Friday, July 8, 2011

Album Review: Skinny Puppy - "VIVIsectVI" (1988)

Skinny Puppy

Well, this album is an interesting case. This was one of the first industrial albums I ever heard, and, strangely enough, it didn't quite click with me at first. I heard some more radio-friendly NIN stuff, freaked out about the awesome use of electronics, looked up industrial music, and dove straight into this album, seeing that SP were a big influence on NIN and picking their highest-rated album on the music site I was on. I wasn't sure what I was listening to, and though I liked little bits of it, I couldn't wrap my head around it, and thought it was horrible and scary and headache-inducing, with weird Cobra Commander vocals. I stopped listening to SP and went a while ignoring most industrial music. Then a few years later when I got into Marilyn Manson and more into NIN, and started slowly working into less-mainstream industrial stuff, worming through stuff like Throbbing Gristle and Clock DVA and developing a taste for the stranger stuff, I gave SP another chance and was blown the fuck away. I still hold them to a very high level of respect as real musical innovators.

It's kind of weird... I kind of relate several different SP albums to different film genres, for some reason. I relate Bites to old-school sci-fi, Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse to ghost movies, Cleanse, Fold & Manipulate to grungy crime thrillers like Henry or Driller Killer, Too Dark Park to end-of-the-world and post-apocalypse scenarios, and VIVIsectVI to dark cyberpunk and/or biopunk stuff, like Videodrome or Akira. This album follows in the structure of most of the previous stuff, but as with most of their albums before and since, the album evolves from the previous album's sound, edging ever in a different direction. This album features a thick, heavy wall of sound, even more harsh and nightmarish than the last (but still nowhere near as insane as Too Dark Park or Last Rights). With the reliable, sturdy line-up of Nivek Ogre, cEvin Key, Dwayne Goettel, and producer/secret fourth member David Ogilvie, which is a line-up we'll be seeing an awful lot of.

This album has a very gloomy, smoky, grimy sound compared to Cleanse, Fold & Manipulate (not to say that album didn't have one as well). The very cyberpunk-sounding synths, often sounding broken or warped in some way, fighting through harsh percussion, lo-fi samples, and Ogre's tortured rambling, strongly evokes visions well-suited to the realities of things like Akira or Blade Runner or Aeon Flux or Transmetropolitan. Crumbling buildings, others with a postmodern design sensibility, red skies, dark clouds, neon lights and hedonism everywhere, futuristic advances in technology that all suck, polluted forests, heavy atmosphere, political unrest, gangs everywhere with 80's-style fashion, futuristic grotesque cybernetic organisms and mutations... It's a very violent sound, and it rarely lets up. As with the best of Puppy, production plays a heavy role in giving the album its attitude; Ogre's voice is stretched like an accordion and put through an auditory woodchipper to give it a perfect evil rasp, the bass is compressed into brief, urgent, sinister-sounding plunks, the dated synths often reminiscent of video games are put through filters and pushed to the limits of impact, and everything sounds like an amazing drug haze. Tracks like "Dogshit" swagger through it confidently, then we're met with increasingly slow and sinister ones like "VX Gas Attack" and "Harsh Stone White", then a song that sounds like it belongs on the previous album with "Testure", and some amazingly creepy soundscapes like "Fritter (Stella's Home)" that give early hints at the Last Rights sound.

I personally cannot sress how amazing I think this album is. It hits every note right, it's dark and spooky and somehow the sound has rarely been replicated that closely (compared to other SP albums) and even more rarely done well. It's very multi-layered and easy to go back to because you're always finding new stuff in the mix. I think it's a classic industrial album, as well as a classic electronic album in general. I greatly, greatly recommend it, but my only warning is that it's not the most accessible thing, so you may want to get some other exposure to the genre before you give this a whirl if you're new to industrial or experimental music. Otherwise, it's great. Perfect for a Shadowrun session at least!