Industrial music isn’t much known for breaking into the mainstream… at least if it wishes to be viewed as anything but the product of a shock culture. The genre is considered dead by most of the people who lived through it the first time in the days of Throbbing Gristle, Monte Cazazza, and Cabaret Voltaire. Since the scene they once called home is now cluttered with repetitious EBM and industrial rock outfits that were only good in the nineties, I can’t half blame them.
Enter Angelspit in the midst of this musical depression. Formed in Sydney, the group crash-landed onto the scene in 2004 and were soon to be singled out for their brand of anger, a deadly combination of ambitious synth programming and screeching guitars.
From their first release, the EP Nurse Grenade, Angelspit has been driven by the same two core members, Zoog Von Rock (Karl Learmont) and Destroyx/Amelia Arsenic (Amelia Tan), who share lead vocals between each other. Zoog writes and programs the music, while Destroyx is responsible for the graphic and costume design, as well as controlling the vocoders during live performances.
They made a particular impact after unleashing their debut album, Krankhaus. Both critically acclaimed and panned, they were voted Best and Worst Band of 2007 in a poll by Ritual magazine – and by this point they were already used to this kind of reception. Although many of the tracks could be construed as protest songs, the album is based on a fictional concept: the adventures of a secret society with an interest in dubiously humane medical procedures. Many of Krankhaus’ iconic illustrations tend towards a morbid fascination with medicine, and such ‘mad doctor’ imagery is plentiful in all of Angelspit’s releases. In their lyrics they draw a parallel between these experiments and society’s wish to ‘fix’ people’s minor aesthetic imperfections, for example, through plastic surgery. The band has a lot to say about the wrongs of the world, but their overall message is positive, urging their fans to think for themselves, peacefully protest when necessary, and create art – whatever that art may be.
As well as creating a memorable image, Angelspit’s musical ideas are actually intelligent. They are well-known for spending months on single tracks and they embrace an ever-changing landscape of sonic obliteration; no one bar is the same as the next and their synths evolve on a constant basis so each individual idea comes to a head in all its bit-crushed glory. Some of their sound design resembles the analogue paranoia of old-school industrial, some of it has its roots in chiptune, and some sections even take after synth-pop… it’s impossible to pin their programming down to any one genre.
Regarding the musicality, well… Angelspit can make a composition with four chords sound interesting, yet they can also exploit a more complex structure to better fit their cyberpunk nightmare. Zoog admits to taking as much influence from Kate Bush and Herbie Hancock as from Skinny Puppy and KMFDM. His style of composition is highly sophisticated, and once again really couldn’t be labelled if you tried. Angelspit is an artist for active listening, an artist that applies good hooks and catchy beats but never as a crutch with which to prop up the whole song.
It has recently become tradition for Angelspit to end their albums with a softer singing style on Zoog’s behalf; these tracks are so haunting, vehement, and beautiful that it’s no wonder they happen to be fan favourites. Meanwhile Destroyx’s sarcasm-drenched spoken word (for example on Channel Hell and 100%) is also crucial to the band’s recognisability. Their songs feature an intimate, intricate relationship with the voice, truly exploiting it as an instrument in its own right. While some singers rely on sounding melancholy or over-distorting their front vocals, Angelspit gives their own view on just what an industrial vocalist is supposed to be (and what an industrial vocalist used to be, back in the 70s): visceral, raw, and angry for a reason. That said, some still seem to be perplexed by this approach; it appears to be the most divisive feature of their music.
In 2011 they became a five-piece, though the line-up is constantly changing. Altogether they have had five different drummers and guitarists, and the current three additional band members are Matt James (drums), George Bikos (guitars), and The Liar (live visuals). The line-up change brought about their fourth and most recent album, Hello My Name Is. This album is perhaps their bravest of all, the content ranging from bubbly electro pop to brutal industrial metal. Some did not welcome these changes in style, but I would say that it is still impossible to criticise the band for this. Not only are they broadening their horizons but they’re executing the expansion with clarity and a perfect sense of what they are doing, unlike so many other artists attempting a genre shift. Besides, they’re not exactly abandoning who they once were: HMNI still sounds like an Angelspit album.
Still, they have yet to revolutionise music – not even in the world of industrial. Time and again, Angelspit have been rejected by the less imaginative of this scene. They’re different and bolder than what the majority is used to. And their loud visuals give reason to suggest that they’re all about image. The band’s official short response to these claims is ‘Fuck you’. Their longer response is that many people are predisposed to criticise their music merely because an equal amount of thought was put into the visuals; they just want to do something more creative than the standard for cyberpunk art, and hey, that takes effort. Yet they don’t bother to protest any further than that: in fact, they welcome criticism, stating that they would rather be hated than considered mediocre because that means they’ve still made some kind of impact. They’re perfectly happy to be the Marmite of post-industrial and it’s doubtful whether this status will ever change.
So we reach the end of this little introduction to Angelspit. Found any of the above description appealing and want to broaden your musical horizons a little? Buy a copy of Krankhaus and introduce yourself to this glorious band today