College Countdown: 90FM’s Top 90 of 1996, 80 and 79

80. Skinny Puppy, The Process

I didn’t know that Skinny Puppy was still making music together as late as 1996. Maybe that’s because they barely were. The arduous process of recording The Process started in 1993, with the band intending to create a concept album about the nineteen-sixties cult the Process Church of the Final Judgement. The ethos of the group was sufficient dark and spooky for an industrial band like Skinny Puppy to hang their highly agitated music upon, but their label, Rick Rubin’s American Recordings, was apparently pushing them to go for a more commercial sound, maybe more akin to Nine Inch Nails, who were arguably at the peak of their popularity at the time. That pressure helped lead to the band cycling through multiple producers and enduring enough turmoil among themselves that founding member Nivek Ogre quit the group. Then keyboardist Dwayne Goettel died of a heroin overdose in the summer of 1995, creating a whole other level of hardship on the collective psyche of the band. Because of the long process of recording, American Recordings opted to reduce the band’s contract from the original commitment of three albums to just one, meaning Skinny Puppy knew they were likely to be without a label after the finished product was released. All of this gloom led to group simply affixing the words “THE END” to the end of the album’s liner notes. Despite the label’s misgivings, the band largely did what was asked of them, toning down their abrasive sound to come up with music that should have theoretically been more accessible to an audience that had been trained by Trent Reznor into finding a bit of industrial buzz to be palatable. I didn’t really work, though, as the critics were unkind and the mainstream still largely ignored the band. It also wasn’t the end, as Skinny Puppy reconvened a few years later–with Ogre back in the fold–and have been grinding out new material with reasonable consistency ever since.

79. Rush, Test for Echo

This is one of the most bizarre titles on the list for me. Or it would be if I didn’t feel like I knew exactly who to attribute it to: my good friend and teammate who I will refer to as Reynold! for our purposes here today. Okay, that might not be entirely accurate, since I believe he actually graduated and moved on to the real world a few months before the album was released, but his appreciation of Rush is so profound that I wouldn’t be surprised if the contrails left over from his presence weren’t enough to inspire deejays to helplessly pop the CD into the station player. With that in mind and conceding that I have almost nothing useful I can say about Rush, I asked Reynold! to tell me about the album. This is what he had to say: Neil Peart took drum lessons from Freddie Gruber to incorporate traditional grip technique in his drumming. It was the last studio album before Neil’s daughter was killed in a car crash and his wife died of cancer leaving him a bachelor and the future of Rush in serious jeopardy. It was the first album not pressed on vinyl. Otherwise, musically it is the same recipe of Canadian power trio prog-rock of the mid-90s. So, yeah. That.

An Introduction
–90 and 89: Antichrist Superstar and Three Snakes and One Charm
–88 and 87: No Code and Unplugged
–86 and 85: Greatest Hits Live and Gilded Stars and Zealous Hearts
–84 and 83: To the Faithful Departed and God’s Good Urges
–82 and 81: Billy Breathes and Sweet F.A.

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