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coverpic flag Canada - Luna Kafé - Full Moon 13 - 11/14/97

Nettwerk / subconscious

Y'know, I cant help but feel sorry for cEvin Key. Now don't get me wrong, he's a talented guy, and I'm sure he's got quite a few years of good music ahead of him. But it seems that no matter what he does, he's always going to have the rotting, fetid carcass of Skinny Puppy hanging around his neck.

It's understandable, I suppose, given the enormous popularity, influence and obsessive following that Puppy enjoyed. And it's not as if Key is disowning his past, even despite the band's nasty break-up and ill-received final album, The Process. But still, many fans (especially the younger ones who never had the chance to witness Skinny Puppy in all their gory glory) seem to have difficulty accepting the very simple fact that Download - the project that Key and friends founded during SP's death throes in 1995 - is NOT Skinny Puppy Vesion 2.0.

Perhaps III will be the album that drives the point home. Named not only for the fact that it is the band's third release (assuming you don't count a pair of EPs and one limited edition album), but also because the departure of co-founder Mark Spybey has stripped the project down to a trio of Key, Phil "Philth" Western, and Anthony Valcic, III is Download's least Puppy-like effort by far. In my eyes (and ears), there are three (or if you prefer, III) reasons for this - the lack of Spybey's vocals, which were often processed to the point of being similar to those of SP's Ogre; the absence of Dwayne Goettel, Key's longtime writing partner who died before the first Download album was even released, but who appeared on all discs before III via material recorded before his death; and the increased involvement of Western in the collective's creative process.

In fact, if comparisons must be drawn, III has more in common with Western's other projects, such as Off & Gone, and Download's minimal techno alter ego pLATEAU than it does with any old Puppy droppings. The influence of the minimalist sounds of Germany's Basic Channel and Chain Reaction labels is also quite obvious throughout, as well as the clanky, experimental electronica of Autechre and their Skam Records cohorts. In genre terms, Download has moved farther from the industrial side of the field and are proceeding ever closer to the techno end zone.

Remaining from his earlier work, however, are Key's brooding ambient soundscapes, giving the material a dense and lush undercurrent that works in perfect harmony with the minimal beats that lay on top of the mix. The track Beauty In The Eyes is a great example of this juxtaposition: starting with a fragile, Aphex-style melody, and a crunchy beat floating around the edges, it moves into a stark centrepiece of ambience featuring a mournful cello, and then suddenly degenerates into a wall of static driven madness before fading into the next track. Even through all the stylistic dips and turns, it never seems to lose its focus or direction, a flaw that infiltrated some of Download's earlier material.

So, will this album be enough to lay that damned dog to rest once and for all? Let's hope so. In the meantime, try your best to forget the past, and just focus on the here and now. If you can manage it, you'll find yourself rewarded with a solid and inspired work that further blurs the lines between techno, experimental and industrial music.

Copyright © 1997 Greg Clow

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