Jul 2023 03

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Album CoverSkinny PuppyThe Process
American Recordings / Warner Records
Release Date: 1996-02-27
Author: Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)


By now, most people are well aware of the dire circumstances that led to the creation of what was for almost a decade the “final” Skinny Puppy album… but just in case: The extremities of their now legendary live performances punctuated the desperation and despondency felt by Nivek Ogre, cEvin Key, and Dwayne Goettel as the excesses of substance abuse deepened the growing chasm of their misery as a band. The noisy yet controlled chaos of 1990’s Too Dark Park and the even less accessible Last Rites two years later, each followed by rigorous tours, are still regarded by many as Skinny Puppy’s creative zenith – one can imagine the pressure to follow up such monumental achievement and still evolve. Add to that the shift in the cultural zeitgeist as the underground industrial and experimental music scene they helped to create was now being dubiously courted by the mainstream, leading to some misguided imperative to commercialize and water down Skinny Puppy’s music into something more on par with Nine Inch Nails… even then, Trent Reznor would’ve likely considered this to be unforgiveable heresy.

Nevertheless, Skinny Puppy pushed forward with The Process, and things couldn’t have gone more awry. Moving studios, changing producers from Roli Mosimann to Martin Atkins and only to ironically end up back with longtime associate Dave “Rave” Ogilvie, it seemed the Earth itself was against this album as fires, floods, and earthquakes threatened the production; one such event even led to the destruction of the Gristilizer – a vital piece of equipment handmade by Chris Carter and utilized by Genesis P-Orridge – just a day after a recording session yielded what would eventually become the Puppy Gristle album… but that is another story. On top of the disarray, the band just couldn’t seem to coalesce as it once had. Ogre’s concept based on psychotherapy and the Process Church of the Final Judgment led to the formation of an artist collective with the aforementioned P-Orridge, while Key and Goettel were seemingly more focused on improvisational jam sessions that eventually formed the core of Download and other side projects. Suffice it to say, The Process was doomed from the start, and Skinny Puppy finally broke up in 1995, with the album only finally coming to fruition in dedication to Goettel who died by heroin overdose shortly after the dissolution.

Of course, such tragic lore behind its creation would not shield The Process from negative criticism from both audiences and the intelligentsia as reviews were at best middling and at worst inflammatory. There was simply no way the album could’ve possibly lived up to Too Dark Park or Last Rites, but many saw its attempts at a more commercial sound to be so abhorrent that the common wisdom for years had been that The Process simply sucked. These opinions would soften somewhat after Ogre and Key, having mostly overcome their past destructive behaviors, reformed Skinny Puppy and returned to active production and touring. As this year brought us what the band has purported to be their final tour, it’s perhaps a good time to reassess the significance of The Process in Skinny Puppy’s oeuvre. Does this album, in fact, suck?

It’s interesting to note that one of the key criticisms from fans was the abundance of guitars on The Process, which many took to be indicative of the “more commercial” directive. Never mind that guitars were present on past albums, with Rabies being the most conspicuous example, but still… to hear such overt riffage on tracks like “Death” or “Hardset Head,” or even in the marching 5/4 overture of the opening “Jahya,” was apparently too much for diehard fans to cope with – “Oh no! Skinny Puppy’s gone industrial/metal… the horror!” And yet, a song like “Curcible” is just as exemplary of the band’s varied and atmospheric approach as any, teeter-tottering between the forceful thrust of the guitars and dark piano passages akin to “Killing Game.” Even “Hardset Head” would ultimately become a fan favorite, finding its way on the setlist for this year’s final tour, along with “Candle,” whose jangly acoustic guitar arpeggios supplemented by cold waves of ambient pads would inform later “ballads” like “Haze,” “Jaher,” and “Wavy.” Sure, the distorted riffs are perhaps overstated, but again, the song snuck its way into the fans’ favor. Songs like “Cult” and “Amnesia” also fall into this category, demonstrative of the musicality and poeticism the band was and is still capable of.

And then you have songs like “Process,” “Blue Serge,” and “Morter” that are perhaps closer to the classic Skinny Puppy sound, with the latter relegating the guitars to little more than a sample for the mangling and mauling; with its contrast of metallic and energetic vocals, along with its shimmering pianos and organ touches, and some rather catchy bass lines, the song deserves more love than it generally receives. The same could be said of “Blue Serge,” its modular synth performance and muscular drumbeats somehow giving it the feel of a ‘90s rendition of “Assimilate,” while “Process” is a truly haunting centerpiece whose chanted chorus of “Progressed! We have progressed!” is so poignantly satirical, and even a bit saddening as it was perhaps intended as an anthemic declaration for the band.

Key himself has often lamented The Process as an incomplete work whose full potential simply wasn’t realized due to the myriad obstacles to its production, and this has in some ways been supported by the later reveal of numerous demos and tracks that hint at ideas and directions that weren’t fully explored. Songs from the same sessions, like “Morphous” and “HateKILL,” would take on a life of their own, and Ogre would continue to employ more of the clean and melodic vocals in later material. The abundance of instrumental and vocal contributions from Pat Sprawl, Martin Atkins, Lauren Boquette of Drown, Pepperdine, and Phil “Philth” Western also add to the album’s mystique, though it might beckon the question of perhaps too many cooks. On top of that, Goettel’s loss is still keenly felt today, though some have used his passing as fodder for their arguments against what Skinny Puppy would create after the reformation; these are usually the same people who make such irresponsible and asinine statements like “Ogre was better when he was on drugs.” Fuck off!

This writer has always been of the mind that the album had been harshly judged – proverbially kicking the wounded puppy – so, no, The Process does not suck… at least, not entirely. It is certainly a flawed record, and glaringly so in some respects; yet, despite this, many fans have come around to its stronger qualities and accepted it for what it is: a missed opportunity for reinvention and reinvigoration. Thankfully, Skinny Puppy returned and gave us a more proper and constructive sendoff in the final tour.
Track list:

  1. Jahya
  2. Death
  3. Candle
  4. Hardset Head
  5. Cult
  6. Process
  7. Curcible
  8. Blue Serge
  9. Morter
  10. Amnesia
  11. Cellar Heat

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  1. m1ke says:

    This album came out while I was in college, which is when I was most plugged into the online community (RMI forever), and I scored a promo copy a month prior to release and… I really liked it. “Loved it” might be going too far, but I was psyched to have a new SP album after 4 years, and enjoyed most of the album. I had no idea I was in such a minority. Honestly, I have always liked this album much more than any that came after it.

    I think maybe after FLA’s Millennium, the idea that an industrial group could suddenly add a lot more guitar sound than they used to incorporate (and that it could work well) made this album a lot less surprising for me than others?

    • I’m not sure I can say that you or I were in a minority or not; really, my observations were based on the people I knew who were diehard cans (or claimed to be) and didn’t think Skinny Puppy should be going that more guitar-heavy route, and the critics were pretty hard on the album at the time.
      When The Greater Wrong of the Right came out, I remember a lot of people upset that it wasn’t Too Dark Park 2 or ViVisectVI 2 or whatever – meanwhile, I was loving it for being fresh, modern, but still having the Skinny Puppy sound, and how some songs felt like the logical next step after The Process.. Then the subsequent albums came out; I even had a laugh with Ogre about how every time a new album came out, the people who hated on the last one all of sudden loved it so they could hate on the new one.
      But time has a way of changing opinions, and I do know a few of those same people that said they didn’t like The Process changed their minds… or maybe they simply didn’t want to be the voices of dissent. That happens too. -Shrug-
      Personally, I’ve always enjoyed The Process and thought it could’ve been a bold move had it been completed the way the band envisioned. I mean, it wasn’t entirely their fault that things went south (well, maybe in the literal sense for moving from Vancouver to Malibu), but it wasn’t all the record company saying “go commercial” either. As I pointed out, there were a lot of factors that pretty much doomed it from the start.
      In any case, thank you so much for the comment. I hope you at least enjoyed the RetroView. :)

  2. Nice research. I spent 4 or 5 months of my life in Malibu producing that album xxxxx

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