Skinny Puppy
hanDover
(SPV)

Skinny Puppy is an institution. Let’s just get that out of the way right out of the gate. Even if you’ve never heard them, you’ve heard of them. What’s tricky about reviewing a new album from the industrial/electronic pioneers is the question: do you cater to the potential new listeners who haven’t taken the plunge, or tailor the review in context of their history and previous 13 albums? I’ll attempt to find a middle between those two because with their new album, hanDover, they’ve proven that they are still relevant and generating quality material for both groups of people reading this.

Let me first say, to readers of Teeth Of The Divine: there is hardly any “metal” going on here. There are certainly abrasive textures and occasional simple riffs that buzz or chug with industrial heft, serving more as a cacophonous filler than anything, but the guitar is otherwise rarely seen on this album. That’s not a judgment, it’s just a discernment – yet Skinny Puppy are more than capable of producing scathing sounds and adrenaline-pumping tunes to be included on this site.

The Canadian duo have been on an upward swing since 2004. Previously they had a long lull beginning with their 1996 album, The Process, where members Ogre and Cevin Key were on hiatus with various other projects and studio work. However, once they reconvened for ‘04s The Greater Wrong Of The Right, they seemed instilled with a new vigor and confidence, not to mention an evolution of their sound towards more structured and electronic sounds (ie. less noise and industrial mayhem). Releasing the album Mythmaker a few years later only cemented their intentions of continuing SP’s legacy. Their trajectory seemed to be on the up-n-up when a new album was announced to come out in 2009 – however, due to label issues that fell through, but wasn’t enough of a pitfall to throw the band off their renewed vibrancy as their newest album hanDover shows they’re still intent on producing quality material. While previous album Mythmaker was a little more formulaic on the pop-goth influenced electro/industrial tip, it’s nice to see hanDover right the ship and inject it with better songs and a more earnest and expressive approach.

Musically, there is always something going on to engage the listener. This is partly due to a combination of sounds in the background, often times just textures, noise glitches or soundscapes, and the dominant music in the foreground playing a great game of push and pull. The backdrop of musical highlighting can swell and recede, gaining volume or quieting down at just the right moments to compliment the song’s peaks and valleys. The more I listen to the record, the more I realize that Skinny Puppy are truly gifted in this department. It’s almost as if the background and foreground are dancing with each other, rising and falling together, accenting creative flourishes only to synch back in tandem together (similar to how Neurosis‘ album Times Of Grace synch with Tribes of Neurot’s companion disc Grace). The lead-off track, “Ovrit”, is a great example of this. From a bird’s eye view, this song seems like an unusual choice for an album-opener. It’s not tearing out of the gate and it’s not one of those epic builders that pulls you in gradually. What it does do, is start modestly, like an introduction by the author of a book with the rollercoaster of content to follow; in doing so, they demonstrate that for prying ears, there is a wealth of scary and exciting sounds below that surface that contribute greatly to the whole.

“Cullorblind” is the second track, and it continues the book comparison as a great ‘Chapter One’ – starting simply and then building, adding some bridge-work into a repeating chorus with rote industrial guitar buzzing. At various points on hanDover Ogre’s vocals can be a tremendous annoyance and weak link, yet here they work due to him singing without any nasally whine, and utilize some tasteful distortion. Immediately following is an unusual move: two of the album’s most melodic and beautiful tracks back to back. “Wavy” incorporates moments of acoustic guitar and piano alongside synths and digitally treated vocals that are almost more a part of the music than actual singing, providing an overall IDM feel, while “AshAs” goes for a much more epic and operatic feel, really providing an emotional component (a fitting tribute to Sasha Coon, the band’s longtime drum and stage technician who passed away earlier this year).

It’s not till track five, “Gambatte”, that the band displays some more of their “oomph!” and driving beats (though the aforementioned whiny vocals can detract a bit). As if to dispel any doubt, the band follows with one of their strongest tracks on the album “Icktums”- one of the noisier and driving songs, harkening back to Skinny Puppy of the 90s (complete with the great refrain, “Worship money, worship nothing”). For Teeth Of The Divine readers, “Vyrisus” is probably the heaviest song on the record, though not adrenaline-pumping, it instead opts for atmosphere via distorted vocals, chugging guitar riffs and an eerie industrial ambience.

This album does require a couple listens to see where SP is at on this go ‘round, but it ultimately comes out among the highest echelon of their career. I was worried for a moment with their previous album that they might just be throwing ideas against the wall to see what sticks, but it’s clear that there is still vibrancy, and like mentioned before expressiveness, that these two can convey in creative ways to challenge themselves and their audience.

 

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Stacy Buchanan
November 8th, 2011

Comments

  1. Commented by: Nick Taxidermy

    dude, what? you think The Process was the lull? I haven’t heard anything great from them since then…that was their best record.


  2. Commented by: Nick Taxidermy

    that said, what I’m hearing off this disc is pretty cool.


  3. Commented by: Stacy B.

    Nooooooooo no no! Lull meaning, time between albums. You kidding?! ‘The Process’ is fantastic and in the pantheon! :P But going from 1996 to 2004 for a follow-up album is a bit of a hiatus – That’s what “lull” was referring to.


  4. Commented by: Nick Taxidermy

    ohhh, okay. I was like “The Process is one of the best heavy industrial albums ever. what the hell?”

    I think they were broken up, not on hiatus for that time. I might be wrong.


  5. Commented by: Cynicgods

    Music that’s beneath their actual talent. Still, I’m glad they’re around.


  6. Commented by: vugelnox

    It’s no Last Rites, Too Dark Park or VIVIsectVI but this still is a worthy addition to their discography. Good review.


  7. Commented by: Nick Taxidermy

    I’m really surprised to hear the negatives here, given how little I’ve cared for the last couple records. this new one is great, i think.


  8. Commented by: Angel Cat

    I haven’t heard any thing post the Process which I loved. I think you are forgetting some thing very important regarding this band though. There has been more than one death in this band unfortunately.


  9. Commented by: Nick Taxidermy

    besides DR Goettel?


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