Pailhead - Trait (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Trait (1988)

wax trax

I’m dubbing Pailhead industro-core. They are the only Industro-core band that has ever existed. Well, maybe there’s one other, a band I will mention later in this review. So read on, you MacKaye-heads.

Pailhead was the short-lived collaboration of Alain Jourgenson of proto-industrial band Ministry with Ian MacKaye on vocals. I first heard their single “I Will Refuse” on Zero Skateboards’ 1999 video Misled Youth. It’s a fantastic song and encapsulates the blueprint of the band: it starts with insistent sixteenth notes on the hat hi-hat and clanging bass guitar under spooky ambient sounds and metal scrapes and thwacks--literally industrial sounds. The song slowly builds to explosion of hardcore punk, and it’s such a rewarding moment it’s like the bass drop in a stupid-fun EDM song. It perfectly soundtracked the video’s opening segment, showing the Zero logo just as MacKaye spits ” Fuckin’ ready!” and then the skate team starts throwing themselves over grass gaps and down stairs as the song erupts with MacKaye screaming ”I will refuuuuuuse!” Forgive my small tangent, but the first skater (it shows the back of his head so I can’t tell who it is though I watched this video a hundred times in college) slams right on the first trick, a big ollie over a large grass partition, and I wonder if this was the first skate video to show a failed trick as the very first shot in the video. Pretty rad. Anyway, I digress...

“I Will Refuse” was Pailhead’s first single, released in 1987 on 7” and 12”, with the song “No Bunny” on the b-side. “No Bunny” is notable for upping the supergroup contingent even higher by having Naked Raygun’s Eric Spicer on drums. (another tangent: “No Bunny” has got to be where the band of the same name got their moniker, but I’ve Googled this a couple times and cannot confirm this hypothesis.) It’s another highlight, and I’d call this single a double A-side because it’s that good. On Pailhead’s six song total output, lasting just over a year, Ian MacKaye was obviously still a young man and was continuing to channel his hardcore voice, while Jorgenson and his main band Ministry were in the middle of inventing what industrial music would become with their upcoming album, 1988’s The Land of Rape and Honey, which would become a touchstone of the genre. Pailhead, despite their short shelf life, is my third-favorite MacKaye band (behind Minor Threat and Fugazi of course) because their incredible sonic barrage hits you like a ton of bricks like hardcore, but also infuses it with the hardest elements of industrial music, hitting you with even more bricks from the rumble pile. Industrial music is not a genre I’m super well-versed in, hell, I don’t even really care for Nine Inch Nails, but something about Ian MacKaye fronting a band like this makes it click for me. MacKaye and Jourgenson were pillars of their genres and had created something incredibly unique by joining forces. Later, Ministry member Chris Connelly said Pailhead ... was hardcore punk played by machines and it sounded pretty fresh” and that nails it.

The band released three singles, and the later two were collected on the EP Trait, which then later had the “I Will Refuse”/”No Bunny” single tacked on the end. Moving on to some of the other tracks on Trait,, let’s talk about “Anthem.” Here, MacKaye goes on a hypnotic rant and one section in particular grabbed my ear:“This is the anthem / You are responsible for your actions”. Is it just me or does that sound like it could have been a lyric in Minor Threat’s “Straight Edge,” another anthem and rallying cry? Later he says “I don’t give a fuck what you say”, the same sentiment of “I Don’t Wanna Hear It.” It also contains the line ”I don’t wanna be a Pailhead no more and I don’t really know what that term means, anyone with any guesses go ahead and throw ‘em in the comments.

The opening song on this collection is “Man Should Surrender,” with the rhythm section galloping ahead with toms and a little slap bass, with the guitars catching up soon after as MacKaye goes full-tilt with rapid fire verses and simple choruses of ”Surrender! “Ballad” is a ballad, kind of, and only in relation to the rest of their output. Yes this is the quietest and slowest Pailhead ever got, but that means it only has slightly less assaulting kick drum, and MacKaye only swears and yells a couple times in between the samples of people talking on the phone about their everyday problems. “Don’t Stand in Line” has a bashing, simple, Nirvana-style beat and MacKaye going hard the whole time with a delay effect sending his shouts of the titular line echoing into oblivion.

Trait is a time capsule. The cover shows a tornado about to destroy Ronald Reagan’s White House. It also preserves a moment in time when a drug-free hardcore guy could team up with a junkie cokehead to create some genuinely unique music.

Ministry later teamed with Jello Biafra in Lard and you should check out Punknews staffer Jeff Sorley’s review of their EP The Power of Lard. I’m guessing a lot of you are unfamiliar with Pailhead, and I likely would have been unfamiliar as well if I wasn’t a nogoodnik skater kid. I highly recommend you all go check this shit out. So good.