Back in the late seventies, when Punk Rock was the dominant form of rebellious music, a bunch of musicians came to a realisation that led to the creation of a new genre. The conversation went a bit like this:
First: Shit, I just realised something!
Second: What, you're drunk?
First: No, I realised that punk rock... has too much music in it! People listen to it!
Second: Your point being?
Third: Actually, that's a very good question. What's your point, man?
First: Look, what if we made the ultimate form of rebellious music by resisting conformity to musical standards?
First: What if we made anti-music?
Third: That might work, actually.
At some point, these musicians decided to abandon punk and move towards Electronic Music. Of course, they were going to take it in a different direction. Inspired by bands like Suicide (a keyboard/vocal duo perhaps best known for their epic "Frankie Teardrop"), these guys decided to combine Electronic Music with punk (the mentality of punk, anyway), then attempt to make it unlistenable so that they could rebel. Or something.
Except, their plan backfired. People liked this form of music, which is often thought of as the Darker and Edgier version of Electronic Music. The genre was named "industrial" because a lot of artists who decided to jump on the bandwagon were signed to Industrial Records.
The first widely-recognised(-ish) industrial(-ish) group (not affiliated with the fictional musicians from the fake conversation) was Throbbing Gristle. Their work was highly experimental, and influential on several different genres. It was not strictly electronic either; they would use any sound they deemed necessary. Arguably, German group Einsturzende Neubauten also fit alongside Throbbing Gristle in terms of being one of Industrial's experimental forebears. Less well-known but equally innovative acts like Sheffield experimental trio Cabaret Voltaire and extreme performance artists SPK and NON also contributed significantly to the fledgeling genre.
As electronic music became more popular generally during The Eighties, the earlier kinds of experimental Industrial became more refined and synthesizer-based. The genre grew in two major directions; approaching almost-entirely electronic music with the bizzare and experimental spirit that Throbbing Gristle had (this direction being exemplified by Canadian group Skinny Puppy), and making danceable electronic music that had the cold and aggressive Darker and Edgier qualities and punk-ish attitude of the early experimental Industrial artists (this direction, often called Electronic Body Music (or EBM) or Industrial Dance, was exemplified by groups such as Nitzer Ebb and Front 242).
(Two other, frequently-intersecting "purist" directions in Industrial music also emerged at the turn of the decade: Power Electronics and Post-Industrial. The former was first pioneered by a group called Whitehouse in the late Seventies with the express purpose of fusing offense, Sensory Abuse and Hell Is That Noise into one, teeming mass of Nightmare Fuel; the latter is a much more nebulous term, applying mostly to the many esoterically-inclined groups formed by ex-members and colleagues of the post-Throbbing Gristle group Psychic TV, the most prominent being Coil, Nurse With Wound and Current 93. The former quasi-evolved into Harsh Noise, which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin; the latter, meanwhile, went on to do numerous interesting and bizarre things, of which there is little space to get into here. Neither had much direct impact on the later Industrial genre - Coil's early albums being a very danceable exception - although there is a certain degree of fan overlap, especially on the gothic side of things.)
As the genre kept evolving, it began adding elements from other genres and/or recombining with various forms of itself. Bill Leeb, an early member of Skinny Puppy, tamed his former group's bizzare experimentalism by building his songs around an EBM-ish backbone and going all-out Cyberpunk in attitude. Albums from his project Front Line Assembly, particularly Tactical Neural Implant, have often been considered landmarks in the genre.
The EBM faction of the genre kept making itself progressively Darker and Edgier, sometimes increasing the tempo and always toughening up the drums whenever possible. The project Leaetherstrip (misspelling deliberate) embodies this trend pretty well.
Because, as stated below, Industrial music was a smashing hit amongst the goth community (it basically became the default form of dance music amongst goths), it didn't take too long for the styles to get combined. Industrial was already pretty Darker and Edgier, but when some very depressed Germans decided to goth it up (influenced by the very gothic form of Synth Pop known as Darkwave), it became Nightmare Fuel. The project :wumpscut: took this to potentially Wangsty extremes; their album Embryodead is a Concept Album which argues that it is better to die in the womb than to be born in this cruel and miserable world full of hate and beyond any reason. Needless to say, it isn't the most pleasant listen for most audiences.
Because of the continued focus on making dance-floor hits for the goths, Industrial generally began (in the late 90's onwards) to incorporate progressively more influences from more mainstream dance genres. Trance became a signficant influence (Electronic Body Music can at times sound like Darker and Edgier Trance so it wasn't a huge deviation from established norms) and ultimately resulted in a subgenre of Industrial called Futurepop, which is best seen as EBM with trance-like melodies. Bands that made this style are VNV Nation (whose album Empires is the Trope Codifier for Futurepop), Icon of Coil and Apoptygma Berzerk.
A subculture arose from industrial music. They were known as "rivetheads", and they had a militaristic dress code. They also got on supremely well with the goths, partly because of similar musical tastes (industrial is quite a dark genre of music). As a result, many goths listen to industrial; in fact, it's the genre of music most affiliated with them. Also, the term Cybergoth can refer to a 'middle position' between being a traditional Goth and a Rivethead.
These days, Industrial music has effectively stagnated as a genre. Generally speaking there are two basic styles; the remnants of the Futurepop acts that are sliding into synthpop and/or more retro forms of electronic music, and the Darker and Edgier Hellektro (essentially really, really hard EBM, sometimes with insanely angry and/or miserable attitudes and sometimes without) acts like Combichrist and Psyclon Nine. This is of course a simplification and many artists can be found that defy this basic characterization but it certainly applies to the majority of the Industrial that gets played at most goth clubs these days.
And of course, there was a less dance friendly fringe known as noise who removed any and all mainstream elements form industrial and focused solely on the abrasiveness. Noise mostly consists of loud electronic samples brickwalled and distorted in order to inflict pain upon the audience. If there are any lyrics then they're usually angry, offensive and violent.
- Crowning Music of Awesome - Depending on one's tastes, the genre may have a lot of this.
- Cyberpunk - A frequent mood/aesthetic the genre aims for. Tactical Neural Implant and Hard Wired by Front Line Assembly are classic examples, other examples include Harsh Generation by Grendel and Serenity Is The Devil by Icon Of Coil.
- Cyberpunk Is Techno - Frequently used in Cyberpunk media as a soundtrack and Industrial has drawn on the literature and movies significantly.
- Darker and Edgier - Over the course of genre and subgenre evolution, over the course of individual artist's careers, you can find a lot of this.
- Ear Worm - Gotta fill the dancefloors somehow!
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin - The Rhythmic Noise (or Powernoise) movement. Harsh noises set to a beat.
- Fetish Fuel - Where to begin? Strap Me Down? Catharsis (Heal Me; Control Me)? Andy LaPlegua jumping around in skin tight latex and rubber? The outfits of the Target Audience?
- Goth - the Target Audience
- Hell Is That Noise - Distortion, feedback, backmasking, Scare Chords, samples from horror films-Industrial artists always find a way to freak out their listeners.
- I Am the Band - Many solo projects exist in the genre.
- Improv - A typical compositional technique, especially for the more experimental acts.
- Indecipherable Lyrics - Many bands fall prey to this trope and/or deliberately use it.
- Intercourse with You: Many.
- Usually averted. The subject matter of the lyrics doesn't deal with sex too often, except when it crosses into Fetish Fuel. But occasionally this is played straight.
- Lighter and Softer - As Darker And Edgier above. Particularly with the Futurepop subgenre.
- Loudness War: Especially early works (intentionally invoked, although not as extreme as today) and the Hellectro subgenre.
- Mind Rape - what some of the songs in the genre can induce.
- Music to Invade Poland To - EBM bands especially, but the whole genre has been accused of promoting Nazism at times. Partly because the logo of Industrial Records was the outline of Auschwitz. Subverted in that the logo was an attempt to identify modern life at large with industrialised mass murder. So... yeah. Averted by Die Krupps, who are very vocal in their anti-Nazi views.
- Played unfortunately straight with Von Thronstahl
- Nightmare Fuel - Most music videos in the genre and quite a lot of the lyrics and movie samples and album artwork and possibly even the music itself.
- Obligatory Bondage Song - Quite frequent.
- Ominous Music Box Tune - Listen to Stillbirth on Embryodead by :wumpscut:. You will never, ever, ever be able to listen to "London Bridge Is Falling Down" ever again.
- Playing to The Fetishes - Very frequent. Especially in Leaetherstrip's songs like Strap Me Down.
- Sampling - Lots and lots of sampling. Best examples include Skinny Puppy's "Worlock", sampling Charles Manson singing The Beatles' Helter Skelter, C/A/T's "Enhancer" sampling dialogue from Curb Your Enthusiasm about boobs, and Suicide Commando's "Bind, Torture, Kill" sampling news reports on serial killer Dennis Rader.
- The Ur Example of the trope's use in the genre is probably the first disc of Cabaret Voltaire's compilation Methodology, whose material stretches back as far as early 1974.
- Silly Love Songs - Often subverted. This genre's examples of love songs are things like Love Breeds Suicide by Suicide Commando and Strap Me Down by Leaetherstrip (it's romantic! really!). However, sometimes this is played straight, for instance the Futurepop song Beloved by VNV Nation, or on Throbbing Gristle's (ambiguously sarcastic/serious) Synth Pop anthem "United".
- Tear Jerker: Yes, even industrial can have Tear Jerker moments, such as Throbbing Gristle's suicide themed "Weeping," but a more modern one would be the song "My Crutch" from rhythmic noise band Caustic. Despite the band's motto (and debut album title) being "Booze up and Riot!" My Crutch is a stripped down, guitar and vox song with the singer describing how his alcoholism ruins his life and how he must quit drinking to save his marriage and his life. Also, Laibach did a mashup of the Israeli and Palestinian national anthems on their album Volk, in an attempt to show that the two warring peoples aren't so different after all.
- This Is Your Premise on Drugs - The first album of Skinny Puppy was essentially 80's Synth Pop on drugs. Quite literally, given Skuppy's compositional techniques.
- Title-Only Chorus - Usually averted but sometimes happens.
- Torture Cellar - Another frequent mood/aesthetic the genre aims for. Especially lyrically.
- True Art Is Angsty - Where to begin?!? From concept albums about babies that die in the womb to concept albums about serial killers to songs about the Columbine massacre to bands whose entire act is about bashing Christianity to songs about animal vivisection, and these are just the examples I can think of off the top of my head
- True Art Is Incomprehensible - Skinny Puppy's more esoteric works, the early Industrial artists, most of Skinny Puppy's music videos, many lyrics of multiple bands...
- What Do You Mean It Wasn't Made on Drugs? - Subverted. It's often made on drugs. Skinny Puppy were pretty open about this.
- The thesis of the chapter on First-Wave Industrial in Simon Reynolds' epic post-punk tome Rip It Up And Start Again is that the very underlying premise of the genre is Psychedelic Rock Gone Horribly Wrong. His argument is extremely convincing.
- One of Einstürzende Neubauten's most compelling songs is "Yü-Gung (Fütter Mein Ego)", which is a lengthy ode to speed-induced megalomania.
- Throbbing Gristle (arguably the Trope Maker)
- Cabaret Voltaire (the other Trope Maker)
- Boyd Rice (a.k.a. NON; the other other Trope Maker)
- Z'ev (yet another Trope Maker)
- Chrome (lesser-known Trope Maker)
- Whitehouse (Trope Maker, Trope Namer and Trope Codifier for Power Electronics)
- Monte Cazazza
- Einsturzende Neubauten
- Clock DVA
- Swans (up to Children Of God; foreshadowed Industrial Metal)
- Controlled Bleeding (the avant-garde precursor to the marriage between Goth and Industrial; extremely unpredictable)
- Sutcliffe Jügend
- Genocide Organ
- Ramleh (initially Power Electronics, later Noise Rock, always terrifying)
- Current 93 (would later become neo-folk)
- DAF (Trope Codifier for the EBM subgenre)
- Skinny Puppy
- Front 242 (Trope Namer for the EBM subgenre)
- Nine Inch Nails (bridged the gap between this and Industrial Metal and often jumps from one to the other, often in the same song.)
- Nitzer Ebb
- Ministry (although associated with Industrial Metal they use the guitar more as an instrument for Industrial noise rather then to rock out. so they straddle the line more along with Nine Inch Nails.)
- Front Line Assembly (Trope Codifier for the Cyberpunk, less experimental, EBM-based industrial of the early 90's)
- Leaetherstrip (arguably the Ur Example for the Hellektro subgenre)
- :wumpscut: (Trope Codifier for goth-influenced industrial)
- Suicide Commando (Trope Codifier for the Hellektro subgenre)
- VNV Nation (Trope Codifier for the Futurepop subgenre)
- Icon Of Coil
- And the side project Combichrist, arguably more successful.
- Die Krupps (Trope Maker for Neue Deutsche Härte)
- KMFDM (Usually Industrial Metal, but their early works are closer to traditional Industrial)
- How To Destroy Angels (Trent Reznor's current project)
- Raison d'être