Skinny Puppy: Best 3 Songs per Album, Part 1

Skinny Puppy was one of the first industrial bands I discovered.  The album was Rabies and, while it’s probably one of their more accessible releases, it was very strange and exotic at the time since my musical knowledge was mostly limited to what was played on MTV.  I think the band features some of the best musicianship the genre has to offer, but at the same time its harshness and “ugliness” can make it a challenge for the unaccustomed.  I find that their appeal is very personal and so my opinions on tracks often differ quite a bit from what seems to be general consensus, as will be evident in the picks below.

Remission

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I actually know these first two albums through the combined release Bites and Remission, but I’m going to list them separately mainly to give myself more opportunity to choose best tracks.  Even so, this will leave me with some tough choices because there are so many greats on these early releases.

  •  Smothered Hope — This is one of the best tracks in the entire Skinny Puppy catalog and is probably an obvious choice for many fans.  With these early tracks some of synth and percussion sounds used might seem dated to some, but to me they are critical to the classic Puppy sound.  Vocally, the passion with which Ogre asks “Why don’t you care?” hits me every time.
  •  Glass Houses — After Smothered Hope it gets harder to choose best tracks because so many qualify.  Glass Houses is a catchy song with weird, funky bass and memorable synth parts.
  •  Sleeping Beast — Absolutely love the high energy of this song, very unusual in the Puppy catalog.  The song might go on too long for something that doesn’t change very much, but in the end it doesn’t matter.

Honorable Mention:

  •  Far Too Frail — It feels criminal to leave this song off the best list and on another day I might swap it out with one of the above.  Already having second thoughts, but I could spend forever on this struggle and need to move on.
  •  Icebreaker — I’m not sure if this is a popular one with fans or not but I’ve always loved the slow but powerful kick drum in this along with the soaring strings and the simple bassline.  And on top of all that I really like the different vocal delivery on this one, pitched down low instead of the usual growl.
  •  Solvent — This isn’t a track that comes immediately to mind when thinking back on favorite Puppy tracks, but it’s a really good one that they actually revisited on their 2013 release Weapon.

Worst Track:  Probably Manwhole which I’m actually not as familiar with since it wasn’t included on the Bites and Remission combo-album.  But still, it sounds more like an outtake than the rest of the album.  I think the some of the same percussion in this track is used in the intro of Icebreaker but not positive.  I don’t know which came first but Icebreaker sounds like a more polished track to me.  I’m also not crazy about Glass Out which is basically a reprise of Glass Houses but not as good.

Bites

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This release includes some tracks that were also on Remission, so I’m going to ignore those when making this album’s list.

  •  Assimilate (R-23) — Assimilate is the obvious choice from this album.  The drums are full of energy, with the snare sound changing slightly from hit to hit, and this has all the classic Puppy elements like the soaring-yet-mournful strings and Ogre’s voice yelling “Hot to assimilate!”  I’m actually not too familiar with the different versions of this track but just consider this Richard 23 version as the primary one even though obviously it’s not the first.
  •  Dead Lines — This is another track which for some reason doesn’t often come to mind as one of the greats, but it’s a fantastic track which is really representative of the early Puppy sound overall.  The chorus is interesting in its own right, with clever little synth parts thrown in judiciously to tease you into listening further, and then the chorus is especially powerful and memorable.
  •  The Choke — This is great for the exact same reasons as Dead Lines.  The “ugly” machine gun synth in the chorus is actually what grants its power.  I originally heard this song on the Twelve-Inch Anthology compilation release, which I’m not going to cover here since the songs all appear elsewhere.  I haven’t heard that release since I got rid of my cassette collection many years ago, but maybe I’d actually prefer the version of this song that appears there?  Something to look into.

Honorable Mention:

  •  Last Call — Another great track that just misses out on the top list due to the fact that it doesn’t really have a chorus or any other different part to break things up, it just sorta continues doing the same thing for six minutes.

Worst Track:  Really I would nominate any of the 5 tracks which did not carry over onto the Bites and Remission combo-release.  To me it’s plainly evident why they were left behind; they just aren’t of the same caliber.

Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse

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I think at this point we’re entering what some would still describe as mid-period Skinny Puppy, although in reality it’s still quite early in their career.  For this album and the next few, I find them to be a mix of brilliantness and unlistenable stuff and so if I were ranking albums they probably wouldn’t be as high as the first two I’ve already covered.  But there are still great tracks to be found:

  •  Antagonism — I didn’t really notice this track for the longest time but now I think it’s extremely powerful and full of emotion, one of my favorites from this era overall.  I don’t recall ever seeing it mentioned much so not sure how this fares with fans overall.
  •  Addiction — An absolute classic from the minimal yet effective bassline during the verses and then the chorus which is full of emotion powered by the strings.
  •  Chainsaw — From the track title I always think this will be one of their more noisy tracks that I can’t get into, so I’m constantly reminding myself that this is one of the greats.  The verses lead you along with a classic Puppy beat from this era to the great chorus with that simple yet effective synth line accompanying the vocals.

Honorable Mention:

  •  Dig It — This is where I deviate from popular opinion a bit.  It seems Puppy fans consider this one of their best tracks but I always find myself wanting more.  Yes, the beat is cool and actually reminds me of some early hip-hop strangely enough, and there are cool bits of sound inserted here and there, but overall I just don’t think there’s enough happening in this song to justify it being over 7 minutes long.
  •  Stairs and Flowers — I think another track popular with fans, this one is sorta lost on me.  Like with Dig It, it seems like it is mostly a beat without much else going on.
  • Deep Down Trauma Hounds — This is yet another fan favorite that I don’t completely understand.  I like it, I just don’t love it because it doesn’t really seem to go anywhere.
  •  One Time One Place — I like this one a lot better than the three tracks above and it would be in my best list if only it didn’t have such stiff competition.  I especially love the soaring choral/string riff that appears during the verses.  It’s that classic “haunting” sound that Skinny Puppy did so well in those days.

Worst Track:  There are several on this album that just don’t interest me at all, but I’ll go with 200 Years because it seems to just ramble on with noisy stuff that never really forms into a song.

Cleanse Fold and Manipulate

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This album includes some tracks which were previously released so I’ll ignore them here.  Like the previous album, this is a mix of classics with stuff that just doesn’t grab me at all.  Best 3 tracks:

  •  Second Tooth — I could be wrong but I’ve always had the feeling that I’m the only one who is really into this song.  The choral/string riff during the verses is amazing, and later it changes to more of a bell-like sound which is equally as amazing.  When those things aren’t playing, I’m counting the seconds until they return.  This is actually one thing that Puppy was really good about in its original incarnation — hitting you with cool riffs here and there, sorta teasing you with them, whereas many bands in the scene pummel you with the same riff over and over until all the coolness has worn away.
  •  Tear or Beat — Like the previous track, I have the impression that this is more a personal favorite than a fan favorite.  In this song, it’s all about the amazing bassline.  The band plays with you in the first part of the song by only playing a partial version of the bass riff, before finally hitting you with the incredibly cool and catchy full version.
  •  First Aid — I wouldn’t rank this as highly as Addiction but since Addiction is already on a previous release it is disqualified.  A solid track, I especially like the three-note “Bah! Bah! BAH!” that interjects here and there.

Honorable Mention:

  • Anger.  I may like this one more than First Aid, I’m not sure, but it is mainly just a beat and it gets a bit noisy with vocals that are largely impossible to understand.

Worst Track:  I’ll go with Draining Faces because it’s an ambient track.  There was a time when I could really get into ambient soundscapes, but these days it requires a particular mood which I don’t find myself in very often.

VIVIsectVI

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From online conversation I have the impression that this is a favorite for a lot of fans, but it’s not really a standout for me.  A lot of it is just too abrasive so I don’t listen to this one very often, although there are a few greats here.

  • Testure — This is one of their all-time greats and for me it seems very out of place on this album.  It has more in common with the previous two releases than with the harshness of this one.
  • VX Gas Attack — A very sample-heavy song, in the best possible way, and with some great plucky synth inserted during what I guess you would call the verses.
  • Harsh Stone White — Soaring strings, a cool melodic riff, and the great machine-gun bassline all make this one a standout.  Not to mention an emotional vocal delivery from Ogre.

Honorable Mention:

  • Who’s Laughing Now? — I like Ogre’s lower vocals in this one and the fast bassline that comes in later is great.  Maybe I need a little more structure for this to work fully, though.  The sample which includes the N-word plays frequently and is a bit uncomfortable, which was probably the intention.

Worst Track:  There are several candidates but I’ll go with Yes He Ran which is one of the CD-only bonus tracks and so something I didn’t hear for some time since I originally picked up this album on cassette.  It’s just noise to me.

Rabies

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This was the first Skinny Puppy I ever heard, but I don’t think it’s nostalgia talking when I say this is really good album which deserves more love than it has gotten from fans.  While it does have a somewhat unique sound among their catalog, presumably due to the influence of Ministry’s Al Jourgensen as producer, it is still very much a Puppy album.  The best three tracks:

  • Warlock — We all knew this was going to be on the list so might as well get it out of the way.  Possibly the most popular song in the band’s entire catalog, despite being on a lesser loved album.  The chorus has the amazing, soaring sound where the vocals and the otherworldly strings mesh perfectly.  Honestly, though, I don’t find the verses overly engaging.  I find myself just biding my time until I get to hear that classic chorus again.
  • Rodent — Puppy doesn’t do a lot of those 16th-note basslines but this one is perfection, accompanied by that pounding, relentless beat with various noises and samples skittering in and out.
  • Tin Omen — Originally I was thinking I’d make this an honorable mention instead of a best track.  When I first heard this album, this was the standout track for me — it took me a bit to recognize the quality of some of the others, including Warlock.  It sorta faded eventually, maybe through overplay, but in evaluating the album again I’m reminded of just how great it is.  The beat is infectious, the bassline plays along with it perfectly, and this is actually an easy song to sing along with which is somewhat rare in the band’s catalog.  It’s definitely one of the most guitar-heavy songs they’d done up to this point, which is somewhat of a deviation, but it works well I still consider the song electronic overall.  A friend told me decades ago that this song makes use of Slayer samples, but I’m not familiar enough with that band to recognize them.

Honorable Mention:

  • Hexonxonx — This is another fantastic track which really should be in the section above.  Another great beat and interesting synth work.  Even though it might seem somewhat simple, I think this is the sort of track that a lot of bands in the scene would have trouble duplicating — like so many Puppy songs, there are a lot of subtle and intermittent elements that make a lot of contemporary stuff sound a bit simplistic in comparison.

Worst Track:  Like with the previous albums, the bonus tracks are some of the weakest and in this case it’s Spahn Dirge.

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