Formed in the mid 1990's, Thoughts of Ionesco were a Detroit trio of deranged psychopaths who found spiritual cleansing through music and music only. Due to the intensity and violence of these manias, the band's blend of angular, noisy hardcore with sludge metal and free jazz resulted in a sound so horribly nihilistic that should not be described as anything less than outright suicidal. This is a CD and DVD anthology that contains 15 tracks selected from various releases (including 3 unreleased songs) and an hour long documentary featuring live footage, interviews with the band, and some utterly absurd and bewildering behind-the-scenes footage.
Recording their first record when two-thirds of the bandmembers were still in high school and breaking up when most were barely 21 years old, it's a wonder that the infamous Detroit outfit Thoughts of Ionesco even lasted the few years that they did. Confrontational to audiences, uninterested in record labels, exceedingly dark and heavy, the band played music that was once referred to by Alternative Press magazine as "the ultimate realization of pain-through-sound." Forming in 1996, the hardcore, art-damaged soul of TOI materialized around vocalist/guitarist Sean Hoen, bassist Nathan Miller, and drummer Brian Repa; the band also included a sax player by the end of its career. Repa left and returned several times during the band's existence, and Derek Grant (ex-Suicide Machines, Alkaline Trio) served as his replacement for a stretch from 1997-1998.
The trio, whose collective mental stability was often called into question by even those close to them, was most often compared to My War-era Black Flag, mixing hatred and aggression with super-heavy riffs, free jazz exploration, a brutal live show, and hefty doses of nihilism, self-loathing, and pure masochistic rage to produce a sound wholly challenging and frequently misunderstood. Thoughts of Ionesco were in a class of their own; their performances were notoriously destructive -- instruments were smashed in minutes, walls were kicked in, blood was shed, bottles were thrown -- as the bandmembers showed absolutely no regard for themselves or the "fans" they couldn't be bothered to care about. For them, only the music mattered. They toured the country and Canada a few times over, most notably with their friends in Wallside, but due to the inaccessibility of their records, they remained obscure (though rather revered) upon their eventual implosion in 1999. Thoughts of Ionesco played their last show that November in Ann Arbor, MI.
Several years later, the guys reappeared on the Detroit music scene with new bands: Hoen in the Holy Fire and Leaving Rouge, Miller in the Holy Fire, and Repa with Paradise. Seventh Rule eventually collected the band's recorded output -- including releases on Makoto (1996's The Triptych Session, 1997's ...And Then There Was Motion, 1998's A Skin Historic, the last of which SPIN called "an art-core mindfuck") and At Arms Mechanic (1999's For Detroit, from Addiction, released 2001) -- into the compilation The Scar Is Our Watermark. Issued in June 2006, the album also included a bonus in-depth documentary DVD that chronicled the band's brief, volatile career with live footage and interviews.
Once upon a time there were three Detroit youths by the names of Sean H. (vocals/guitar), Brian Repa (drums/destruction), and Nathan Miller (bass) that took a primal hardcore aesthetic and twisted it into forms unrecognizable by the human ear, reeking havoc on conventional forms of entertainment and causing a further decaying of Motor City streets. The band was THOUGHTS OF IONESCO. Named for Eugène Ionesco, the infamous Theater of the Absurd playwright, the music is rooted in the Detroit terror punk ethos of Iggy and the STOOGES, translated through Coltrane-inspired freak-outs and rhythmic angularity. It is an impossibly heavy and nontraditionally structured amalgam of BLACK FLAG, THE SWANS, free jazz, and damage for art's sake. One label head even referred to the band as "the BLACK FLAG of the 1990s," and the sentiment certainly rings true.
The ensuing uproar would manifest itself in four primal recordings from 1996-1999: "For Detroit, From Addiction", "On a Skin Historic", "…And Then There Was Motion", and "The Triptych Session". A representative sample of tracks from all four albums, as well as five previously unreleased tracks and a documentary style DVD, are included on "The Scar is our Watermark". Remastered by Alan Douches for maximum aural impact, this 15-track collection is nothing short of staggering in its soul-purged rage and defiant stance toward commercialism and societal mores. Over creative and iron-clad riffs, Repa's Neanderthal power drumming (ALKALNINE TRIO's Derek Grant also performs), and Miller's fat and snaking bass licks, Sean H. erupts into fits of artery rupturing barks, screams, and lunatic melt downs. "Reach", "Bury Me in my Silhouette", the infinitely more abrasive version of BAD BRAINS' "I", the impact of each and every song leaves giant bomb craters and sucks the bone marrow out of anyone in ear shot. It is hardly a traditional hardcore fan's idea of circle pits and breakdowns, yet the primal ferociousness of the best the early pioneers' had to offer is present; it just combines it with heady trips into musical terrain that is felt more than it is heard. When snippets of something approaching a clean, even melodic (albeit psychotic), vocal occurs on "Learning an Enemy". it is one of several moments of neurotic bliss that demands repeat listens. It is also one of many moments when an indefinable desperation surges through the body, pushing one to forget everything ever learned about life and music.
And the DVD is a trip. The disc is not polished and glossy in a modern sense, but is very well put together. It is also very "Detroit," as those of us that spent time in the rust belt will recognize immediately. Touring BLACK FLAG style, ingesting copious amounts of drugs and booze, mired in filth and not giving two shits about pleasing the audience, the members antagonize everyone around them, and do so in a way that will shock many and a handful will recognize as pure primitive genius. Bringing along a live saxophone player (Scott Bridges) toward the end is but one example of the band's refusal to bow to convention. And Repa is a complete sociopath (in the, uh, most flattering use of the term). Just watch it and see.
In the final analysis, some will "get it," and many will not, but there is one certainty. Anyone that was exposed to THOUGHTS OF IONESCO will forever bear the scars.
- Scott Alisoglu
Thoughts of Ionesco, as history tells it, is the essential Detroit hardcore band of the 90's. Curiously, the band did everything they could to extrapolate the hardcore sound, in turn creating some groundbreaking and gut-wrenching music. On their final 1999 album "For Detroit, From Addiction," TOI delivered a hallucinatory hate-rock masterpiece with songs like "Learning an Enemy" and "The Scar is My Watermark." It showed the band's fascination with their rock forfathers The Stooges and the MC5. However, some maintain the band was at its strongest during it's first release, "...And Then There Was Motion"; a machine-like assault that Alternative Press called "the ultimate realization of pain-through-sound." Members have gone on to play in the Alkaline Trio and Leaving Rouge, but here, in the TOI cannon, one can find some of the most twisted and damaged heavy music ever played. -- Shane Degalis, staff