A band that formed nearly 30 years ago and is still making quality music is rare. Vancouver’s Skinny Puppy is considered by many to be the pioneering band of industrial rock (rock spiked with harsh, mechanical-sounding electronic beats). HanDover, released Oct. 25, is a sampling of what vocalist Nivek Ogre and synth programmer/multi-instrumentalist cEvin Key have always done well: stream-of-consciousness lyrics spoken/sung/shouted in a theatrical style over synthesizer noise, drum machines and the occasional guitar. It’s enjoyable from beginning to end, but there are three tracks (tracks 2-4) that are exceptional.
Cullorblind is a standout track and a strong single. Slightly angry, driving, catchy. Just try not to listen to it twice. Wavy is eerily beautiful, with slow and thoughtful acoustic guitar, choir voices and piano. The song is Key’s favourite. Ashas is about a devoted crew member who broke his neck in an accident, survived, and, with a bolt in his neck, continued to travel and work with Skinny Puppy until he died last year. In the song, Ogre groans, “My heart can’t contain the missing fragments of memories.” It’s jaw-dropping to hear Skinny Puppy this tender.
The pace picks up again with the upbeat if not uplifting Gambatte, a song that’s almost fun because of its quirky vocal delivery and electronic sounds. The rest of the disc is a mix of swirling, wandering electronics and true industrial tracks, full of texture and noise.
The axe that Puppy is grinding is already apparent in the title – frustration over the government and corporations exploiting taxpayers and consumers. As timely and as appropriate as the theme is to the Occupy movement, Ogre has confirmed that this connection is a coincidence (the album, after all, took three years to see daylight).
This puppy has stayed true to itself and at the same time, grown into a mature beast. In spite of greying hair, the guys are still in top form. Passion, that all-important intangible in great music, is ever-present in their 11th release. HanDover is so rich and satisfying that it could cause even a neglected, sickly dog to wag its tail in appreciation.
< Both Nivek Ogre and cEvin Key have the same first name (Kevin), creatively misspelled in their stage names. < Ogre and Key are the original members and the only longtime members still with the band (keyboardist Dwayne Goettel died in 1995). < Key’s mother bred cats and he is a devoted cat lover. < Ogre has a small-time acting career, most recently landing a role in Repo!: The Genetic Opera alongside Paris Hilton and Alexa Vega < Some of Skinny Puppy’s favourite themes through the years have been animal abuse, addiction, disease and censorship. < A simulated onstage vivisection of a stuffed dog named “Chud” landed the entire band in jail for a night when someone in the crowd thought it was real.