When I hear industrial music, I am immediately taken back to a very specific ten year window of my life. The window opened in 1992 when I was blown away by Nine Inch Nails’ single “Wish” and closed ten years later when KMFDM reunited to release Attak. The peak came for me at the turn of the millennium and I turned 21. Every week I would go to the “Goth/Industrial Night” at a former dance club in Portland, Maine called Zootz. It was an excuse to dress in black, drink on a Monday and dance as whitely as possible. We gathered a small network of friends that would grow week to week to go and have fun dancing to electronic beats. When the club closed in January of 2001, the event moved to another club, but there was just something special about Zootz that could not be replicated anywhere else.
What does this have to do with Medicant Downline’s LP Test Subject? Two things:
1) Every track on it makes me think “this would have been perfect for ‘Industrial Night.’” Then I reminisce some more.
2) What the name of the band means, as the founder Randall Lewis explains, is different for every person who experiences the music. Not only is it up to the listener to define what the band means to them, but to define what the album means to them. I feel like it speaks directly to the five month period of my life spent at Zootz.
At its core, Test Subject is a throwback to the heyday of industrial music. Complex danceable beats are coupled with crunching guitars and melancholy vocals. The lyrics can be interpreted by the disenfranchised and their contempt for modern society, or for a lovesick teen, which is the true mastery of industrial. Lewis has an ability to tap into the common themes of the genre and create something truly his own. But what really strikes me about the album is every time I listen to it I think: This was written for me for this exact moment of time.
That may be a selfish approach to take, especially for something written by a stranger, but that is the power of music. It is an album that is able to make me nostalgic for a time when this type of music was a significant part of my life, but the significance lies in Lewis’ theme. The concept of the album is based upon dystopian science fiction and our disenchantment with the world and the injustices around us. Perfect for a 32 year old who is in the middle of seeing the world for just that!
The dialogue of Test Subject is set behind electronic drums, heavily distorted guitars, robotic chimes and digitally manipulated notes that show Lewis’ ability to make a computer sing for him. All of this was recorded using Logic and arranged with Reason software. This gives Lewis a large share of the What did you do with your computer today? title. Every track is arranged with meticulous care; there is even a reprise to “Last Hope” in the penultimate track, “World of Disaster,” showing there was a larger vision at work other than just recording fifteen tracks to throw up on a website.
Lewis offers his vocals to the songs, often times altered in a Sascha Konietzko way, but mostly in the style of Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode and Bernard Sumner of New Order. The problem for me is that I was never a fan of Sumner’s vocals because they felt banal and monotonous, so sometimes the vocals seem to fall flat. However, they are well-mixed, so even if I cock my head to the side at a particular vocal choice, it isn’t overwhelming.
Test Subject is a great tribute to my years of listening to industrial. It brought back so many positive memories for me and makes me want to go back through my KMFDM albums. Maybe that was the idea for Medicant Downline; it does mean something different to all of us. Zootz was what medicant downline meant to me. I medicated how I perceived my own dancing talent with alcohol and recruited friends to make the night more enjoyable.
I urge you to take a listen and find out what it means to you.
Side-note: Medicant Downline also appeals to the nerd in all of us. The robot on the cover art made me check my old FASA BattleTech record sheets to make sure there were no copyright infringements (there aren’t). And in an ultimate appeal, Lewis recorded a chiptune version of Test Subject. The album was re-recorded as an 8-bit version. This meant not simply converting the tracks, but rebuilding the music from the ground up. Another What did you do with your computer today? trophy to Mr. Lewis, please. He’s starting to rack them up. Both are worth your time to listen to and can be found at http://MDBand.com.