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Industrial music is experimental, often heavily electronic music which incorporates noise, tape manipulation, drones, metallic timbres, monotonous rhythms evocative of machinery, and similar "factory floor" aesthetics. Vocals, if present, tend to be either disaffected or angry. Lyrical content tends to embody dark themes, as well as protest, tension, uncertainty, and the like. As with many alternative styles, it generally eschews pop melodies, virtuosic solos, and romantic themes.

Industrial has always had a fragmented identity, not having anywhere near as cohesive a sound as most other electronic genres, and it has long had a love/hate relationship with dance music. In its early years (late 1970s to mid 1980s), industrial music was rhythmic but rarely danceclub-friendly, and was predominantly a product of the heady British, Australian, and European art-school and post-punk scenes. In the mid and especially latter half of the 1980s, it became increasingly rock-based and dance oriented, at first using New Wave and electro rhythms, then (after a brief flirtation with funk), incorporating techno and hard trance sounds, if not going almost fully rock-and-roll (as in the case of e.g. Ministry and Nine Inch Nails).

Some fans prefer to distinguish pure industrial from the dance-oriented forms, using terms like Electronic Body Music (EBM) or Industrial Dance (which is not a separate tag on Discogs). On Discogs, the Industrial tag can be used for any type of industrial music.

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