Throbbing Gristle

The Second Annual Report of Throbbing Gristle

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Following a small quantity of limited cassette releases, 1977's The Second Annual Report was the formal debut of British industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle. (The First Annual Report was shelved by the group, and has only surfaced via unauthorized releases and bootlegs.) As with most of TG's output, and certainly everything prior to the 1978 single "United," this stuff is harsh, bleak, and utterly uncompromising. The most immediate comparison would be something like the early free-form experiments of Kluster/Cluster, but with a malicious, emphatically anti-musical intention, and partially obscured by black clouds of soot. The group's four members are credited with playing instruments such as clarinet, violin, trumpet, and guitar in addition to electronics, but nothing here ever approaches conventional melodies, and only the vaguest suggestion of a vibrating rhythm. On top of all of this is Genesis P-Orridge's psychotic rants and screams, often enhanced by echo or shrouded in distortion effects. On the first of three versions of the piece "Slug Bait," P-Orridge tells a horrifying first-person stalker story which is made all the more disturbing by an unexplained interjection of the phrase "Cat whiskers!" "Maggot Death" appears four times, once in a studio version. Only slightly less muddy than the live recordings, the track's fast pulsations and unhinged wailing come slightly closer to resembling punk, but refracted from another dimension. One of the live versions of "Maggot Death" doesn't include any instrumentation at all; instead, it's just one of the members of TG violently haranguing the crowd for a minute, giving a brief glimpse into the confrontational nature of their performances aside from the relentlessly punishing music. The highlight of the entire album, however, is its second side, which is taken up by the band's soundtrack for After Cease to Exist, a film by COUM Transmissions, the art collective which TG grew out of. The 20-minute piece is a landscape of burbling bass guitar and fizzy oscillations, surely creating a foreboding atmosphere, but one which is almost soothing compared to the sheer horror contained on the album's first side. The Second Annual Report is all but guaranteed to scare off most first-time listeners to Throbbing Gristle, but it's highly captivating in its explorations of wretched thoughts and unconventional musical techniques. It remains a fascinating document of the origins of the group, as well as industrial music as a genre.

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