The Second Annual Report of Throbbing Gristle
39:50 min • Industrial Records • November 1977
This is the first official release from English industrial music pioneers Throbbing Gristle and this record ushered in a new era of music, the Industrial Era. Far removed from the over-distorted guitars and synthesizers of Nine Inch Nails and Ministry, this is industrial music at its most primitive and primal, a collection of studio and live snippets not designed for radio play or popularity, but rather designed to strip music down to its bare essentials, to make it dangerous again.
The LP starts with ‘Industrial Introduction’, a minute of building and then receding synthesizer noise, a clean and crisp introduction to the sludgy noise that encompasses most of the rest of the album.
The next three cuts are live variations of ‘Slug Bait’, each having their own haunting characteristics. The first one comes from a show at the ICA; the lo-fi sound quality (it sounds like it was sourced from an audience tape) becoming almost another instrument, a setter of the stark atmosphere that this band seems to thrive on. The song itself is an endless loop of low-level squeals from other members while lead vocalist Genesis P-Orridge half-whispers out dark poetry. The words are nearly incomprehensible in the mix, but the effects are what counts and the results are unsettling.
The next variation of ‘Slug Bait’ was taken from a show in Southampton and while the sound quality is still muddy and buried, it doesn’t seem like the same song. There is a haunting, plucked bass line buried behind the synthesizer noise and looped samples that seem to come out of World War II era speeches, pushed through an echo effect. There are no vocals from P-Orridge in this version; it seems to be rather built on sonic machines and their effects.
The final live version of ‘Slug Bait’ was from a gig in Brighton and it’s even more unsettling than the previous version, once again featuring no vocals from P-Orridge, but rather focused on the spoken confession of a murderer who goes into explicit detail about the rape and murder of his victim.
The next four tracks are variations on the song ‘Maggot Death’, one studio and three live. The first variation is from a show at the Rat Club, another exercise in squealing synthesizers and P-Orridge’s half-buried vocals. The effect is hypnotic; like all the live cuts on this record, these aren’t your standard rock ‘n’ roll shows, these are sonic art exhibits, meant to challenge your mind and challenge the very concept of music itself.
The studio version of ‘Maggot Death’ (one of only three studio tracks on the album) is next and it sets a much cleaner sound, if a starker atmosphere to boot. The noise is oscillating, with a distorted violin flowing in and out and an echoing synth providing the rhythm. The samples flow in and out as well, snippets from speeches and confessions with P-Orridge’s vocals making sporadic and isolated appearances as well. The effect is much more un-nerving due to the clearer sound of this recording.
The next two versions of ‘Maggot Death’, one from Southampton and one from Brighton, showcase a completely different variation on the studio cut. The first one cuts out the vocals and violin entirely and focuses in on the hypnotic synth rhythm, cutting the track length in half. The second live version of ‘Maggot Death’, from Brighton, cuts the length down even further to a minute, and it’s P-Orridge lambasting the crowd while a distorted sample of a Stooges song plays in the background.
The last track of the album, a twenty-minute studio cut entitled ‘After Cease to Exit-The Original Soundtrack of the COUM Transmissions Film’, is the most challenging. It’s not heavily abrasive like the live cuts, it’s surrealistic in its execution, a twenty-minute jaunt of hypnotic synthesizers, plucked bass notes and assorted blips and squeals cutting through the mix.
This is the foundation for industrial music and those who are only familiar with heavier acts such as Rammstein or Ministry will find this to be quite a challenge to listen to. Throbbing Gristle destroyed the rule book on what could and couldn’t be considered music. Experimental music existed prior to this LP, with bands such as the Velvet Underground and Frank Zappa often using dissonance and noise in their songs, but it was this quartet of British performance artists who put it all together and created the industrial genre.
Throbbing Gristle made history here and if you have the right mindset for it, I strongly suggest you give this record a spin. It’s not for casual listening. This is more than music, it’s sonic art.