Only the Ruthless Remain is a robust sounding album from start to finish, though you wouldn’t think it right away. “Serpenticide” introduces itself through some whispers echoing in the distance, slamming into action with what sounds like a thinner presence thanks to the general haziness of the audio itself. The guitars are actually a little sharpened thanks to it, and bass varies between deep and burdensome to a solid twang with a nice lower tone behind it as well. It isn’t until some of the technical leads during the slam approaching two-and-a-half minutes in that you start to realize why it’s like this. There’s a certain analog quality to this release overall, which is something that hotter touch plays off of quite well, creating an Egyptian-esque atmosphere akin to something Nile would unleash, all the while asserting it’s ruthless aggression in the form of beefy groove-heavy passages that continuously pummel the listener.
The deeper in, however, the less that middle eastern atmosphere really seems to matter. “Flamethrower” is just one crippling display of complexity and brutality, especially following the latter of those two when you are greeted with a slew of raspy screams in addition to the deep gutturals that can put hair on any listener’s chest. The start seems just shy of blast beats, asserting a bit of authority behind the crushing drumming and guitar presences between spurts of groove oriented Death Metal, an approach that envelopes the rest of the track prior to the slam and guitar solo that briefly channel that aforementioned environment just past the two minute point, which can also be said for “Barbaric Proclivity” about half way through. The rest of that track, however, is perhaps the most blunt the album gets, not to mention the most typical. Simpler chord chugs and progressions line the quick bass kick littered piece, presenting a fairly standard representation of the style as a whole that isn’t quite as fulfilling as the other six, but still a fairly dominant track nonetheless.
The only other gripe to be had about Only the Ruthless Remain lies in the vocals. Sherwood’s apptoach is pure intimidation, the definition of what a guttural style should be. The only problem with that is it becomes the main focus, and it does dilute the impact of the album a bit. There’s a huge display of enthusiasm all around, but the strict growling fashion doesn’t always carry or bolster that aspect. What’s criminally missing, as shown during “Flamethrower”, is range. Some additional backing rasps at times would have really amped the final mix up, making so many of the violent or highly complex segments that much more powerful in comparison. It feels like a genuinely missed opportunity, considering it occurs once and really makes for one of the most pulverising moments of the album when placed atop the sudden surge of hostility.
But, with all things considered, Only the Ruthless Remain stands as one of the finest albums in Skinless‘s repertoire. With the exception of “Barbaric Proclivity”, this stands as a testament to the strengths this band has carried with them all these years, reaching the point where you can actually feel as though the performances found within have genuinely assaulted you with as much force capable from this legendary five-piece. The only thing about that statement is that this one needs a little time to grow on the listener. As stated, the haziness at the start seems a little out of place, and it may take a few full spins for the listener to fully grasp what’s going on within these seven songs. Once that realization sets in, you need to brace yourself for something fans of Nile and Origin will cream themselves over. This isn’t just an album Skinless fans will lovingly embrace, but a creation that stands as one of the top offerings of 2015 within the Death Metal genre, proving the time away from the studio, as well as one another, has only strengthened them as a unit.