simplicity, even to someone who doesn’t understand English. You understand what the song is about, understand the lyrics because they are simple, easy to understand— not intricate metaphors. Just a guy saying goodbye to someone he loves. And he doesn’t want to say goodbye. But it’s a bit cheerful, whimsical melody in that ‘90s sense. And for me it isn’t a song about a loss. It seems like looking at memories and being happy to have them.
Themes of loss, search for forgiveness, truth/lies, simple life and looking for happiness are woven throughout the whole album. Themes, questions everyone was asking and trying to figure out but can you? Can anyone figure these questions and find an answer to how to have a simple life, keep people in your circle? The answer to life, the universe and everything? Well, you can surely write a song about it. For example: “Another Cup of Coffee”– a woman loses her husband and deals with grief as we all do— just trying to keep together, doing the mundane things. That feeling you fear that someone doesn’t like you, may even hate you? That feeling that that you want to be liked by everyone? Perfectly explored in the rock ballad “Someone Always Hates Someone.” “The Ghost of Sex and You” feels like something out of a Genesis album. It also features a great cover of Stevie Wonder—what else do you want from an album?
The titular track really hits a note with me. In today’s society people usually encounter problems that are minuscule, or seem not important, insignificant to others and we all tend to focus on all the bad we have and strive to fix everything we want, not realizing all the positive we have. Like a beggar sitting on a beach of gold. Sometimes time to look back and ruminate over the good you have is the most important. May we all find that time when we need it.
Beggar on a Beach of Gold is an amazing rock album that deserves its place in history. For long time I only saw Mike + The Mechanics as just a Mike Rutherford’s side project from Genesis but it is so much more than that. It’s an album you can rely on—when you want to feel good, when you want someone to talk about the problems you have, when you want to feel at home.
Moby- Everything is Wrong by John Bernardy
After the Trainspotting soundtrack got its hooks into me, I found out about the electronica scene. It took almost no time for me to find my way back to this classic. This was even before I knew Moby was that be-kind-to-animals guy, so I had no preconceived notions. The music won me over on its own merit. And it won me over hard. I have no qualms about saying I loved this album enough to seek out the 2-disk remix CD of this album by “Evil Ninja Moby.”
The album has four distinct styles that keep things from feeling expected. Most of the tracks were happy to stay in my head whether I was listening to it that day or not. The more upbeat songs are classic techno that I could describe as a Real McCoy album if it were produced by Orbital. Songs like “Feeling So Real” and “Bring Back My Happiness” exemplify this style. Those techno songs have a Jamaican sounding guy who punctuates songs by saying things like “yes, yes, here we go!” He may be in bad taste by today’s standards but at the time he added a cheesy level to the songs that told listeners to have fun with this album, which is strange because the whole album seems like one big call for help. Some of the tracks may be fun to dance to, but at best they’re a mask over a deep pain.
There’s plenty of this upbeat techno on the album, but there’s even more ambient electronica, as we hear right away with the album’s opening track “Hymn,” which is anchored by a looping synth piano arpeggio. This style welcomingly returns in “Everything is Wrong,” and “God Moving over the Face of the Waters.” This is my favorite mode of Moby songs to be found on this album, tied for first with the style exactly between the ambient and techno styles. Only two tracks fit this category: “Anthem,” and my favorite album track “First Cool Hive.”
The least successful version of Moby songs are the punk-style guitar tracks where he does the vocals himself. Those are “All That I Need Is To Be Loved” and “What Love.” They contain frantic energy, but they’re too far removed in style to be of a piece.
The album has a female guest vocalist, Mimi Goese, who sings over the top of ambient style tracks. These vocals—and the tone in general—are much more successful than Moby’s own. “Into the Blue” and “When It’s Cold I’d Like to Die” remind me of Annie Lennox music. Goese really sells the sadness, but not in a melodramatic way. It’s matter-of-fact and also beautiful. It makes you forget about the rougher patches of the album, though it only enhances the rest of the album. Just thinking about these makes me want to listen all over again.