Friday, December 14, 2007

Skinny Puppy - Too Dark Park (1990)

Rating: 9.5

The soundtrack to a nightmare.

One of the bigger names in the world of industrial music, Skinny Puppy created an industrial masterpiece in Too Dark Park. It truly is the soundtrack to a nightmare. With the "lyrics" consisting largely of spoken lines such as "he's losing his mind; he feels it going," "downward, downward, downward, downward," and "are you afraid," this is an album that will sen shivers down your spine from start to finish. Of course, the music behind these ominous lyrics is just as much responsible.

The songs are built around electronic beats backed by samples of horror films, along with driving bass lines and a few other elements, managing to create sparse soundscapes that sound deeper than they actually are. And, of course, it's all done in a way to maximize the horror factor. Take, for example, "Tormentor." While it starts innocently enough with a beat that is actually quite catchy, as soon as the first sample comes in, it starts descending into the netherworlds, never rising again. And then, of course, there's "Grave Wisdom," which has to rank as one of the ten scariest songs I've ever heard.

Don't be fooled into thinking that this album is accessible because most songs have at least semi-recognizable beats. While it certainly isn't as abrasive as, say, Throbbing Gristle's music, it is far from what you would play at parties. Instead, it's more along the lines of the background music to a virgin sacrifice of old. "Spasmolytic" highlights this aspect with its almost tribal beat, ritualistic chanting, and trance-inducing bass-line. All of this, of course, pounds along with an intensity rarely seen in music.

Despite it's inaccessibility, there is an underlying catchiness to the music. The repetitive nature of the songs can easily lure the listener into a trance, only to be thrown off-guard by the positively evil vocals. As such, it's one of those rare CDs where two opposing elements (in this case the abrasive and the meditative) are perfectly balanced to create a unique effect where the music simultaneously falls at both ends of the spectrum. That's a special feeling, and this album explores it perfectly.

The real clincher for Too Dark Park, however, is its astounding consistency. From the first second to the last, there is not so much as a weak moment. Every song is roughly on the same level (though "Grave Wisdom" and "Spasmolytic" stand out to a degree), and that level is tremendously high. There are no songs that come out of nowhere to ruin the mood (think "Not Now John" on Pink Floyd's The Final Cut); in fact, each song seems to build on the last, increasing the intensity until it finally ends with "Reclamation," which may well be the most intense of the lot.

This determination to go out with a bang, coupled with the juxtaposition of opposing elements and stunning consistency makes Too Dark Park one of the best CDs I've discovered recently. You are missing out if you haven't heard this masterpiece. I give it my highest recommendation.

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