It took Vancouver’s Skinny Puppy several years and just as many albums to evolve a distinct, if limited, voice from a simple reiteration of various pre-industrial archetypes (Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle, Chrome), but the 1986 addition of synthesist/sampler Dwayne Goettel (replacing Wilhelm Schroeder, who — as Bill Leeb — went on to Front Line Assembly) to the founding core of multi-instrumentalist cEVIN Key and singer Nivek Ogre (plus, until The Process, producer Dave “Rave” Ogilvie) gave the group the internal dynamic it needed to mount its principled (if cliché-dependent) electronic attack.
There isn’t much evident progress from Bites to Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse; both are filled with mildly gloomy but danceable tracks, virtually indistinguishable (instrumentally and vocally) from early Cabaret Voltaire. Production is a little better (at least the sound is a bit clearer) on Mind. The Bites CD also includes all the cuts from the prior Remission EP.
Having appeared on four Mind tracks, Dwayne Goettel (electronics/sampling) became a fulltime Puppy and helped open up the sound on Cleanse Fold and Manipulate, a finely honed album which, unfortunately, reveals precious few new musical ideas. Likewise, the lyric sheet contains no surprises — just your basic foreboding visions of a skewered world. Skinny Puppy (who are outspoken anti-vivisectionists) may not be quite as evil or demented as they seem to fancy themselves, but Cleanse Fold and Manipulate does show promise.
That album warmed the scalpel for VIVIsectVI, a principled objection to vivisection and other forms of human brutality (ironically employing musical brutality to convey its message). The cover art consists of overlaid (animal?) X-rays; tracks like “Human Disease (S.K.U.M.M.),” “Testure,” “Hospital Waste” and others decry brutality against the planet and all of its inhabitants. “VX Gas Attack” (recorded in 1988) goes after Iraq long before George Bush the elder chose up sides. The sound is bigger (especially the percussion), filled in with robotic bass lines and effective sampling.
Teaming up with the likeminded (if more rabid) Ministry meister, Al Jourgensen (guitar, vocal and production assistance), Skinny Puppy kept up the pressure on Rabies. Although he adds some blood and guts with quasi-metal guitar, it’s not enough to distinguish the LP from previous efforts. Each track varies in rhythm and tempo but, with the exception of the two shortest cuts, they all have the same feel. Minor keys, electro-beats, distorted otherworldly voices (from tapes and band members) — so what else is new? The lack of variety leaves the impression that Skinny Puppy might have already reached the end of its creative leash.
The environmentally minded Too Dark Park overloads blunt weaponry like “Convulsion,” “Tormentor” and “Spasmolytic” to the point of bursting, with spoken-word samples, domineering synth beats and Ogre’s harshly distorted, seething vocal. Meanwhile, evidence of a lighter touch allows pretty bits to embroider the dramatic gloom of “Morpheus Laughing” and “Nature’s Revenge,” thereby drawing a useful connection between the latest industrial designs and decade-earlier English new wavers from Joy Division to Gary Numan and OMD.
With an increase in the use and diversity of samples and greater sonic and dynamic variation than in the past, Last Rights unwinds the sound a little to good effect. Except for Ogre’s comically grubby vocals, Skinny Puppy seems to have geared itself here for soundtrack atmospheres more than dancefloor domination. But while “Killing Game,” the symphonic “Riverz End” and the sketchy collage of “Lust Chance” benefit mightily from respites and reductions in the pressure and density, the European influence of extremists like Test Dept. and Einstürzende Neubauten is clearly audible in the calamitous violence of “Knowhere?” and “Scrapyard,” which amusingly crushes a spot of hoedown violin under the thunder. And “Download” ends the album in a maddening blizzard of backward electronic regurgitation that will undoubtedly send listeners rushing to check the condition of their CD players.
Skinny Puppy’s final proper album involved three years’ work with four different producers (Roli Mosimann, Martin Atkins, Greg Reely and Dave Ogilvie, who alone is credited, although Atkins is listed as a vocalist on “Death”). By the time the smoke cleared, Ogre had quit the band (June ’95, deemed the official conclusion of business) and Goettel had died of a heroin overdose (August ’95), thereby putting an end to Skinny Puppy before the album’s release. A stripped-down stroke of stylistic ambition that vainly attempts to incorporate such shocking innovations (for these guys) as Ogre’s inept melody singing and an accented 4/4 drum beat (on the dreamy “The Cult” and the weirdly effective “Amnesia”), The Process supposedly concerns a “psychotherapy cult” from the ’60s, a notion ungleanable from simply listening to the record. Ironically, the band’s change of direction would be welcome if there were a chance it could be refined and better applied in the future, but as it stands, The Process arrived too late for all concerned.
Skinny Puppy’s early work is easily accessible. Twelve Inch Anthology culls the A- and B-sides from four 12-inches released between 1985 and 1989. Most of the ten tracks (including two versions of “Stairs and Flowers”) are non-LP, making it important for completists, but it offers nothing out of the ordinary, save for a hint of humor: the old Bugs Bunny cartoon with the evil scientist and the monster is sampled on “Deep Down Trauma Hounds.” The merged Bites and Remission repackage is also handy; serious scholars of Puppydom will also need Back and Forth Series Two, a compilation of pre-Nettwerk cassette releases, home demos and live cuts dating from the early ’80s. The two-CD Brap, an enhanced double-CD, footnotes the band’s career with two dozen live tracks and demos.
The one common thread of Skinny Puppy’s side projects is that none of them involved Ogre. (No less prone to idleness, he did some time with Pigface, and had a group with Raven of Killing Joke.) While Ogilvie and Key performed most of the studio chores on Tired Eyes Slowly Burning, the latter co-wrote the material with Ka-Spel, creating an album that is much more sparse, clean and melodic than most Puppy work. Ka-Spel’s English-accented vocals (he sounds something like Marc Almond or Syd Barrett) and the two sides’ obvious musical differences make this an interesting diversion, and one that Skinny Puppy would do well to pursue further on their own.
Following Jourgensen’s lead in side-project overkill, Skinny Puppy is also behind Hilt, which includes Alan Nelson (a ’70s punk-rock bandmate of Key’s and a longtime Puppy associate). With Key handling production (and members of Caterwaul and the Sons of Freedom making guest appearances), Nelson’s thrashy contributions make Call the Ambulance rock out a bit more, but the basic ingredients of Puppydom are pretty much intact. “Baby Fly Away” has a sung (and almost catchy) melody and “Down on Mommys Farm” moves along at a busy, breakneck tempo; there are moments of lighter, warmer production than SP records. Still, Hilt is no major breakaway. (The CD adds five.)
Doubting Thomas is a no-vocalist duo of Key and Goettel. The ambient techno/industrial tracks on The Infidel date from 1987-’90.