Review – Skinless: Savagery

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  • Bio: "The beast called SKINLESS was brought forth in 1992 by guitarist Noah Carpenter with one goal: to be the heaviest band around." - Press release
  • Label: Relapse Records
  • Release Date: May 11th, 2018
  • Genre: Brutal Death Metal
  • Website: Visit Website
  • Rating (out of 10):

Since the late nineties, brutal death metallers from Glen Falls, New York, Skinless have been pulverizing their ever-expanding fan base with each new release. Sadly, their discography does have a hefty gap following 2006’s pinnacle offering Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead, temporarily disbanding in 2011 for two years, and eventually unleashing their long-awaited fourth album Only the Ruthless Remain in 2015. Fast forward roughly three more years and we are facing their latest studio effort dubbed Savagery. But is this a suitable follow-up, or has the luster of the reunion already overstayed its welcome?

Savagery sounds thick and heavy, but not in a good way. If you listen to a song or two, it immediately becomes obvious the goal of this release (intentional or otherwise) is to capture that late eighties to early nineties analog brutality. The problem is that the mastering leaves the whole thing lifeless and even amateurish sounding, as if this is the band’s first recording in a small local studio paid for with saved up merch sales, fast food employer paychecks, and a couple six packs. The compositions are sound, the performances are spot on, and the underlying sensation captures the album title. Sadly, it is all belittled by a surprisingly shoddy audio quality that would have been better off substituted with a raw live recording captured on a mini tape recorder in someone’s hoodie pocket.

“Line of Dissent” is one that greatly suffers from the horrible mastering. There are some bouts of technicality that sound out-of-place and don’t match the burdening hardcore attitude the band is trying to achieve. Instead, the hooks at the start sound more upbeat and fun in a manner similar to the carnival music elements found in a Spermswamp track. Then you have the chugging passages that just sound blocky and lack the intensity that is clearly in the studio but poorly captured or managed in post. “Siege Engine” falls prey at times as well. Thankfully the drumming often aids it, as does the cleaner guitar solo and tight riffs with dual guttural and rasp vocals towards the end, but it isn’t enough to save the entire cut.

One nagging thing that keeps sticking out with Savagery is how it often feels like it tries to set up a sandblasted Nile atmosphere, but just doesn’t take the plunge. This becomes a factor towards the end following the eerie “Cruel Blade of the Guillotine” and it’s eighties thrash influence. The haunting clean start sets up a sombre atmosphere before heading into a far less addictive groove-heavy early Sepultura assault that fades into the helpless deserted plateaus of the instrumental track “The Hordes” to wrap things up. That is if you don’t count the bonus track “High Rate Extinction” which has a bit of a sludge vibe to it that not only works with the aforementioned audio quality a little more, but leaves you wishing the band had taken this direction with the entire effort, especially if the album was intended to sound the way it does.

That said, there are some good tracks despite how the album sounds. “Savagery” really lays the intimidation on thick, bringing as much enthusiasm to the forefront as possible while ending with a surprisingly crushing slam with a metallic twang to the bass to add a little more backbone. The thing is that, to achieve it, you can notice some borderline clipping, as if the audio is about to enter an overmodulated state and begin cracking. Given some later tracks, this is a welcome thing to observe, even if it does kind of cheapen the composition itself. “Skull Session” also hammers home some high-speed riff work when not hitting the listener with some infectious drum patterns throughout, pausing momentarily about half-way through for a breakdown that sets up the short but sweet guitar solo and commanding intensity nicely before crawling until the last exertion of oxygen fades out of existence.

SkinlessIn the end, this is a hit or miss recording throughout the entire release. The mastering doesn’t really work in its favor most of the time, coming off flat and sometimes incredibly dull, primarily during some of the slower doom grade songs and passages. The faster tracks do manage to break free of the limitations imposed by how the album sounds overall. No, this doesn’t need a crisp modern sound, but many independent bands take this analog approach and come out with some really intense, uncompromising recordings. Hell, Skinless has even done this in the past with their debut album Progression Towards Evil. Is Savagery a bad album? Not by a long shot. It just suffers from a third-party element that ruins an otherwise killer experience.

SkinlessDigital review copy of this release provided by Relapse Records via Earsplit PR