Nearly a decade after releasing their last full length, Skinless are back with seven tracks of death metal that don’t suck. After such a long delay between releases, a band could be forgiven for trying to emulate what is hot in the death metal world right now; not the case here. Skinless have neglected to shoe themselves in with the cool kids, instead relying on what made them so popular a decade ago. Only The Ruthless Remain is ruthless indeed, and has the band playing some ferocious, undeniably oppressive death metal. Where they lose their way a touch is in their reliance on certain crutches, musically speaking.
For many, this will be a first taste of the New York death peddlers; the rest will have been waiting patiently for this, hoping that it will exceed expectations. Released through Relapse, who Skinless have more than a little bit of history with, this new record will appease the fans of old far more than it will peak the interests of new listeners. Absent is the band’s unique sense of humor, with them favoring a far more direct death metal approach to song titles and actual content. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with straight up death and despair but at this stage in the game, it’s more than a touch overplayed. While Skinless haven’t laid down and spat out a tech death album to keep themselves relevant, they haven’t really put out a groundbreaking metal album either. Equal parts crushing rhythms and barbaric vocals, this album thunders along at a pace so pedestrian today, their age has started to show. If the desired intention for the listener is to go out and mosh until neck muscles stretch and tear then bravo, this has accomplished that ten fold. As far as breaking new ground or creating anything memorable past the third or fourth spin, not so much.
This is music perfect for a live setting though. There’s a revolving door of thrashing riffs and double time drumbeats that keeps any of these tracks from settling down at all. The eponymous “Skinless” is the perfect example of what made the band so reputable. Full of breakneck riff transitions and a gargling bass prelude into a monolithic stomp section, it’s crystal clear that this should be played live to a room packed with people intending on hurting themselves. The clean riff that frames “Funeral Curse” is suitably ominous enough to merit a mention; it pops back up in the only track that deviates from flat out brutality, showing a side of the band that could do with far more visibility. The majority of this material is fast, heavy as hell but lacking in real substance. It’s not enough anymore to play fast riffs and blast beats with precision and aggression. That’s a given today, for more bands than a stick can be shaken at.
It’s unfair to say that Skinless have disappointed with their return to the world of brutal death metal, because they haven’t. Only The Ruthless Remain is just a bit of a letdown because it is entirely everything that was expected from the band. Trumpets and synthesizers would have been ridiculous, as would passages of operatic clean vocals, this just needed something more. Something intangible is missing from this record and that’s what will make it a letdown for some fans and a never was for new listeners.
Skinless’ Only The Ruthless Remain gets…