As I progress through this weird journey that is metal fandom, I’ve increasingly found my enthusiasm for lengthy records fading. Sure, every once in a while a two hour behemoth of an album will keep me enthralled from start to finish (go listen to Paysage d’Hiver‘s latest revelation for a good example of excessive length done very right), but those instances are becoming fewer and further between. Give me that sweet half hour of metallic goodness over a bloated, overwrought hour-plus “opus” with about twenty minutes of quality material every day of the week. That’s where crossover records have made a particularly positive impression over the past few years. The thrash-heavy brutalizing of Power Trip and Iron Reagan or the deathly caterwauling of Mammoth Grinder and Municipal Waste pummel in a bloody flood of riffs and d-beat aggression that’s nearly impossible to keep from banging your head to, and all in under 30 minutes(ish). In this vein, Austin blackened thrashers Skeleton’s debut, self-titled record hits all of the visceral, violent short and sweet spots that make crossover metal the wonder it is.
The comparisons drawn to the above thrash-centric bands are apt, as Skeleton fits nicely into the modern crossover mold, but with a more unique sonic twist. Opposed to the strict hardcore/thrash hybrid that the most popular bands in the style have been peddling for the last half decade or so, Skeleton utilize first wave black metal archetypes to create a sound that feels both immensely catchy and head-bangable while maintaining a lo-fi, icy edge that helps their music stand out from the crowd. It’s a combination that works brilliantly throughout. The album’s opening and title track is a propulsive, tremolo and blast beat-filled scorcher that delivers a thoroughly convincing and immensely enjoyable statement of intent. Skeleton aren’t your average crossover band, and they continue to hammer home this assertion throughout their debut album’s vicious and brief runtime.
Outside of some truly exceptional and economic songwriting, the music on Skeleton feels like it was honed and refined live in grungy garages and sweaty, smoke-filled bars. The production aesthetic reflects this, mixing aggressive instrumental tones with a lo-fi buzz that makes the record feel ripped directly from the 80s without dipping into cheap parody. This dynamic feels particularly potent in the album’s thrashier tracks like “Mark of Death”, which balances gleeful guitar-centric songwriting and classic aesthetics brilliantly. But give an album all the atmosphere and production trickery you can, the whole thing falls apart if the songs aren’t compelling. Listeners have very little to be worried about on this front, as these tracks are to a fault well-constructed and expertly performed, packing a diverse sonic punch within a thoroughly economic style. “T.O.A.D.” and “A Far Away Land” are about as compelling as an extreme metal track can be outside of a grind record, showing off the band’s innate ability to stuff a lot of great ideas into confined spaces.
But for all its essential and masterful brevity, Skeleton also shines in its more elongated numbers. The first half of “At War” has a Black Sabbath-worshipping warble that slows the typically breakneck proceedings down to a doom-laden tempo that once more displays the band’s impressive songwriting range. Closer “Catacombs” displays equally adept songwriting, slowly building a reverb-heavy passage that eventually erupts into a volcanic black metal maelstrom that easily rivals that of the Icelandic scene in sheer intensity and frostiness. It’s a fitting end to an album that is over far sooner than one might expect. Which leads astute listeners to the only logical conclusion: It must be played again, and this time at higher volume.
Skeleton is a record that simply begs for repeat listens. Its short runtime is chock full of great ideas that are executed with a rare balance of restraint and intensity, making for a collection of tracks that feel substantive rather than overstuffed. It’s a mixture that, when coupled with fantastic performances and a fun throwback production aesthetic, makes for an album that’s as easy to appreciate as it is to listen to. Skeleton is a fundamentally sound and infinitely enjoyable debut that I recommend to fans of crossover and blackened thrash. It’s a doozy.
Skeleton drops July 10th via 20 Buck Spin, and is available for pre-order on Bandcamp.