As far as your humble writer is concerned, every new album release from legendary electronic music duo Skinny Puppy is a historic moment. But one thing that even their finest studio work – including their amazing 2011 album Handover – can't quite capture is the nightmarish, chaotic beauty that is a Skinny Puppy live performance. While that album was mired for years in a buttload of corporate crap – mainly due to their former label's financial crisis – two dark dreamers known as Ogre (alias Kevin Ogilvie) and Cevin Key (aka Kevin Crompton) weren't sitting around lamenting the record's possible fate... hell no, they were busy blowing minds in clubs and arenas all around the world with their twisted Grand Guignol multimedia horror show. Since the band's inception, their gigs have been recorded and filmed hundreds of times – both legit and bootleg, pro high definition rigs or cheap-ass camcorders – but since the promotional tour for their 2004 album The Greater Wrong of the Right, there's only been one official high quality live CD release (as well as an excellent DVD). That all changed this week with Bootlegged, Broke and In Solvent Seas, a collection of European performances that encompass most of the high points in the band's massive catalog. Check out our review and listen to a live track after the jump!
While the production design and supporting lineup for the 2011 In Solvent Sea tour had many similarities to the Greater Wrong shows (including the live drumming of skins-master Justin Bennett, whose rhythms also grace the albums of Italian indstrial band Bahntier), the set list compiled for this album is almost entirely comprised of the band's earlier work. Though songs from their two post-reunion albums may have been played throughout the tour, this collection chronologically ends with their epic release Too Dark Park, which many fans have heralded as the band's career-defining masterpiece... and for newcomers to the band you'll find yourself in largely alien territory, since their sound has evolved and mutated numerous times since these songs were originally laid down to tape. I'm hard-pressed to choose a favorite myself, since their classics differ so greatly in mood, texture and intensity, so for the sake of this review I'll focus on the quality of these performances and recordings alone... all of which, in my humble opinion, are just too skull-bustingly awesome to describe in mere words, but I'll try to break it down for you anyway.
The combination of methods used to capture these tracks is mostly old-school, but also benefits from elements of modern tech. The band have stated that all recordings heard on this album were taken directly from the soundboard, as well as a portable digital recorder, by sound engineer Ken "Hi-Watt" Marshall. The result is a raw and immediate sound, with no edits or overdubs, and a room-shaking sound environment that wimpy little earbuds just won't do justice. If you've never experienced a Skinny Puppy show, you at least owe it to yourself to truck this sucker on a decent stereo system (but watch out for the bass levels: they'll crawl ya). There's a roomy, open-air feel to the mix that enhances the sweeping synth strings in grandiose songs like "Worlock" (from their 1988 album Rabies) giving the music an almost endless reverb. The punch of Bennett's drums hammers through these electronic mists, intricately woven with Key's knife-sharp electro kicks and clicks. At times, even Ogre's powerful voice – which ranges from a pained whisper to a thunderous roar befitting his stage name – is occasionally overwhelmed by the heaviness of the beat, but if you know the songs well enough you already know how deeply his vocals can plunge into the mix until they become part of the rhythm itself.
After a terrifying, apocalyptic keyboard-climb intro mixed with vocal samples from speeches and newscasts, the band busts into "Rodent," one of the most aggressive tracks from Rabies, with Ogre's most venomous vocal delivery. Both of these songs come from the Warsaw, Poland show, as well as the lightning-fast experimental piece "HateKill" from their rare-cuts collection Back and Forth Series 6, "Morpheus Laughing" from Too Dark Park, their '80s club hit "Assimilate" (expanded here to cosmic proportions, with an avant-garde break) and the band's most nightmarish track ever: "Dogshit" from VIVIsectVI (which I haven't heard played live since '88). To my ears, the Warsaw material is by far the most mind-blowing on the album. Other content is taken from a show in Bratislava, Slovakia, including an eccentric rendition of "Addiction" (featuring soundbites from Dirty Harry and Bugs Bunny!) and a mega-wicked version of "Dead Lines" from the band's 1985 full-length debut Bites. The record wraps with the earth-shaking beats of "Shore Lined Poison" from Too Dark Park performed in Budapest, Hungary... and by then I had to do those deep-breathing exercises my therapist taught me to calm the fuck down.
It's a foregone conclusion that all Puppy fans must add this record to their collection ASAP, so I won't belabor that point. But if you want more background on the band and their long, fright-ful history (sorry, Uncle Forry, for that lame pun) with horror movies old and new, I'd also recommend you read my interview with frontman Ogre, who had some seriously amazing stories to tell about his many bizarre (and often physically dangerous) adventures in moviemaking, and his association with horror director and FEARnet Shock 'n' Roll blogger Tim Sullivan. But before you go, be sure to punch up this live recording of "Worlock"...