When a recent Senate Intelligence Committee Report revealed that the CIA ran a hidden post-9/11 black site at Guantanamo Bay detention camp, where prisoners were subjected to interrogation techniques that were tantamount to torture, the news didn’t shock Skinny Puppy frontman Nivek Ogre.
Two years ago, former Gitmo guard Terry Holdbrooks informed him that his band’s music had been employed to punish detainees there.
“They didn’t even use our actual recordings – they used bootlegs, so there was all sorts of hiss and distortion in the mix, which was probably even more disturbing to the person who was having it done to them,” says Ogre.
Given that Skinny Puppy – through definitive mid-1980s efforts like “Bites” and “Remission” – virtually created the gear-grinding industrial sound, Ogre responded aggressively, once provoked. First, he composed an entire album based on the incident, “Weapon,” which the group backs in The City this week.
Then he billed the U.S. government $666,000 for illegal usage of his material.
That’s his more merciful side. “Originally, we wanted to create an album to actually torture people,” he says. “We were going to learn everything we could about audible torture, use various frequencies, and even have a guidebook that went along with it. And the cover was going to be the invoice.”
Instead, “Weapon” features mechanical-spider artwork, and jarring juggernauts like “illisiT,” “survivalisto,” and the operatic closer “terminal,” plus a re-tooled “Remission”-era “solvent.”
It’s the group’s most commanding work in years. Initially, the treatise was met with silence.
“But in Arizona, we did one interview for the tour, and the story went viral,” Ogre recalls. “And honestly, I think it was a right-wing lash-out toward Obama, because he hadn’t done anything about Guantanamo, and shutting it was one of his promises. But in stories, we were called everything from ‘dark heavy-metal Canadian rockers’ to ‘Satanic Eskimo techno band.’”
Finally, BBC News weighed in on the Puppy plight, and contacted the Pentagon for an official statement.
“The Pentagon would neither confirm nor deny receiving my letter with our invoice,” says Ogre, laughing. “That was the best response I could have gotten, actually. And naturally, there were snarky online comments, like ‘I’d be tortured, just listening to Skinny Puppy, too!’”
Still, the group turned darkness into an uplifting concert.
The current tour features elaborate costumes, flickering TV screens, Go-Pro cameras, and a coyote taxidermy model named Cedric that’s become the band’s mascot. “The message is based on the trickle-up theory,” says Ogre. “That if you treat the smaller things better – like ants, bees, even bacteria – we might have a better world at the end of the day.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Warfield, 982 Market St., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 19
Tickets: $37.50 to $40
Contact: (415) 345-0900, www.axs.com