Vicious times require vicious music.
Arguably, the most important industrial group of all time is Skinny Puppy, which came into being in Vancouver around ’81 when percussionist/synth player cEVIN Key left pop-electronic band Images In Vogue, and joined with vocalist Nivek Ogre (Kevin Ogilvie) in order to pursue the more sinister side of electronic music, with nods to Throbbing Gristle, Joy Division, and Cabaret Voltaire. Horror film samples and imagery, Ogre’s harsh, distorted vocals, and determined electrobeats set the tone.
Keyboardist/bassist Bill Leeb added to the harsh, distorted sound, and engineer/producer Dave Ogilvie began to help them record. The band’s earliest work from ’81-85 can now be found on the Back and Forth and Brap reissues. Puppy’s first full-length album was ’85’s Bites, highlighted by the headlong dancefloor staple “Assimilate,” a relatively melodic, sprightly number with Ogre’s patented death rattle vocals being the main nod to industrial darkness.
In ’86 Leeb left to found Front Line Assembly, replaced by Dwayne Goettel, and
a more varied sound emerged on Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse. The
extended single release of “Dig It” from the album is the band at its most compelling: a syncopated, clanging hip-hop beat drives a spasmodic shiver through the dancer’s body, as stabbing guitar blasts punctuate the downbeat, while poltergeists of heavy machinery shockingly thrum then disappear and Ogre snarls the percussive refrain, “Dig It, Dig It.”
The extended single version of “Addiction,” originally from Cleanse, Fold and Manipulate is another great, complete with lurching, jerking beat, high keyboard drone, and more grim vocals. In ’89 Puppy partnered with Chicago metal/industrial pioneer Al Jourgensen of Ministry to create Rabies. Jourgensen and Ogre trade wrenching vocals, augmented by Jourgensen’s stun guitar and a deeper, thicker production. “Tin Omen” is a metal/industrial classic, evoking the horrors of violence at home and abroad with a special emphasis on the death of innocence that was the Kent State massacre. Puppy’s attack on violence through violent music and imagery can either be seen as hypocritical or homeopathic depending upon where your ox gets gored.
Skinny Puppy returned in 1990 for the relentless, aptly-named Too Dark Park, an audio Silent Spring portraying environmental apocalypse. By ’92’s Last Rights, the band was running on uninspired vapors, and ’96’s comeback, The Process, incorporated more-melodic sounds and actual unprocessed singing into the mix, but highlights are tunes like “Death” that adhere to the punishment-and-distortion model.
Puppy’s excellence is best sampled from the 12″ Anthology, a collection of dance remixes that covers all of the band’s most distinctive material including “Dig It,” “Addiction,” “Assimilate,” and “Testure” (an antivivisection screed originally found on Vivisect VI).