1. singer of Richmond, VA -based heavy metal four-time Grammy losers lamb of god. 2. 42-year-old skateboarding, fly fishing, and bullwhipping enthusiast. 3. amateur photographer currently writing his first photo-essay book. 4. author of currently untitled memoir to be published by Da Capo/Perseus (U.S.) and Random House (everywhere else), spring 2014. 5. proud husband, son, grandson, and brother. 6. fairly righteous dude.
I love my job. When I’m not raking in the big bucks writing about music for the Talkhouse, I’m usually on tour, hopping across the globe and bringing lamb of god’s brand of southern metal madness to the masses. I get to meet a lot of really cool people, and see a lot of really neat places. I even get paid a decent wage to haul my bony old self onto stages around the world and scream, sort of like a giant, hirsute toddler who just had his favorite toy taken away. I love to travel and I love to get paid, so I consider myself an extremely fortunate man. I am grateful.
However, there is one thing I completely despise about touring outside the United States: the all-pervasive presence of electronic dance music, particularly in Europe. I’m not a rock purist; I love ’70s dub reggae as much as the punk rock that was produced during the same era. The sub-woofer in my Toyota is blown all to hell, more from cranking the hip-hop of my fellow Virginians Clipse than from ripping around town scaring normies with the latest sub-sub-sub genre of metal. (It gets so confusing these days.) I’m a pretty well-balanced guy, musically; heck, I’ve enjoyed going to clubs and dancing, sometimes even to music that was composed and recorded entirely on electronic devices. I am not some luddite Negative Nancy, a genre-nazi metal version of Tipper Gore. I like all kinds of tunes.
Not all electronic dance music is bad, but there is not one small, quaint, picture postcard corner of the European continent that hasn’t been infiltrated by blaring, terrible, soul-crushing electronic dance music. There is no escape. Not in the rest stop bathrooms. Not in the taxi cabs. Not even in the goddamned castle gift shop. It makes me want to drive an ice pick straight through my eardrum and into my brain. I would rather dump a five-gallon bucket of old man diarrhea in my ear than listen to one note of the relentless and insipid techno crap that most European youth happily go out dancing to. (Note to self: bring earplugs for upcoming Euro summer festival run.) I firmly believe that Satan himself designed this “music” with the sole intent of driving those of us with a modicum of taste completely insane.
So it is with my distaste for that sort of noise pollution firmly pronounced that I write the following disturbing words: Skinny Puppy’s new album, Weapon, is kinda electronic dance music.
And I like it. Kinda.
It physically hurt me to type those words just now, because with a title like Weapon, I had hoped this record would be a return to the harsh industrial sounds of Skinny Puppy’s 1988 classic, VIVISectVI. That record was my introduction to the genre known as “industrial,” opening my ears to the strange world of Einstürzende Neubauten, Throbbing Gristle, Boyd Rice, and Swans. Unlistenable to most people, at one time industrial music seemed way more punk rock than punk rock could ever have hoped to be. NOISE. Harsh, harsh noise; the sound of sheet metal being ripped apart, the sound of hair being ripped out, the sound of the world having its soul ripped out — the Reagan era was grinding to an end, and the nukes were going to start going off at any moment. I just knew it. Industrial was a fitting soundtrack for the apocalypse.
While Skinny Puppy has certainly always had an electronic component, and some of their earlier stuff was pretty darn dancey — but VIVISectVI and its 1989 follow-up Rabies also had some pretty harsh buzzsaw guitars to match the sheer hate and despair in the vocal delivery of Kevin “Ogre” Ogilvie. Skinny Puppy live was one of the most disturbing things I have ever seen, matching and topping the intensity of their records. Ogre was on some sort of crazy robotic stilts that didn’t really work, he kept throwing up onto a video projector, there was weird, puke-splattered porn emanating from said projector, dead animals were cut up on stage, and everyone was on drugs. EVERYONE. (They had to be. They just had to be — that’s the only possible explanation.) The show looked, well, it looked industrial, a factory of the future gone bad, and it fit the music. Hilariously enough, for a good period of my youth I was convinced that Canada must be the most fucked-up place in the world since Skinny Puppy was from there.
God knows I have zero desire to return to my teenage years, and I don’t expect bands to remain frozen in the time period when I most enjoyed their work, but Weapon doesn’t contain the elements that set my nerves on edge in such a good way, like SP’s earlier work, and I think the album suffers for it. If there are guitars, I can’t tell. And Ogre’s howl seems to have slunk into more of a monotone commentary narrating the theme of this record, which is, of course, um, weapons. Particularly the gun culture which has been turned into such a cash cow for Hollywood, video game companies, and the entertainment industry in general. Ogre is not pleased, and I don’t blame him. But it’s hard for me to take any sort of dystopian social commentary seriously when it’s painted on a canvas that sometimes makes me want to shake my booty. The most conscious hip-hop loses its edge if the beat is too fresh, too clean. This is why Public Enemy was so masterful at getting their point across — they were not clean at all. At time, they actually sounded industrial. Weapon is a bit shiny for my taste.
However, that may be where the hidden genius of this record lies. While certainly danceable, the beats onWeapon are not standard dance fare. They’re rather complex at times, full of strange whirrings and buzzings and clickings. I imagine them to be the sound of the emergent nanotechnology, tiny machines building things at a molecular level. And what do humans consistently wind up using new technology for, no matter what its original purpose was?
Perhaps Skinny Puppy has built an effective weapon of social commentary with their latest electronic offering, like an iron fist in a silken glove. It is a pleasant record to listen to, but I prefer to be musically smashed over the head when contemplating the imminent downfall of society. Maybe my palate isn’t developed enough to discern the digital subtleties of angry music that doesn’t sound angry to me — maybe there is an indignant ghost in this machine and I just can’t hear it. Or maybe I just want people to be scared when they hear music that makes them ponder the realities of the world we live in.
Because apart from all the misdirecting fear-mongering that corporations, the media and the government feed us to serve their own ends, we should be scared — of ourselves. Humanity is getting worse — fat, complacent, and sedated by technology like never before. It’s scary. Music can convey that.
But Weapon doesn’t scare me.