Sometimes all my life needs is a barge full of riffs and grooves. What’s that I see coming into port? The members of Skinless in a tugboat bringing me one of the biggest riff hauls of 2018 in the form of Savagery, their new record out May 11th on Relapse. This is a band that has been through a few ups and downs since their inception in 1998, but they are back with their second album since they reformed in 2013. This is rough-and-tumble death metal that isn’t playing around. With booming growls and production that sounds like it was transported from the 80s, this is a dense record. Writing this review is going to be tough whilst headbanging.
The title track is the first you’ll hear when you press play and it lets you know right away that Skinless aren’t playing around. With a windy ambiance and a vocal call to arms, the build-up is a quick ramp up into the mid-tempo riffs that we love in death metal. There’s a multitude of vocal approaches here with a little call-and-response going on to help keep things moving. The guitar tones are muddy and gritty, and that makes me endlessly happy. I like the production of my death metal records to sound like it was left outside for a few years. This one fits the bill. There’s also some pretty neat atmospheric moments that are laid in here that let the song breathe and give the composition some depth. “Savagery” is a great start to Savagery.
After the more straightforward “Siege Engine”, we get the interesting and unique “Skull Session”. It starts with some watery echoing that comes to a quick resolution before the pounding groove lands. The verses stick to a minimal riffage, and the guitar solo is efficient and effective. Again, the vocals are complex and it really gives the song some breadth. At this point in the record, it’s clear that there are some mildly progressive moments on these tracks that help set them apart from the death metal milieu. The two-minute instrumental passage “Reversal of Fortune” is a slow, plodding collection of riffs, bells, and bass that’s somewhat uncommon and Savagery is all the better for it.
For all of its progressive experimentation, there are some tracks that just stick to their guns. “Line of Dissent” is one such track that channels Entombed and makes great use of the drumming and powerful vocals. It’s groovy in all the right places, and the guitar solo sticks to the lower half of the frets. It’s one of my favorite tracks to be found in the list. “Cruel Blade Of The Guillotine” wraps up Savagery with some massive vocal moments and sits in that mid-tempo pocket where most of the record resides. This song also does a little more with atmospherics than most of the tracks, adding some interesting flair as it winds down.
Death metal can be really hard to review sometimes. At its core, the genre is made of fewer elements than much of the music that I listen to. You really only need some riffs and growls to get people labeling you a death metal act. This isn’t to belittle death metal: I really love the purity of it. What Skinless does is take those building blocks and shave a few edges off, etch some interesting designs in them, and smash a few together. Instrumentally, Savagery has more in common with Only The Ruthless Remain, the first record after their reunion. Lyrically, this is classic Skinless. Many of the songs sort of follow the same structure which makes for a somewhat predictable listen, but it’s still enjoyable. I love many things about this record: the vocals, the meaty production, and the economy. This is a slightly new direction for Skinless and, while they haven’t worked out all of the kinks, I like where they are headed.
Notable Tracks: “Savagery”; “Skull Session”; “Cruel Blade Of The Guillotine”
FFO: Morbid Angel, Entombed, Gatecreeper