If you're a frequent visitor to these pages (of course you are, right?), you've no doubt seen many thousands of words dedicated to the output of Skinny Puppy, one of the most revered teams in the history of dark electronic music, with a three-decade-spanning body of work that includes multiple landmarks in the industrial, dance and experimental genres. After a lengthy hiatus, the band's core members Ogre (aka Kevin Ogilvie) and cEvin Key (aka Kevin Crompton) reunited in 2003 and returned to the studio along with the talented Mark Walk for the acclaimed album The Greater Wrong of the Right, and with only a brief hitch due to label issues (you can learn all about that and more in our in-depth interview with Ogre here), that core trio has been serving up intense, chilling and ultra-heavy records ever since. Their latest full-length Weapon continues the band's post-millennial focus on troubling social and political issues, but with a darker, more aggressive sound that calls back to the band's early days.
As a lifelong fan of Skinny Puppy's music, I'm naturally a bit biased, so I'll just put that on the table first. But seriously, Weapon is a powerful record on many levels. As the title suggests, the lyrical focus is the weapon as a symbol of human nature, with these ten tracks forming a loose concept album reflecting on the role of weapons and warfare in American culture. “The human animal is a weapon,” Ogre explains. “Every action and thought, conceived then carried out; whether political, physical or spiritual, has the potential to cause harm and misery; just as the same action, not underwritten with fear and misinformation, but carried by only positive intent would have the opposite effect.” That chilling perspective of human-as-weapon helps paint an image of a near-future dystopia, where humankind must confront its self-spawned monsters of destruction – not only weapons, but nuclear energy, pharmaceuticals, diseases and other environmental dangers. But while Weapon, like most of SP's best output, is a message-driven album, it's also a crushing musical powerhouse; as a character points out in David Cronenberg's Videodrome, “It has a philosophy... and that's what makes it dangerous.”
From the opening beats of “wornin,” I was assured the band's gritty, exploratory origins have not been forgotten; since their formation in the early '80s, SP has been expert at constructing off-kilter rhythmic patterns, twisting and mangling beats without ever losing sight of a driving, danceable core – and this album stays true to that spirit, with much of the vintage synth vibe intact. "We had some talk about doing an album with only the tools available at that earlier period of '83,” Ogre revealed. “What became clear, however, was a need to get back to simple and direct songwriting with strong abstract themes that correlate to the deeper concepts within the recording.” Embracing the proto-Puppy approach, Weapon dials back much of the digital sound manipulation that Ogre began seriously exploring in his solo work (along with Mark Walk), and which developed into a major component of the band's post-reunion style. Ogre's vocals come through clean and mostly unfiltered over the pulsing, hissing bass and beats of "illisiT," reminding me of the power of his voice as an instrument in itself; he doubles and drops into a lower register for "saLvo," accompanied by fizzing synth harmonics for a groove reminiscent of the band's groundbreaking releases Bites and Remission, wrapping with a creepy pitched-down outro for a perfectly gothic touch. That retro texture is even more evident in "solvent," with matching high and low synth octaves remarkably similar to “Cage,” the b-side to their 1987 single “Chainsaw.”
The tone lightens a bit for the more melodic "gLowbeL," carried on a bouncing carnival organ pattern with lo-fi chorus samples, but it's still a spooky piece, with some glitchy, chaotic percussion tricks; "plasiCage” is another melodic entry, but with a more minimalist structure and heavier beat distortion. The rhythms get even grittier in "paragUn," which peaks in a crushing chorus; even more massive is "tsudanama," with an earth-shaking kick pattern that is without a doubt one of the band's most relentlessly tough beats (and my absolute favorite track on the album). The funked-up "survivalisto" sports one of the record's hookiest synth bass lines, countered with Ogre's coarse, threatening whisper delivery in the verses, and the album closes on a suitably cinematic coda with "terminal," a warm, densely layered wash of smooth synth pads, sampled choruses and light but intricate beats, rising to join and finally assimilate Ogre's pensive melodic lead.
Weapon is a potent, crackling fusion of Skinny Puppy's straightforward early-era song structures and their highly topical postmodern experimentation, as always wrapped in a shroud of horror imagery and dark-future atmosphere that has always been one of the band's greatest strengths; that emphasis on mood and intense emotional content has kept their music fresh and shocking for over thirty years, and endears them to their fellow horror lovers. This record is a must-have for any serious SP fan, and any collector of dark experimental music. It's available today via Metropolis records (including a vinyl edition), and all the major online retailers. Go get it!