Thursday, August 5, 2010
Skinny Puppy - Bites (1985)
In this reviewer's opinion, Canadian industrial pioneers Skinny Puppy never improved upon their debut album, "Bites." The earliest bands in the genre took a wildly innovative, nihilistic approach to music, tearing down traditional structures and replacing them with harsh electronics and metallic banging sounds. Skinny Puppy gladly accepts the contributions of their predecessors, Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle and Einstürzende Neubauten, but reign in some of the chaos by adding a level of sophisticated artistry to their compositions. That's not to say that the music is by any means bland, however. On the contrary, "Bites" is a record that is at times chilling and even terrifying, but it terrifies with a kind of suave grace.
Throughout the first few songs frontman Nivek Ogre growls and shrieks his way through sheets of distorted keyboards and pounding drum machines. The songs are mostly danceable and believe it or not there are actually a few catchy tunes, most notably on the album opener "Assimilate." However, as the album progresses things start to get stranger and stranger. Not content to be merely fodder for goth club dance floors, the band engages in a heavy amount of experimentation. Strange little oddities start to crop up, beginning with the minimalist "Church in Hell," which is essentially just a repeated vocal sample with a gradually building backdrop of industrial noise. I should pause for a moment and mention that samples (mainly from obscure horror movies) are a huge part of Skinny Puppies sound, and they were one of the first bands to utilize them so heavily. It gives the album a very unique sound and was hugely influential on basically every electronica act ever.
Things continue to get weirder as the number of actual songs drops off and we are treated to more impressionistic miniatures built around atmospherics and movie samples. The two tracks "Film" and "Love" exemplify this short form experimentation perfectly, the latter opening with what sounds like a record being played backwards with a skip in the sound.
The original LP of "Bites" was only eight tracks long. Fortunately for us, the CD version contains more than twice that number, including some of the band's most interesting moments. At the end of the CD, the two tracks "The Centre Bullet" and "One Day" drone on in an almost pastoral vein for a good thirteen minutes. The music is calm and repetitive, but slightly unsettling, like a lullabye designed to produce nightmares. It's the most sedate you're ever likely to find Skinny Puppy, and one of my favorite parts of the record. In fact, it's hard for me to believe this wasn't the original tracklisting, because it works so perfectly as a way to wind down this fascinating album.