Lately, there seems to be an ever-flowing stream of Swedish-sounding death metal — and we’re talking real death metal, not melodeath — that doesn’t actually come from Sweden. I have a particularly dark recollection of Arizona natives Gatecreeper wowing the hell out of me with last year’s Sonoran Deprivation, while Germany’s Revel in Flesh and Holland’s Bodyfarm have also done a nice job carrying listeners down a Stockholm-inspired left hand path in recent years.
The latest addition to this group is France’s Skelethal, who’ll likely send listeners tumbling into the grave with their debut full-length, Of the Depths. It’s an album plucked straight from the murky depths where no life dwells, and while it’s hardly charting any new musical courses, it’s still a solid listen and one of the more entertaining death metal releases of the year to date.
The guys in Skelethal, of course, know their stuff by this point. After leaving the Lille-based thrash ensemble Infinite Translation to start this band, the two of them — Gui Haunting on guitar and vocals, Jon Whiplash handling both elements of the rhythm section — built up a nice back catalogue before jumping into LP No. 1. And while their two preceding EPs worked out well enough as works-in-progress, the band’s polished everything up on Of the Depths… — the production on those maxed out HM-2 pedals, the Seagrave-esque cover art, you name it — and delivered a true statement of intent this time out.
And after the brief, gurgling sound at the beginning of opener “Sons of Zann,” that statement becomes all too clear: you’re getting 40-odd minutes of searing, balls-to-the-wall death metal and dammit, you’re going to like it.
Indeed, the bulk of the album hits you with BPMs in what feels like at least the 180s — probably faster, let’s be honest — with only occasional short breaks for solos or ambience. (The end of “Spectral Cemetery,” the mid-section of “Chaotic Deviance,” etc.) Frankly, that’s when it’s at its best. Changes of pace are all well and good, but when you do pure adrenaline as well as these guys do, that’s what folks are going to want to hear. (Especially with the production on Of the Depths…; the band’s simply never sounded better playing at those speeds.)
While Skelethal’s promo notes cite a wide range of the death metal spectrum among their influences, the most obvious reference points here are early Grave and Entombed. These tunes, like the best cuts on You’ll Never See or Clandestine, are filthy and uncompromising in all the best ways. They’re also, for the most part, shit-tons of fun. The mid-album banger, “Catharsis,” is the perfect example; in just two minutes, it whips things into the kind of frenzy you’d kill to see in a live setting. (Where you’d probably end up raging enough to actually kill someone. On second thought, maybe it’s best to just stick to the record.)
Are there gripes with Of the Depths…? Sure: this has all been done before; some of the longer songs occasionally start to drag; the album-closing cover song and re-recorded deep cut are a bit superfluous. (Particularly after “Morbid Ovation” kind of goes out of its way to feel like a closer.) But these are minor. The album itself is not. It’s one you should listen to, and one we reckon you’ll have quite a bit of fun with once you do.
Keep it heavy,