I must admit, it’s quite refreshing when a record gives you exactly what is advertised. In a genre of music plagued with sentence-long track titles and abstract album concepts, such albums come as an often pleasant surprise. Such is the case with Skinless eagerly awaited new record, Savagery. Believe it or not, the albums title is exactly what you get. Unrepentant, merciless death metal savagery. Nine unrelenting songs of it. If this is what you came to this review for, prepare to be very, very pleased. Savagery is as meat and potatoes as brutal/old school death metal gets, which is both its principle strength and primary weakness.
Those familiar with this band’s discography should know exactly what to expect by now, and the formula hasn’t changed or been deviated from in Savagery. The guitars are heavy as hell, the drum work is maniacally aggressive, and the vocals are as guttural and disgusting as you’d expect. In a way, Skinless are the prototypical fusion of old school aesthetics and brutal death metal instrumentation. Savagery highlights these qualities more readily than any record in their catalog to date, and is most certainly a worthy addition to their musical legacy. But there are definite trade-offs here. There’s nothing new on this album. It doesn’t add anything particularly fresh or invigorating to the equation, which could by some be considered a knock on its overall quality. But that argument operates on the assumption that novelty adds inherent value to a record. I don’t always find that to be the case, and Skinless are served here just fine by sticking to the formulas that made them the band they are today. Morbid Angel’s Kingdoms Disdained, At the Gates’ upcoming record (SPOILER ALERT IS GOOD), and Incantation’s latest are all examples of a jump back to traditional sounds being far from an overwhelming negative. But those records are certainly divisive among death metal fans. As is this one.
Whether you dig the adherence to traditional, meat and potatoes death metal stylings or not, it’s hard to deny how violently effective the music on Savagery is. Hell, the opening title track features vocalist Sherwood Webber screaming “You have brought upon yourself all savagery! Die!” If that doesn’t clearly state the band’s intent I don’t know what else will. Thankfully, Skinless make good on that promise by opening the record with an impressive salvo of brutal riffs that will most certainly get your head a-bangin’, and this reaction is typical throughout the record. “Siege Engine” delivers a hefty guitar-based punch that recalls early Cannibal Corpse or Suffocation, mixing speed and brutally to fantastic effect. Of particular note is Bob Beaulac’s drum work throughout, which adds some world-crushing foundation work to the speedy mania raging around it. “Line of Dissent” may be the track that most readily establishes the band’s overall sound on this record, fusing chugs and mid-tempo slogging with manic high-speed blasts with the ease of a band working on expert-level when it comes to death metal songwriting. Dave Otero’s recording doesn’t do anything to diminish the nastiness the band is peddling, instead bringing these sounds together in a way that increases their overall menace. If you came to be brutalized, you will be immensely satisfied.
But those looking for something more adventurous from a band with as sterling a reputation as Skinless will be left wanting. This record is the very essence of traditional, and won’t leave you with anything fresh to chew on. But I don’t think that was Skinless’ intent to begin with, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that they are as good as they are at writing brutal, old school death metal that accomplishes its mission with skill and vigor. Some will like this, some will not, but I find it itches the exact spot I need a record of this caliber to scratch. Bless Skinless for delivering exactly what they promised: Unremitting, thoroughly effective Savagery.
Savagery is out now through Relapse Records and is available for purchase at the band’s Bandcamp page.