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“Before MOTH Were a Punchy, Brutally Honest Alternative Rock Band, They Made the World’s Best Industrial Album”

My first exposure to MOTH was in 2002, seeing them perform their new single “I See Sound” on what I think must have been The Late Show with David Letterman. It was Weezer-lite all the way, but in a good way, notable within this epoch for its lack of Bloodhound Gang gimmick and stupid sonic adornments like DJ scratches. To this day, I favor that album, Provisions, Fiction and Gear over most other mainstream rock stuff that was going on around that time (Green Day’s Warning, certainly, for instance).

With all the mountains and mountains of music there is to listen to on Spofity, with the artists hopefully being able to scrap up a sturdy cardboard box to occupy with their earnings, I eventually got the impetus to search earlier in MOTH’s modest but direct catalogue. I came across this Welcome to Wasteland album and, upon some Google searches of it, uncovered a pretty interesting story: it went unreleased until 2018, even though all of the songs were written prior to 1998, hence making the 1997 release date offered on Spotify somewhat of a fallacy. But in hindsight, I’m glad Spotify did date it this way, because I was on a phenomenological quest for the band’s “early material,” and, true to form, found it to have an increased vitality, and flex its muscles squarely within genre, all the better. 

Now, I grew up punk, getting a little more metal-y in high school with System of a Down and in college with TOOL, advancing to Rob Zombie, Pantera, etc., and all the Bandcamp stuff I hear in blogging, afterwards. So I always kind of get this Jimmy’s Chicken Shack/Rolling Blackouts type of sense when I see one of these sinister black album covers, as if the innards are going to consist mostly of humorous, innocuous tales of romance quirks and skateboarding around a bunch of bums in San Francisco, or something along those lines. As I got closer to delving into this early MOTH album, though, it suddenly hit me the haunting realization that this is music standing on top of the dirty, unapologetic ’90s, within the style of industrial, to buddy up as Midwestern brethren of Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Filter, Stabbing Westward and God knows who else. “Intercourse with God” smacks distinctly of Pantera’s “Walk” set to programmed drums. Aside from that, Welcome to Wasteland, in all its apparently delicious geographical specificity and authenticity, is a more focused, consistent incarnation of Ministry’s Filth Pig, and without the uncomfortable extremes of vituperation, at that. The centerpiece, “Lethal Worm,” track two, sidles along systematically and forcefully, for instance, like Ministry’s “Lava,” in a sense, and likewise exceeding the five-minute mark in its deliberate metal-leaning edict. 

Rather than seeming formulaic, anyway, the programmed drums give singer Brad Stenz [1] a sturdy backdrop for unfurling his expansive, full-bodied rock songs, the kinds of formats that would otherwise necessitate an unwieldy amount of patience, communication and cessation of the ego, dealing with a live rhythm section. Stenz makes full use of musicianship all over this record, evident in the trippy synth intro to the excellent “Intercourse with God” and the percussion-only, double cow bell interlude engorging “Wasteland.” In these early days, Stenz knew how to do industrial, and got up and did it, with an increased focus, consistency and palatability from everyone else hacking around such territory in the 1990s.  

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[1] I assume this is Brad Stenz on vocals here: for the life of me I could not find a personnel page on this album online.  

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