Review Summary: Skinny Puppy step forward in their new, more accessible sound.
There's a big difference between the manic, drug & rage fueled output Skinny Puppy has released back in the 90s and the simplified, more straight-forward and often melancholic sound of the new millennium Skinny Puppy. Since Cevin Key and Ogre reformed the band they have relied on atmosphere and more conventional songwriting rather than a chaotic yet calculated structure with lots of industrial soundscapes bursting in. As a result 'HanDover' is one of their most quiet albums released.
Whether there are the mid-tempo melancholic tracks like "Wavy" or "Ashas" or the four-to-the-floor EBM/dance numbers "Point", "Icktums" and "Village" they all remain mostly predictable yet fun. But being built on melody and ambiance rather than sonic outbursts doesn't mean they're weaker than their early material. Some of the fans which still wait for a new "Last Rights" or "Too Dark Park" will be turned off by the ever evolving new sound.
However, on 'HanDover', more than ever, there's a slight confusion over who's the driving force behind the music. No doubt Cevin Key is still present, but some of the songs here tend to share the sound and progressions found on OhGr's 'UnDeveloped' (probably "Gambatte" is the most obvious example), and while the frontman's side project started as a different entity in sound it has managed to blend in on 'HanDover'. Whether Mark Walk (which works on both bands albums) and Ogre had a bigger influence over the material or 'UnDeveloped' has been sketched from the bulk of unreleased material that could have been the aborted Skinny Puppy album mentioned in interviews, it is unknown.
Regarding the tracks, none are bad, especially given the band's experience, but there are some highlights that really work."Ashas" is one of them, being a melancholic mid-tempo track dedicated to their late crew member Sasha Coon. Ogre's vocals are top notch here managing to really create a somber mood over the choir-like loop and violin sample that makes it truly sound like a funeral song.
"Village" is Skinny Puppy at their most KMFDM mode with waves of distorted guitars over a typical dance drum pattern and a shout out layered vocals chorus reminiscent of Sasha Konietzko's 'Angst' and 'Nihil' days, while "Point" relies on glitches and sound & vocal manipulation before an simple yet amazing synth pad comes in on the second part of the song almost covering the other instruments and giving the track a new tone and melody to it. "Wavy" includes a beautiful acoustic guitar and atmospheric strings while Ogre's vocals are great, but i can't help thinking of 'Mythmaker's "JaHer" (which in my opinion is on Top 3 best SP tracks), and how this seems rather incomplete put in comparison with it. Still, the song is one of the most enjoyable off the album.
Other tracks like the mentioned "Gambatte" or "Brownstone", may start a bit silly especially on vocals, but the former evolves to a great track that could as well have been included on 'UnDeveloped' and the latter, a story with creepy vocals is the only one that retains the band's early days sanatorium-like atmosphere.
On a negative side, the album's closer "Noisex" is a mourning of their glory days, being a 7-minute collage of soundscapes and manipulated vocals . It isn't as disturbingly chaotic as "Reclamation" or "Download" and not really going anywhere, so it is somehow hard to listen to it for the whole 7 minutes .
Overall 'HanDover' is not the album the old fans expected, but a step forward in their accessible new sound. However, giving the fact that the band's sound has always changed throughout their career, this should be seen with different eyes as a new concept and any release is worth checking out even if the listener is not a fan.