Nearly ten years since comeback album The Greater Wrong of the Right, and thirteen years since their return from the hiatus/collapse with the legendary Doomsday show, Skinny Puppy are back with their fourth album since the reformation, and after a string of ultimately disappointing albums that have seen them, at best treading water or even going backwards, this is their first truly satisfying and ultimately listenable album in a long, long time.
It could be argued that, perhaps, this is down to this album having a focus that previous releases have sorely lacked. As on this album, there is a thematic link – that of the world’s obsession with guns – across it, and lyrics, vocals, and music all rage with fury at the lunacy of the situation depicted. This is made most overt on the two tracks that were made available to listen to first, in advance of the album being released (it was eventually all made available to stream a week or two back).
The first of these was paragUn. It starts out with a curiously thin-sounding electro rhythm, but once Nivek Ogre’s vocals join in, and we hit the chorus, suddenly it kicks up a gear or two into an intense, complex soundscape (listen to it loud, it’s a revelation), and finally this is perhaps how ohGr’s solo work was meant to influence the SP sound – astonishing electronic brilliance with an almost catchy, pop edge. Even better than this is saLvo, a blistering attack on lax gun laws (presumably in the US context) that gain a new edge with recent events in that country, that takes a sonic template not far removed from mid-eighties SP and updates it to the present using new technology, with thrilling results.
Thankfully, it is with some joy and happiness that I can say that this album is littered with highlights, and that those first-released tracks aren’t even the best ones here. Pick of the bunch is the six-minute, swirling vortex of electronics of Tsudanama, a chaotic, ultra-distorted track full of polyrhythms and unexpectedly harsh electronics, where Ogre’s vocals get twisted into an ever-deeper, nightmarish baritone as the track finally collapses into itself. The frantic, seething illisiT probably has the best chance of being a dancefloor hit for DJs (as is often the case with SP, the dancefloor is far from their aim here!), with it being blessed with a thundering, stomping beat and a refrain of “this is the criminal age“, and more than anything it is by far the most immediate track on the album.
There are some other deeply odd moments on the album, too. gLowbeL has a fucked-up fairground organ sound winding through the quickfire, sinuous rhythms, while the woozy electronics on survivalisto is more than a bit disorientating on headphones. Oddest of all, though, is the choice to revisit one of the band’s oldest songs, in the form of solvent (originally from the nearly thirty-years-old Remission). Not a lot has changed, other than a (much) better production that admittedly brings a whole new life to the track, but it seems an odd decision to add such an old track to this album, although it perhaps makes more sense when you realise that there are more than a few links in style between this new album and that release.
Even the closing song, the downbeat, ghostly Terminal is a revelation, with sampled choirs of vocals looming over the synths as the album comes to an end. More than anything, though, the influence of the ohGr solo material seems to be at it’s lowest in a while, allowing the chaotic, cut-and-paste mayhem of cEvin Key’s compositions to take centre stage for the first time in an age. This move, and how good this album is as a whole, is no co-incidence in my mind.
After sounding so tired and bereft of ideas on previous album hanDover, to hear them so rejuvenated, and sounding so alive on the whole of this album – there is remarkably no filler whatsoever here – is a joy to behold. This is the sound of the band roaring back, shouting “remember us”? We do, the old stuff is revered, and at long last we have something to add to that canon without having to continually refer in the past tense. I’ve waited an age to say this: Skinny Puppy are vital again, and this album is (so far) the best album of this year.