Last impressions: Skinny Puppy – The Process

I really felt the urge to listen to this lately after picking up the excellent Greater Wrong of the Right DVD. The Process was released in 1995. It was an album rooted in chaos – it took three producers to complete, was recorded amidst environmental and personal disaster, and ended up with one member dead and the other two at loggerheads. One one listen I was hooked, and after hearing their other records, I thought this was the best thing Puppy had ever done. Weirdly, the biggest mental connection I get is actually Pink Floyd’s underrated Momentary Lapse of Reason. Yes, thematically and instrumentally, it’s industrial, but the sense of epic scale and underlying composition is pure Pink Floyd.

Jahya is one of the most arresting opening tracks I’ve ever heard. It starts off with industrial techno pops and crackles, little noises, and then introduces Ogre’s unearthly incantations, a pretty synth piano hook, a crescendo of fierce guitar riffing, more noise and samples, some clanging synthetic beats …

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Death. “Spiky, black, hard-edged”, the voice says, before the most monstrous metal riff kicks in over a messy, chaotic wall of techno beats and bleeps, Ogre grunting over the top, some gloriously clashing keyboard sample over the top, then randomly pulling into a catchy chorus. You know Public Enemy vs Anthrax, Bring The Noise? Yeah, like that, but louder.

Candle has always been one of my favourites off this album, and it’s still absolutely gorgeous. What I really notice this time around is the head-bending dubby sub-bass – it’s not really that deep, and that’s what makes it so oppressive – it makes you feel like you’re drowning in it. Pretty acoustic guitars vie with metal riffs for attention, but what’s really spectacular is the synth pads – I’m thinking it’s like Front Line Assembly’s better stuff, but Dwayne Goettel could come up with the goods pretty regularly – tracks like Warlock and Smothered Hope, for instance. The vocals somewhere between singing and shouting are a hallmark of Ogre’s changing style; this was the point where he stopped squeaking like a demented hamster and running it through a ton of effects. It sounds all the better for it. Everything about this track sounds fresh and modern, even 15 years on.

Hardset Head is Skinny Puppy trying to see if those amps really do go up to eleven. The first 50 seconds sound awesome, but once the chorus kicks in, it is the point where the three producers it took to complete the album becomes apparent: it’s just a complete mess.

Cult is a sweet, rather moving rock ballad, Ogre’s slightly off-key vocals stopping it becoming too saccharine – like someone singing on the verge of tears after too much whiskey.

Title track Process is absurdly old-fashioned now – Dalek vocals over samples, breaks and bleeps. I remember Ogre saying the synths on this were pure Dwayne so it holds up as a bittersweet museum piece, but on its own terms, there’s little to recommend it.

Curcible was my least favourite track, but it sits very well at that point in the album, and is a startling mix of itchy breakbeats, noisy guitars, different and opposing vocal styles and occasionally melodic piano interludes. It reminds me slightly of what would happen if you threw Aphex Twin into a blender with one of those pompous Norwegian goth metal bands.

Blue Serge was an instant outright favourite. Extremely contemporary for its mid-90s release, it was a plain catchy breakbeat techno anthem, overlaid with Ogre’s most melodic speak-singing. Vaguely disjointed samples and piano riffs all come together as the most effective and immediate track on the album. I think this has been used on a couple of soundtracks; if you had to get someone from the mainstream into Skinny Puppy, you should play them this. I’m actually surprised it’s not as well known as, say, Front 242’s Headhunter.

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Morter is the most traditional “industrial” track on the album – it could be Front Line Assembly or Nitzer Ebb or even KMFDM – more of that shouty rap-singing, bleepy techno, film samples, a very well-placed drum roll, and lots of playing around with guitar samples. It’s only towards the end where it fades back to those dreamy pad sounds that it sounds most unmistakably Puppy.

Amnesia is vintage Skinny Puppy – those very mournful chords, vocoded vocals – but this time Ogre’s increasingly confident melodic voice rings out over it all. It’s a slow electro ballad, whooshing and crashing, noisy and sweet. For such a shouty band, they sure can be sweet, and it all drops back to a single piano.

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Cellar Heat is a short blend of noise and samples to take us neatly back to the beginning. A suitably epic outro to a truly remarkable album. Go get it.

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