Back in the dark ages of 2016, it was fairly difficult to imagine a better year for death metal. The sheer magnitude of quality releases by bands who have since changed the face and future of the most vicious of metal subgenres seemed insurmountable. Then came 2017, which I would argue was equally if not more dynamic and fantastic. I have spent many thousands of words detailing my admiration for the work of these bands through reviews and within our monthly death metal column Death’s Door, and will spend a few hundred more singing the praises of Skeletal Remains’ third full-length record, Devouring Mortality. Fans of death metal that makes you want to thrash around your room knocking over lamps and laundry hampers, rejoice! This album was written, constructed, and performed for you. So grab a beer and prepare your best punch dance, because this record will give you plenty of opportunity to rage.
Hailing from the fertile death metal underground of Southern California, Skeletal Remains have been releasing quality death metal for several years, including two previous full-length records (Beyond the Flesh and Condemned to Misery) that rightfully put their name on the map. And death metal, unequivocally, is what these dudes play. No frills. Minimal emphasis on overtly technical wankery. Just raw, in-your-face audio violence. Which isn’t to say that the band’s songwriting is particularly simple or lacking distinction. To the contrary, Skeletal Remains take the sounds of Asphyx, mid-career Morbid Angel, and Death and convert them into a driving, propulsive, primordial ooze of fantastic death metal mayhem. This is death metal that very clearly understands and reveres its influences, and rather than reverting to simple emulation is hell-bent on spreading the good word through the refining of the sounds that made these bands and this music famous. Here, the riff is king, and Devouring Mortality is chock full of them.
The above is evident in the opening seconds of “Ripperology”, which is perhaps the most aptly titled track I have heard in a fair amount of time. There is no atmospheric intro here. No breathing space for the band to set up its ghoulish intentions. Instead the track, like it’s title suggests, rips immediately into flesh with some insanely heavy riff magic, bludgeoning its way through your ear holes with relentless brutality. It’s as close to a perfect opening salvo as you will hear in this type of death metal, and Skeletal Remains exhibit their principal strengths as musicians with magnetism and skill. Chris Monroy’s vocals herald back to death metal’s golden days, while his guitar work is as precise as it is punishing, and the same could be said about Mike De La O’s guitar and Adrian Marquez’s bass work throughout the record. Outside of the expert musicianship, this record sounds fantastic overall and is mixed to perfection by living legend Dan Swano. Each instrument rings out with clarity without losing any of its heft and power. Subsequent track “Seismic Abyss” is a great example of these dynamics coming together perfectly, as the track runs through several tempo and instrumental emphasis changes without once losing its clear and brutal sonic approach. The remainder of the record is a veritable laundry list of how to write good death metal. “Catastrophic Retribution” muscles its way through riff after fantastic riff, while the Johnny Valles’ impressive drum work in the album’s title track is undeniable, creating a dynamic companion to the low-end guitar assault present throughout. Track by track, riff by riff, there is so little to complain about in Devouring Mortality. The only legitimate knock I can think of (which may be a deal-breaker for some) is that this record is very far from the most original music making its way through the death metal circuit. But for myself this is very far from a detraction from the listening experience this album provides, as the music contained here is a well-constructed and expertly performed iteration of a style established by some of the masters of this subgenre. Most fans of death metal’s history will recognize elements within Skeletal Remains’ sound that remind them of some of their favorite death metal bands, but not in a way that feels cheap. Rather than a mere derivation, this record feels alive, vital, and modern in a way that many of its contemporaries in the old school death metal vein do not. This is thanks in large part to energetic, insanely competent, and passionate performances of this music by the band. Skeletal Remains work very hard for your engagement, and the pay-off is more than worth the price of admission.
If you are a fan of death metal’s classic manifestations, it will be just about impossible to go wrong with Devouring Mortality. With their third full-length record, Skeletal Remains have crafted a musical wrecking ball that both reveres its influences and perfects the sounds they developed decades ago. It’s a skillfully performed and intelligently written record that is as good as this type of music gets, and is easily one of the most consistent and punishing old school death metal records to be released so far this year. So stretch your necks and prepare to bang your heads along to some premium grade, high octane death music. Highly recommended.
Devouring Mortality drops April 13th via Dark Descent Records in the US and through Century Media worldwide, and is available for pre-order on the label’s Bandcamp page.