This 1988 album, VIVIsect VI, is one of the most highly recommended works by Skinny Puppy (the other is 1990's Too Dark Park). Years ago, I wrote my original Amazon review and argued that the album, while great, was actually rather uneven, and definitely not my favorite. While I still place their later work, Last Rights, at the top of my favorite musical recordings of all time, in the past year I have also developed a new appreciation for this particular record.
The opening track does indeed start off a bit awkwardly, as the first audible vocals are distinctly atonal (that is, more atonal than Ogre usually is) and they don't begin on the particular beat I always seem to want them on. It does all fall into place eventually, but you'll immediately know you're in for a typically unconventional listening experience. Actually, this austere opening song sets up the mood for the rest of the album perfectly.
All the elements are here for a classic Skinny Puppy recording: heavy on the complex, metallic sounding industrial drumming and layers of analogue synths, a light sprinkling of reverb-laden guitar riffs here and there, interjecting snippets from films, and on top of it all, Ogre's inimitable ranting and raving.
Where the music of VIVIsect VI is straightforward you'll find catchy and memorable tracks. The highly political (and still relevant!) "VX Gas Attack" along with the plaintive and morose "Testure" are indeed Classic songs, played live at concerts to this day. The former is composed with an infectious dance-floor one-two beat. The latter is an emotional mood piece, lyrically comparing animal testing to satanic rites and Nazi experiments. It's keyboard driven, sounding more than a bit like Joy Division's equally sad-sack "Decades." Given that Ogre has cited Joy Division as an inspiration for his work, I guess that's no surprise.
But it's those songs that aren't so straightforward that give this album its distinct nature. "Harsh Stone White" and "Human Disease" aren't too post-modern(y), but those songs either mutate half-way through or evoke a uniquely bleak mood that couldn't be mistaken for the work of any other band. Then you have tracks like "Who's Laughing Now," and "State Aid" which are very difficult to describe. They are cryptic; complex and fluctuating collages of drums, samples, Ogre, and various sounds arranged in difficult ways. I hate to call them "experimental" because that would imply that the band didn't know what they were doing. I assure you they did. It took me a long time to realize that tracks like these are what really set Skinny apart. Previous albums began to incorporate these odd instrumentals, but never with such complexity and aggression as what you'll find here. The back end of VIVIsect VI is fully loaded with these wilder abstract tracks.
Overall, VIVIsect VI is a very dark, dense record, filled with unconventional songs, some classic and catchy (like "Testure"), others nerve-racking and bizarre (like everything that happens after "Testure"). The music is often grating, its tone dark and harrowing, the lyrics are inscrutable word mishmashes, with rasping, processed vocals that whisper and shriek, but never sing. Some people will hate Ogre's style. I love it, personally,though I do still admit I still wouldn't necessarily expect everybody to fully understand or appreciate what the band was trying to do. It is also in many ways a product of its times. The analogue synths are a bit dated, as are the drum machines, and the stream of old horror film clips has become a bit of a genre cliche. However, if you give this a listen, you'll hear something that even now exemplifies Skinny Puppy's sheer originality and uniqueness, something that has often been imitated but never surpassed. Skinny Puppy is my favorite band for a reason, and this is for better or worse, one of their defining works.