When I was in high school, Skinny Puppy was about the best thing ever in music. The way they blended rich electronics that were dark and atmospheric but not ostentiously so with horror movie samples and odd noises, bone crushing beats, robotic distorted vocals, interesting stream of consciousness lyrics was amazing. It sort of blended everything I was interested in into one neat package and managed to adequately express some of the frustrations I had at the world around me. At one point, I had every single record they made AND every single, not to mention a whole slew of t-shirts. I also had a good amount of their side projects which are far too numerous to mention here, but all interesting.

Since then, I had to sell a bunch of CDs to afford the move across the country, not to mention the fact that I grew rather bored of dance industrial/electronic body music as a whole since the genre has completely stagnated, though I still love listening to Skinny Puppy and friends. The big blow, though, was really the death of member Dwayne Goettel, who I wrote a rather long obituary for in old Cleveland music rag US Rocker under the pseudonym sasha i. nyktos. The particular bummer was that my mom had told me she would go see them with me next time they came to town and I was really looking forward to that.

Since then, they’ve been working on their various side projects, but I haven’t paid too much attention, distracted by other things. Still, I peek over at cEvin’s Subconscious Studios or at Ogre’s ohGr sites every now and then. Today I looked at the Skinny Puppy MySpace page only to find reference to a new album called Mythmaker. I couldn’t believe it! Mark Walk, mostly a studio musician in the industrial music world, has filled in (thought certainly not replaced) for Dwayne.

Practically jumping up and down for joy, I searched on iTunes to no avail. I looked deeper and discovered it wasn’t to be released yet.. but I also discovered it had been leaked via bit torrent. I tried to do what Corey on Litany (a Skinny Puppy fan site) suggests and put fingers my ears until the real album is out.. but I couldn’t contain my excitement. I figure I’ll buy the final album anyways but this is a good way to preview what is ultimately a pre-release. You can pre-order the real thing here. No iTunes link yet, sorry.

So, then, the preliminary review:

I’ve been listening to this practically every day for about 2 weeks. I haven’t got sick of it yet, which is certainly a good sign but the real reason for this long time is that it’s taken me this long to sort of get used to it and get a reasonable perspective. The thing is, this isn’t the old Skinny Puppy at all. It shouldn’t be– there’s no Dwayne! Similarly, though, The Process and The Greater Wrong of the Right weren’t old Skinny Puppy, either. The Process was frankly an ill-concieved record with a few highlights. The fact that they managed to salvage something out of an otherwise tumultuous time was really miraculous, but it’s not something I find myself listening to much. The latter album found cEvin and Ogre trying to re-establish what Skinny Puppy was, taking what they had learned on their own solo projects and trying to find a way to integrate it while still maintaining the unique vision of Skinny Puppy. I rather liked it, but it felt sort of uncertain, as if they weren’t confident that this is what Skinny Puppy was supposed to sound like.

This new one is clearly different. They finally figured it out. It’s as if they had an epihpany. They finally realized that their unique vision did not have to be so confined to the narrow world of industrial music (a genre which at this point is most certainly DEAD). Along these lines, it is not surprising to see Wikipedia referring to the new album as both an Industrial and IDM album. Indeed, cEvin explores many purely electronica notions. There are reference points to glitch, dub, acid, electro, gabber, and a plethora of other genres apparently unrelated to industrial.

To this, cEvin adds a smattering of noise and odd and highly effected samples, intricately programmed percussion (some of his best– and as an electronic musician who is also a classically trained drummer, this is saying something). Indeed, this is no electronica album. Unlike the related Canadian industrial group Front Line Assembly (who was Dwayne’s predecessor in Skinny Puppy) who reference electronica acts they like by sampling them (sonic namedropping), Puppy pieces it together in a way that separates it from everything else.

They’re also not afraid to throw in the occasional piano or guitar riff, nor are they afraid to include previous ground. For example, Ogre’s distorted vocals at times sound like classic Skinny Puppy and other times sound melodic and unaffected as in much of his solo stuff. Some songs take things to extremes never explored before, throwing on distortion, echo, speaker panning all initially run through a vocoder he’s growling into. For those who never got used to Ogre singing, this will justify its purpose.

And don’t think that the music has lost any of its density. As with every classic Skinny Puppy album, repeated listens reveal more and more charms. The psychadelic nature of Skinny Puppy’s music remains and there’s plenty to keep one’s attention if one listens only to the background. Stick on a pair of headphones and it yields a whole new sonic landscape.

So this new album continues previous ground from Skinny Puppy, constantly breaking new ground and keeping it diverse and interesting. Now the only question will be whether or not they will continue to live up to their reputation in a live format. Notorious for highly theatrical and visually captivating performances, I’m excited to see how they will portray this new music in person. Hopefully the tour announcements will shortly follow the release of the new album, which is set to be January 30th. I absolutely cannot wait. This is a must have.