For the purposes of this review, I'd like to take a journey with me to a younger, gentler version of yours truly.
At this point in my life, I had just started to get into hardcore, was really into Operation Ivy, and my main concept of "goth" music was The Cure, The Smiths, Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails. Okay, there was that new guy in the funky makeup calling himself Marilyn something-or-other doing some crazy cover of a Eurythmics song, whatever that's all about. I knew who Love & Rockets and Bauhaus were, though I couldn't have told you which one did "Bela Lugosi's Dead". I know what industrial music and EBM and all that stuff generally sounded like, and I knew from the Crow soundtrack that I had heard at least one My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult song.
It was the later half of the nineties, and goth was (at least after a fashion) popping up as a fad/fashion statement/mechanism by which one could piss off one's parents. Naturally, being the sort of person I am, I wished to understand the whole pop-cultural meme that surrounded the "goth" sub-text, through the eyes of a couple of gothy friends, who, among other things, introduced me to a fair number of goth/industrial/EBM/80's brit-pop bands, and Sifl and Olly (but that's a story for another day).
Now, for a fair amount of time, I'd heard much mention of Skinny Puppy as a band. I vaguely knew I'd heard some of their music, but I didn't have any of their albums, or had even really listened to an album all the way through. A friend of mine, who was a fan of the band, recommended Too Dark Park to me, suggesting it was the most easily accessible album by the band. The same person got me this album for Christmas.
To be fair, this is their most accessible album. However, that isn't saying much; it is still nowhere near what the average music-buying citizen would gravitate toward.
Anyway, Skinny Puppy was an industrial/EBM band (depends on who you ask, and it is mostly irrelevant anyway, since few use the term EBM anymore) from Canada who made really abrasive music built around Big Electronic Noises and vocalist Nivek Ogre's distorted and sinister vocals. Consistently plagued with band/production squabbles and consequences of drug abuse, Skinny Puppy made brutal, nihilistic songs with a uniquely activist streak to them.
Probably the artistic peak of the band, Too Dark Park is also the band's most "danceable" album, though images of a death cult dancing in worship of their Dark Lord is much more likely than the thought of this in a mirrorball-adorned discotheque. The album is consistently hard-driven, death-obsessed, and, well, exactly as perky and uplifting as it sounds, really.
From the first track, "Convulsion", we have a pretty good idea of the album's approach: aggressive, 4/4 beats with intense guitar and synths and bass while the heavily distorted vocals spout such grim visions as:
"Heaven's trash fixation turning mass direction
Having a relationship without guilt, mass direction
Off and away hazy circles round the eyes
So long how long? Hate disease"
The themes on the album are mainly fixated on death, although unlike most industrial-type bands, their lyrics often describe an ecological wasteland, condemning the destruction of forests and exploitation of animals. From the first time I heard the band, I thought this quite odd; after all, the whole goth scene isn't often associated with militant vegetarianism. Oh well.
Generally speaking, the album is pretty consistently good, with "Nature's Revenge", "Grave Wisdom", "T.F.W.O.", and "Morpheus Laughing" being the highlights. There is a general "same-ness" to the songs, which is largely due to the relatively generic drum programming. On the other hand, since this is largely the element of the album that makes it more listenable to the casual listener than some of Skinny Puppy's other recordings.
All in all, however, those who enjoy the dancier side of industrial like KMFDM or Meat Beat Manifesto will find this a welcome introduction to Skinny Puppy's sound. Likewise, the Nine Inch Nails fan looking to go deeper into the industrial sound could use this as a good place to start.