Monday, February 22, 2010

The Mythical Masterpiece of the Emaciated Mutt by Alison Ross (CD Review)

The Mythical Masterpiece of the Emaciated Mutt
by Alison Ross

Because I so sorely regretted missing Ministry on their final CU L8TOUR, I decided NOT to pass up the chance to see Skinny Puppy when they trotted into town recently. I had never been a huge fan of Skinny Puppy - I only really knew "Dig It" some other random songs my best friend had played in the 80s. You see, she was a compulsive Puppy fan, while I always leaned more obsessively toward Ministry. I have no idea WHY I spurned Puppy so, but perhaps my aversion was psychological in premise. Perhaps I was trying to differentiate myself from my best friend since we were idiosyncratically identical in so many other ways.

OR perhaps I just didn't have the aesthetic maturity to appreciate the deliciously sonically complex and innovative Skinny Puppy.

The show itself was numbingly transcendent, both musically and theatrically. Mastermind Ogre emerged in what can only be described as a futuristic KKK sartorial ensemble He had cobbled together a few walking canes to create some kind of freakish walker, with which he hobbled around on stage (despite his otherwise very stable swagger). From that moment on, avant garde and horror movie-induced theatrics pervaded the performance, rendering the show a sublimely sinister performance art spectacle. Hallucinagenic video imagery suffused the entire stage, and at times Ogre retreated to a cage-like confinement, where he writhed around creepily and behaved in bizarre animalistic fashion. Of course, it must be noted that Ogre is an ardent animal rights supporter, so naturally he was not intending to debase the cuddly creatures via his twisted theatrics.

I found the music both fascinatingly frightening and cosmically creative. As I have said, I was theretofore unaquainted with the bulk of the SP repertoire. But that night's performance molded me into a die-hard Puppy fan. I experienced the humbling epiphany that it was SP, not Ministry, who were the real industrial music pioneers, with their freakishly magical fusion of techno, metal, dance, funk, and prog-rock.

The show was so good that I was inspired to purchase as much SP as I possibly could. Unfortunately my local indie record store only carried three SP titles at that time, but it was a start. I purchased Cleanse, Fold, and Manipulate, Mind: Perpetual Intercourse, and Mythmaker. The former two are from the 80s, while the latter CD is a more recent release, from 2007.

And it's the recent release that has gripped me the most fervently. The others are excellent, to be sure, but Mythmaker is of a bolder caliber, in my estimation. Some have characterized it as the most accessible of the SP releases, and perhaps they have a point. But I really don't deem SP as terribly accessible to any mass audience. The band has sculpted a fan-niche for themselves, one that consists of hard-core gothic-industrial types and keen musical afficianados. A mainstream audience that favors boybands and fluffy diva types to music with depth and character would hardly know what to make of such a brazenly bizarre band.

Mythmaker quite patently blows me the fuck away. SP stuffs many sonic themes into each song on the album ... it's as though each tune exists as its own crazy cosmos. There are fiercely competing sounds that clash against each other in a paradoxically harmonious way - a song can be melodic and menacing simultaneously. Sometimes it may start menacingly and end melodically, other times it may start melodically (euphonious acoustic guitar, dreamy synth lines) and feature menacing elements intermittently (ear-searing electric guitar, beastial bellows) .. and other times the songs have a contradictory quality throughout, highlighting a stark duality. This apparently has been SP's trademark throughout their career, but from what I can glean from the three releases I own, the duality is more pronounced than ever on Mythmaker.

The Kraftwerk influence also figures in pretty prominently here. The songs are often basically structured, but shot through with robotic and digital sounds. At times the album hardly sounds industrial and instead more like a retro-modernized confluence of electronic moods and vintage video-game sonics.

For me, the most smashingly scintillating songs on the album are the darkly ethereal tunes haZe and jaHer, the Ministry-esque Pedafly, the techno-funk politikil, and the thrashily danceable ambiantz. But the album coheres gorgeously, and there is not a single misstep as far as I can hear.

The lyrical themes on Mythmaker seem to be limited in scope, and the lyrics themselves are rather inscrutable, featuring as they do fragmented syntax and at times a multi-layered metaphorical intent. Of course, predictably, the majority of the subject matter is nihilistically dark, touching on drug-addiction, death, political oppression, and so on. Frankly, it's not the lyrics which matter to me on this release - it's the entrancing music which seizes me with ferocious tenacity. Perhaps in time I will scrutinize the lyrics more meticulously, but for now, I am content not to.

Skinny Puppy has been around for 27 years, and much to my euphoria, show no signs of soon relinquishing their claim to being a maker of their own manic musical mythology.

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