“The Billion-Year Voyage”: Skinny Puppy’s Last Rights
CONTENT WARNING: Drug abuse and its effects, death, sexual content, gore, a tiny amount of misogynistic language, graphic descriptions of fictionalized animal abuse, and a NSFW album cover
Last year I had begun working on an article to commemorate the 25th anniversary of my all-time favorite album: Skinny Puppy’s Last Rights. I was never quite satisfied with it, so I let it sit for the rest of the year. Once I was asked to appear on the Dig Me Out podcast to discuss the followup to Last Rights (The Process), I decided to go back and finish this as a sort of lead-in to that episode. Skinny Puppy has long maintained a passionate core fanbase, but I wanted to honor their work with something that could reach outside their bubble.
I’ll discuss the wider context surrounding the group and their music leading up to this album. I will give a detailed track-by-track review of the album, followed by a discussion of the Last Rights tour and the fallout from the album. I won’t assume any familiarity with industrial music, so don’t worry — I’ll explain things as I go along!
“The Soundtrack to a Band Tearing Itself Apart”
Skinny Puppy had steadily built steam since their inception in 1982. They were among the most important pioneers of industrial music’s second wave. First-wave artists like Throbbing Gristle and Einstürzende Neubauten experimented with harsher sounds (often using scrap metal and household objects as instruments) and tended not to care for traditional song structures. The likes of Front 242 and early Puppy, on the other hand, kept some of those noises while adding elements of electro and synthpop to create a more dance-friendly sound called Electronic Body Music (EBM). They actually wrote songs, with proper choruses and everything! Even from the onset, however, Puppy was experimenting with much gloomier sounds; those just tended to appear in shorter asides rather than fully-developed songs.
Skinny Puppy’s initial two members were Kevin Ogilvie (better known by the stage name Nivek Ogre) and Kevin Crompton (also better known by his stage name, cEvin Key). Ogre has always handled the vocals and lyrics, and he has been the driving creative force behind their live shows and subject matter. Key is more of a sonic architect, working with the group’s array of drums and synths and samples to help form their sound. Their third member in their early period was Wilhelm Schroeder (AKA Bill Leeb), who left in 1986 to form the seminal industrial group Front Line Assembly. He was soon replaced with classically-trained pianist Dwayne Goettel, who helped shift Puppy in a darker direction. The dancefloor beats and synths of their first couple releases were replaced with sounds that created an atmosphere worthy of great horror films. Goettel played keyboards at their live shows and worked closely with Key in writing their music. All three members of the group helped find samples from films and TV to insert into their music, making for one of their most unique and memorable elements.
This was when Puppy began drawing mainstream attention throughout much of the west. Their music video for the song “Dig It” received a decent amount of airplay on MTV, and even more on their native Canada’s Much Music channel. Furthermore, their longtime record label, a smaller outfit called Nettwerk, had worked out a distribution deal with Capitol Records for Skinny Puppy and some of their other artists. This gave them exposure to a wider audience, particularly in Europe, that few other industrial artists could match. The group continued to hone their electro-industrial style throughout the rest of the 1980s, with the group themselves and many of their fans viewing 1988’s VIVISectVI (pronounced “Vivisect Six”) as the apex of this period. After this album, things began to grow sour.
Before the release of VIVISectVI Ogre had become friends with Ministry frontman Al Jourgensen, and he even joined the band on the tour for their landmark album The Land of Rape and Honey. Ministry was one of the few industrial acts selling more records than Skinny Puppy at this time, and this was when they had begun transitioning to a hybrid style of industrial and thrash metal. Ogre became fascinated with this idea and enlisted Jourgensen to help produce their next album, 1989’s Rabies. Key and Goettel were strongly against this, preferring to stick with their longtime producer Dave “Rave” Ogilvie (who in the distant future went on to produce, I shit you not, “Call Me Maybe”). Ogre overruled them, resulting in Rave and Jourgensen working together on production. Jourgensen also played guitar on many of the songs, giving the album a sound that divided Skinny Puppy’s fanbase and the group itself.
Rabies is cited as having sold over 150,000 copies (an enormous figure by the standards of industrial music at that time if true), but Key and Goettel felt that it wasn’t truly a Skinny Puppy work. Further complicating things was the fact that this was the first time Puppy didn’t tour in support of an album; Ogre instead opted to contribute some vocals to Ministry’s The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste and tour with them once again. Key’s and Goettel’s feelings of betrayal over this led to an ever-increasing amount of friction within the group, but it was this environment that helped foster what is widely considered to be their best work.
1990’s Too Dark Park marked the beginning of another significant change in music style for Skinny Puppy. During the early to mid-90s, industrial music would become more codified than it had been in the past. The most popular artists in the genre tended to make music you could dance and/or bang your head to, but Puppy stood out as the greatest exception to this statement. Too Dark Park had some tracks reminiscent of their classic 80s electro-industrial, a couple EBM-style songs that wouldn’t be out of place in a goth nightclub, and even a guitar-heavy piece. However, moments like “Convulsion” are difficult to put into words: a torrent of harrowing noises layered on top of one another while maintaining just enough musical conventions to feel like music. In retrospect, this track was quite a preview for their next album.
Too Dark Park is often regarded as Skinny Puppy’s defining masterpiece and one of the greatest industrial albums of all time, but conditions between the group members remained hostile during its creation. Things only worsened once they moved on to their next album and the subject of this article, 1992’s Last Rights. Everybody in the group had drug problems that grew more severe as the 90s progressed, and that was clearer in the making of this album than ever before. Key and Goettel would compose music during the day, and Ogre was only allowed into the studio at night under Rave’s supervision to record vocals. Ogre and Key in particular couldn’t even stand to be in the same room together, and this state of affairs is reflected in both the album’s main subject matter and the music itself. The quote used as this section’s title comes from this review and it’s particularly apt once you know what became of Puppy after this album. Ogre himself has referred to Last Rights as his own personal “document of delusion”, and his lyrics make that theme apparent.
1. Love In Vein
One important note before we begin this deep dive: This should not be the first Skinny Puppy album you listen to. I would consider Too Dark Park mandatory listening since there are stylistic similarities, and would also highly recommend you listen to at least one of their 80s albums barring Rabies. Also, special thanks to Corey Goldberg for his work in transcribing the lyrics to this entire album!
Right off the bat we get an unsettling intro: as Ogre whispers in barely legible fashion, we hear a distorted marching-band record and a warped voice seemingly telling Ogre to “wind the record player up”. As the song proper begins with some of Puppy’s signature drumloops, Ogre raises his voice to say “the needle is warm in the arm”. If it wasn’t obvious enough from the song’s title, it should be now: this is an album about Ogre’s own drug addiction and its effects on him. It’s a drastic thematic departure from their previous work, which often dealt with wider sociopolitical issues (especially animal rights). If anything this album is much closer to Nine Inch Nails in terms of focus on the personal, but Ogre’s lyrical approach means it still doesn’t feel like NIN at all. Whereas Trent Reznor is much more straightforward in his lyrics, Ogre has always preferred an ambiguous stream-of-consciousness style that seems to be communicating general sentiments more than any specific point. I’ve always interpreted Skinny Puppy’s words as the attempt of an intelligent person on drugs to make sense of the fucked-up world surrounding him, but there will be moments in Last Rights where nothing makes sense anymore.
Honestly, as an album opener, this isn’t nearly as outwardly scary as “Convulsion”. You have that constant piano sample being played backwards, sure, but the noises aren’t nearly as harsh and the song has a normal structure for Skinny Puppy. There are some oddly beautiful synths which nonetheless feel part of the doom and gloom in their surrounding context, and these become more apparent as the song progresses. They even sample the Beatles’ “Revolution 9” here! This song turns out to be the sort of introduction that gives you a small taste of what’s to come while ensuring that you won’t expect it when it does.
Where this song is scarier than “Convulsion” is in the lyrics. They’re the most graphic of this album, as you may have suspected from the beginning line I quoted. To wit: “river of track mark/volcano upon the arm/open sores allowing ants to crawl in”. There’s also this powerful description of the addict’s isolation: “wasted away island body on a darkened sea”. Ogre even sums up the physical sensation of heroin as “a pain that never dies/crawls up the back.” The clearest and most memorable line, however, is the closing bit: “heart exploding/human heart attack”. S. Alexander Reed, in his wonderful book Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music, describes this song as “a heroin high gone wrong” and I think that fits perfectly.
2. Killing Game
And suddenly…a ballad. Industrial music is generally not known for them, and Skinny Puppy in particular had never tried one before. And when I say “ballad”, I mean that this song straight-up uses the musical conventions of the rock ballad. It’s just done with synths and drum machines instead of guitars!
This easily could have been an embarrassment given what I mentioned above, but it worked out remarkably well. It’s a slow burn in terms of both the music itself and Ogre’s vocals; the intensity gradually builds over the course of the song, climaxing in pounding percussion while Ogre acknowledges his guilt by shouting. There’s some great piano usage here, and Ogre’s initial admission that “I…taught…the killing game…first” is made with a pensive delivery that has stuck with me ever since I first heard it. YouTube music reviewer Killbot&GorGorAttack!! has mentioned that this album is both their noisiest and their calmest, and moments like that are striking examples of the latter statement.
Lyrically this is one of the more ambiguous songs on Last Rights. It’s never made explicitly clear exactly what “the killing game” is, though the most likely interpretation is drug addiction. That would make this a song about Ogre’s guilt over drawing others into his lifestyle, which fits this album much more than anything else I could think of. As a slight aside, at one point Ogre talks about “pushing faces through shards cold glass/poke bloody holes exposed”; this could reasonably be seen as a reference to meth since “glass” is a slang term for it. We mainly hear about Ogre’s problems with heroin and cocaine during this time, but this and some lyrics on the next track make me wonder if meth was involved as well.
If you’ve listened to other Skinny Puppy albums you probably came away from the first two songs wondering how this one got its reputation. Well, look no further because your rude awakening is right here.
This is a giant wall of noise with new layers of noise added on top as the track progresses. In a word: claustrophobic. In a phrase: the addict’s loss of control in musical form. Unless you’re already a fan of Merzbow or the Gerogerigegege you will not be ready for this, period.
If you can handle that, I think this is an awfully rewarding track. Much like “Love In Vein”, the music fits the theme wonderfully; things just sound as if Ogre’s entire life is crashing down around him, particularly when his speech becomes unintelligible. The lyrics bring other issues into play as well. For instance, there are clearly relationship problems involved here — at one point he seems to be saying “promise your heart to the slut who last slept in your bed”. More fascinating is a line suggestive of sexual dysfunction: “self satisfier burns the genitals down no sensation.” That sure sounds like masturbation habits killing one’s ability to enjoy sex with others, but it may also reflect something more drug-related. Lack of sex drive was a particular fascination for Ogre during this time, and it’s another recurring theme of this album. There’s also another possible reference to meth here with “broken glass in a crystal blown problem room.”
Beyond that, this song provides one of the starkest illustrations of the “document of delusion” theme I mentioned earlier. Ogre has publicly mentioned that he was experiencing paranoid visions (e.g. seeing objects emerging from the walls) when his addictions were at their worst. Mid-way through the song, the noise comes to a brief halt while Ogre hauntingly says “one of two looks back…wonder which is real”. Between that and the music surrounding it, it’s hard not to think that this is way of capturing those delusions in his work.
There is one final, er, legend surrounding this song which needs to be mentioned. There are certain points where Ogre’s voice fades, most obviously in the closing line. People within the industrial scene and on the Internet have long claimed that this fading was due to him having a seizure due to drug overdose, and that this seizure was left in the final recording. When asked about this in an interview Ogre said that he did in fact have such a seizure…while writing the track. He wasn’t composing the music for this album, so he may indeed have meant “recording the vocals” there. Still, I don’t think that’s enough to confirm the story for sure.
This leaves me in an uncomfortable position. This may well be my favorite song on the album, but it’s hard to know whether some of that comes from that rumor unconsciously appealing to me. It seems awfully wrong to derive pleasure from that kind of ~*suffering for one’s art*~, but I guess all I can do is look at the music and the messages independently of that. I will admit, however, that the lore is a reason I view “Knowhere?” as the track that most strongly embodies Last Rights.
4. Mirror Saw
Actually, it’s the sequence of the previous track and this one that probably best sums up this album. After the sonic hellscape that is “Knowhere?” we are transported straight into Last Rights’ calmest piece. Ogre hardly raises his voice throughout this one, staying in a much more reflective mood. The music is also far more subdued and gives off a “nighttime” ambience, with some synths that have Goettel’s fingerprints all over them.
That said, there’s another side to this song that’s almost never brought up: some of the lyrics are more depraved than anything on “Knowhere?”. At one point Ogre casually states “a dead child was thrown through a window”, for example. I’m inclined to see that as another of the “delusions” we discussed previously, particularly since he immediately moves on to other things afterward. It makes for quite the juxtaposition with the music, in any case.
More than anything, this song seems to follow up on the relationship mentioned in “Knowhere?” Ogre repeatedly talks about “the real you” near the end, along with the phrase “love shines through a powder”. Perhaps this is a relationship built on shared addiction, and perhaps this song reflects Ogre coming down from the high of the previous track and wondering where things are heading. The closing line seems to provide the answer to that question: “Final curtain/What’s become of me and you?”
Lyrics aside, this is one of the easier listens on this album and an excellent followup to the previous track. There’s a reason this is a common favorite among the hardcore fans!
Confession time: I don’t really like Skinny Puppy’s “singles sound”. I’m not including all of their singles in that statement, but there’s a certain style shared by some of them that bores me. I don’t like “Dogshit” at all and “Tormentor” is easily my least favorite song from Too Dark Park. I love Skinny Puppy for their complex and layered sounds that take multiple listens to fully appreciate, but songs like these are much simpler and sparser in comparison.
Why am I bringing this up now? This song is part of that lineage. It’s even more of an obvious club single than the others I mentioned, with thumping drumloops and a steady beat throughout. This was actually the only single released from Last Rights; “Love In Vein” had a planned single release that was canceled, and “Killing Game” got a music video but wasn’t officially a single. In theory “Inquisition” should be horribly out of place on this album, yet I don’t mind this one at all. It’s still not among my favorites here but I’ve come to like it.
Even given the dancefloor trappings of this song, it still feels like this album is where it belongs. While some of their other singles maintained a more “vanilla” sound, this one branches out a little more. In particular, the synths and the moments of heavy vocal distortion fit right in with the likes of “Love In Vein” and add a lot of life to this one. These elements make the dance beats a welcome bit of variety rather than a distraction. The Beatles are sampled again here — “Helter Skelter” in this case.
Additionally, there’s more meat to the lyrics than you may expect from this kind of song. The main subject is a “torturer” whose identity is never revealed, though other lyrics provide some clues. The song continually references animal abuse at the hands of the torturer, bringing to mind all of Skinny Puppy’s previous music dealing with animal rights. We also have lines like “ailing from substance abuse/wicked resenting never facing itself” suggesting there’s more going on here than political invective. I would argue for a double meaning here: the torturer may be any one of the corporations or laboratories the group has criticized in the past, but Ogre himself is a torturer in denial as well.
Before moving on I should note that this is commonly considered to be the peak of this album. I just have unusual tastes, so you will probably enjoy this song more than I do. This is also the last time you will hear anything approaching a traditional song on this album, so appreciate it while it lasts.
If “Knowhere?” represents the addict’s initial loss of control, this feels more like the point of no return. For all of its scariness, “Knowhere?” actually had a consistent melody — it was buried under increasingly oppressive layers of noise, but it was there. This one, on the other hand, is alllllllll over the place.
The sound here really matches the title. Compared to the demonic howls of “Knowhere?” things are much more mechanical, with sounds of operating machinery and objects being demolished. The lyrics are even more abstract than usual for Skinny Puppy, but there seems to be a theme of Ogre running away from his issues. The only phrase used more than once in this song is “best left unsaid” and there are other lines pointing to this idea. He also says “torture myself” at one point, perhaps implying that he knows what he’s doing to himself but can no longer break out of it. The highly distorted closing line of “oh, we all had to be addicted to one thing or another” is even more suggestive of both of these points.
I don’t want to say too much more since this song’s best quality is the surprises it throws at you. I will only add that this may be the best use of samples on this album and up there with anything they’ve ever done in that regard.
7. Riverz End
Once again we see a pattern of harsh noise immediately followed by calm. This is the first instrumental piece on Last Rights, and we’ll encounter two more in the short amount of time left. In the book Assimilate S. Alexander Reed wonders if having so many instrumentals so late in the album wasn’t intentional, but rather a function of Ogre being so difficult to work with. I’m not entirely sold on that theory for a couple reasons: Skinny Puppy had always been fond of ending their albums with noisy instrumentals, and this particular track is based on a previous instrumental.
“Riverz End” is something of a mashup and remix of the final two tracks from Rabies, “Rivers” and “Choralone”. “Rivers” is the instrumental I mentioned above and the main basis of this track’s sound, while “Choralone” is a spoken-word routine set to samples of ritualistic chanting. One highly unusual aspect of “Riverz End” is that it doesn’t add any speech samples; “Rivers” was littered with A Clockwork Orange samples, and almost all other Skinny Puppy instrumentals make frequent use of this technique.
As with the “Knowhere?” -> “Mirror Saw” sequence, the previous track and this one seem can easily be interpreted as a particularly nasty drug experience and its aftereffects. The synths here are worthy of a movie soundtrack and will feel downright serene if you’re listening to the whole album in order, though the percussion and surrounding machine-like sounds are much harsher than anything on “Rivers”. These elements grow stronger over the course of the track, with the “Choralone” chanting beginning about halfway through.
The overall effect of this one is a brief moment of happiness leading into more uncertainty then depression. In this interview cEvin Key describes the track as a couple brief swims with a break in between, which had never occurred to me before. It always struck me more as the protagonist finding himself free of the addiction miasma before quickly falling back into it. That interpretation will make far more sense once you hear the end, I assure you.
8. Lust Chance
And we immediately head into another instrumental! If the title left any doubts as to the theme of this piece, they’ll disappear once you start hearing the samples of a woman moaning. The softer percussion feels right at home here, too. Later on you’ll run into some sounds that come completely out of nowhere, not unlike “Scrapyard”.
Some consider this the weak link of the album but I’m not among them. I see the “random” stops and starts and pounding as a musical way of displaying the sexual issues discussed in the “Knowhere?” section. Ogre seems to have lost all ability to enjoy anything but drugs no matter how hard he tries, with the end of this piece reflecting that in a particularly pitiful way.
By the way, a Skinny Puppy fan forum once had a post from someone claiming to have asked cEvin Key about the samples in this track. According to them, Key said that a young female employee at Nettwerk was given the (not-so?) enviable task of performing them. I have no idea if this is true or not, though it sounds highly plausible.
Ogre speaks again! This one admirably continues the theme of unexpected sounds just when you let your guard down. The lyrics mainly appear to deal with more delusions of Ogre’s and even tie them into the song title. Early on he says “I looked upon the circus in the sky” soon followed by “colorized ceiling paranoia/make it go away”. There’s also a point where he goes “lies desperate/lies pattern/lies inside”, and he ends the song with “pattern word/pattern lies”. He seems to be acknowledging his own guilt in some unspoken transgression while feeling powerless to change himself.
There are some moments here that don’t sound like anything else Skinny Puppy has ever done. The “circus” theme applies to more than just the lyrics, and the drumming near the end makes this sound like a rock song minus the guitars. Some quieter periods are mixed in, too — this is a track that demands several listens.
I find that this song tends to get lost in the shuffle for most people, but it’s one of my favorites. I’m a sucker for unique noises and variety within a song, what can I say? I think the problem is most likely due to its placement on the album. Last Rights is uneven in the sense that the more “normal” songs are frontloaded while, as you may have noticed by now, the latter half is reserved for the more experimental work. “Circustance” stands out less than “Knowhere?” for that reason, and it’s also much easier to remember the final track than the last couple before it. If you’re in this boat and don’t remember this track that well, I highly recommend you go back and just listen to it on its own!
Umm…wait a second, 11 doesn’t come after 9, right? Did we stumble upon some alternate dimension here?
Step back, because it’s story time…
10. Left Handshake
So, this track isn’t actually on the album. It was meant to be until those darned legal issues got in the way.
See, this one heavily samples Timothy Leary’s famous Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out documentary and album. You likely know Dr. Leary as the most famous ambassador for LSD, but he was also pretty connected to the industrial music scene around this time; he performed spoken word for a song by Al Jourgensen’s Revolting Cocks. He even allowed Jourgensen (and Butthole Surfers singer Gibby Haynes) to live with him for free, provided they agreed to subject themselves to his drug experiments!
Though Skinny Puppy had obtained Leary’s blessing for this piece, it turned out that he didn’t own the rights to his own work. The actual copyright holders threatened legal action over the samples, forcing this song off of the album. It was still used as the closer for their live shows around this time, and it eventually had a limited-edition single release at their 2000 reunion show.
The main thrust of this song is “Ogre constantly argues with Leary’s advice on tripping and refuses to face his problems.” Leary’s meditative tone makes for a striking contrast with Ogre’s shouting, and he even appears to make Ogre pause and reflect for brief moments. Ogre’s behavior is that of a man not long for this world: he asks for help, says “I decayed and rot away” and “you can’t heal a soul” in the face of said help, exclaims “why can’t they see I’m still in control?”, then acknowledges his “guilt and denial”. “Flip or toss this coin, head or tail/Cause effect breakdown, inexperience fails” is a succinct encapsulation of the day-to-day experience of heroin addiction: inject, or stay in bed and feel like dying. He ends the song by stating “weakness, sickness grows inside” followed by a likely self-critical “wishing you could grow up”.
Musically this is the simplest track on the album. In fact, the most memorable part to me is when the music mostly ceases and the spoken word takes over. Having never seen or heard Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out when I first heard this song, I was transfixed by Leary’s speaking style and his urging to forget everything about yourself when you begin a LSD trip. “You can’t take that…on the billion-year voyage” has stuck with me ever since then, and that latter phrase sums up the album as a whole for me.
If you have the album, I would strongly recommend finding this song and adding it in its intended place. The Leary samples and interplay really make it stand out here!
OK, now we’re ready to tackle the end of Last Rights. Once again we have some unsettling piano, and that’s not all this piece has in common with “Love In Vein”. I would argue the two tracks describe the same series of events (that fatal “heroin high gone wrong”) in vastly different fashion. While “Love In Vein” did so with some gruesome lyrics, “Download” achieves it entirely through sound itself.
From the moment you hear what sounds like a CD in fast-forward, you know things aren’t quite right even by this album’s standards. As I mentioned earlier, Skinny Puppy had ended most of their previous albums with instrumental tracks that tended to be more…apocalyptic than their surrounding material, and this is the definitive example of that. There’s howling more demented than the sounds on “Knowhere?” and samples that may be creepier than anything else here. There are a few distinct sections to this piece, each of which sounds like a completely different song, and when put together it flat-out feels like an overdose. It’s one hell of a trip to close this out, and I mean that in every sense of the word.
Once you reach about five and a half minutes into this, things completely change in yet another unexpected way: the noises completely stop and are replaced by a soft yet haunting keyboard line in a single pitch. This repeats for nearly six minutes. The keyboards were actually performed by Martijn de Kleer of the Legendary Pink Dots (who have a long history with cEvin Key in particular) and recorded without his knowledge. The significance of this section became obvious pretty quickly to me: this is a musical way of depicting Ogre’s death. Key even says this in an interview, comparing it to a flat line and calling it “audio death”.
Altogether this track is a masterpiece of noise — there’s a reason everybody who’s listened to this album remembers “Download”. If you like Whitehouse or Japanese noise, this may be a good starting point for you to discover Skinny Puppy. It’s one of my absolute favorites from Last Rights, and some of their strongest work ever in my view.
Last Rights Tour
Live shows have always been one of the most important elements of the Skinny Puppy experience. They were careful in choosing their songs for that environment, and Ogre’s on-stage performance art grew increasingly elaborate over the years. For the VIVISectVI tour he came up with a shocking way to stress that album’s animal-rights message: donning a lab coat and performing vivisection on a lifelike stuffed dog. The dog was realistic enough to fool the Cincinnati police, who arrested them during that tour! The Too Dark Park tour was gore layered on top of gore, with horror-movie footage being played alongside a Japanese “simulated snuff film” series known as Guinea Pig while a mutilated Ogre strapped himself to a chair with hypodermic needles attached. This marked the point where Ogre grew frustrated with this approach, as fans would tell him how cool the brutality was while utterly missing the point. The Too Dark Park tour was supposed to be a social experiment gauging people’s reactions to more realistic violence when displayed alongside exaggerated movie violence, but industrial music’s aesthetic tends to attract a lot of gore freaks who eat all of it up.
In response to this phenomenon the Last Rights tour greatly scaled back the violence. There was a tree with some severed heads on it, but that was about it. The main focus of Ogre’s performance here, much like with the album itself, was the experience of drug addiction. The obvious metaphor here was a virtual-reality machine which Ogre would use at specific points in the set. As he strapped himself to it, the screen would show a video of him inside the machine being attacked by various creatures and convulsing in time with the music. Each time he did this he would leave the stage then return with an increasingly mutated appearance. After his final VR trip, Ogre would return as a creature called the Guiltman to perform “Left Handshake”. The Guiltman had the appearance of a classic horror-movie monster except with syringes sticking out from its body, along with the phrase “FORGIVE ME” engraved on its front.
In my view this remains Skinny Puppy’s most brilliant live show. Longtime superfan Corey Goldberg has an entire webpage on this tour featuring a great deal of photos and additional information, and it’s a must-see if you’re interested. We also have a fan’s footage of the full show from Dallas:
Last Rights is Skinny Puppy’s most personal, most confrontational, and least accessible album. And yet, it was among their best-selling albums ever. It marked the first time the group cracked the Billboard top 200 list, with the album peaking at #193 on the list. It also made the top 10 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart, which focuses on artists who’d never reached the top 100 albums list. Though their next album after this (The Process) peaked at #102 overall and #1 on Heatseekers, it fell off quickly after its first week and ended up selling less than their previous few releases. Last Rights remains their only album to have sold 100,000 copies according to Nielsen SoundScan, though we can’t fairly compare it to most of their work since SoundScan didn’t exist until 1991. This means the system underestimates Too Dark Park sales, much less those of anything from the 80s. Other sales figures tend to give vastly inflated numbers compared to SoundScan since they count albums shipped rather than sold, so it’s tough to interpret the claimed 150,000 number for Rabies.
I would have expected something this dark and unforgiving to be a commercial disaster, but it did well enough to attract the attention of major record labels. I suspect this result was mainly a matter of timing, as 1992 was a mainstream breakthrough year for industrial music. In addition to Last Rights it saw the release of Nine Inch Nails’ Broken EP (which earned them a Grammy award) and Ministry’s Psalm 69 (which went platinum and made them a headliner on the first Lollapalooza tour), not to mention an underground club classic in Front Line Assembly’s Tactical Neural Implant. Interest in the genre had steadily grown since NIN’s Pretty Hate Machine, and there were likely a lot of newer fans who had heard about Skinny Puppy from the countless articles and interviews citing them as a major influence on Trent Reznor. Last Rights also received consistently strong reviews from the magazines, which certainly didn’t hurt. In any case, it warms my heart to this day to see this level of success for this kind of project — that’s not how this story usually ends!
The boom in industrial and “alternative” rock made the 1990s a period of major labels signing artists who never would’ve had a chance with them before (helloooooooo, Melvins and The Jesus Lizard!). Everyone wanted the next Nirvana and the next Nine Inch Nails, so the labels started signing anybody with underground cred. Last Rights and the surrounding hype for industrial music made Skinny Puppy commercially desirable, and they ended up signing with Rick Rubin and his mid-major label American Recordings. Their only album to be released on American was The Process, and I will soon take part in an entire podcast on the bad luck and financial hemorrhaging involved with that one. Let’s just say that it killed the group for years…
26 years later, Last Rights remains among the most highly-regarded industrial albums ever; as of this writing it’s Skinny Puppy’s highest-ranked record on Rate Your Music, and the core industrial subculture still speaks of it in hushed tones. In fact, rarity and the album’s reputation have made its vinyl record a musical equivalent to the classic video game Earthbound; the record sells for over $400 nowadays! I mentioned Killbot&GorGorAttack!! earlier, but he also made an informative and endearingly cheesy video on this particular topic:
The early 1990s are now often considered to be Skinny Puppy’s best period, a sentiment I strongly share. They had become so musically distinct during a time when the rest of industrial music was closing ranks and growing increasingly samey. Dead When I Found Her is the only artist I know of who sounds anything like they did in this period, and the man behind that project is also a devoted Puppy fan. What makes Last Rights my all-time favorite album is its consistency and the atmosphere it creates. There is not a single track I would consider “weak” in the slightest, which I can’t even say about Too Dark Park. More importantly, this album feels more like addiction and depression and desperation and resignation than any other album feels like anything to me. It’s definitely not something you want to listen to every day because of that, but it finds new ways to reward you every time you give it a spin.
To close this, I’ll leave you with another unique video: a present-day walkthrough of the recording locations for Last Rights (and Too Dark Park) set to “Mirror Saw”:
- Corey Goldberg, for being Skinny Puppy’s most dedicated historian. I already thanked him earlier, but can’t do it enough!
- Killbot&GorGorAttack!! for several Skinny Puppy-related videos on a pretty big YouTube channel, particularly the one on the Last Rights vinyl. Kinda jealous of you for actually getting a copy, but I just can’t justify that much money for something I can’t even play at the moment.
- Emory Dixon, for the video of the recording locations for Last Rights. Not the sort of thing you see all the time!
- A local political activist and fellow Skinny Puppy devotee, for providing some helpful editing suggestions.
- An anonymous friend, for listening to this album and providing a more personal perspective on addiction. You can thank them for some of the more detailed drug-related insights!