Hey there modern scuzzy death metal bands! Guess what? “Groove” is not a dirty word! In fact when it comes to death metal it can be a very, very good word indeed. Need proof? Just check out the latest release from Skeletal Remains, whose third full length Devouring Mortality is chock-full of groove despite also being extremely technical and punishing and knowledgable about how to structure a song so you’re not bored 30 seconds in….
Oh, did I mention that sweet Dan Seagrave cover, too?
So yeah, I’m kinda in the bag for this one. When it comes to death metal, I’m partial to bands who innately know how to get in the pocket; that dear, dear place where groove and tightness go arm in arm under the boardwalk. It’s fine to blaze along at 100 mph or bury your despicable evil under 20 tons of molten scuzz but growing up in the era of classic Obituary, Immolation, and Death I always steered to bands who could hit that line where the music is extremely tight and technical, but steers to just shy of light speed so you can appreciate every subtle shade of brutality as your head is caved in.
Skeletal Remains have been towing that line since 2012’s Beyond the Flesh, which lays on the Morbid Angel and Scream Bloody Gore era Death, which is only to say they’re emulating the best. Just listen to the bass break in opener “Extirpated Vitality” and you can see traces of where the bands wanted to go. That direction was solidified on Condemned to Misery in 2015, where the core unit of Chris Monroy (guitar, vocals), Adrius Marquez (bass), and Adrian Obregon (guitars) step up to Leprosy and Spiritual Healing levels of guitar soloing while keeping a firm grip on rhythm and aggressive execution via peers like Jungle Rot and latter-day Autopsy. Example, you say? Check out “Obscured Veiltation” or the Bolt Thrower introduction of “Etherreal Erosion” — both display a knack for hooks that come as much from the rhythmic execution as much as from the note choices being made in the riffs.
Three years later and here we are with Devouring Mortality, and all that’s changed is a fuller, more robust mix thanks to Dan Swanö and – if possible – an ever tighter sense of songwriting. “Ripperology” (sadly NOT a crash course in Owen’s long and fruitful career) careens forth in mass of triplet fury and whammy dive bombs, pulling out every 90s trick while simultaneously sounding fun and refreshing after so much blistering tech death and modern lo-fi death metal of the week. When the final 30 seconds or so barrels into a 4×4 charge to the next song I was completely sold.
With most songs averaging about four minutes or so there’s little time to get bored, and every track offers an ear worm that makes Devouring Mortality a winner; the frantic chorus of “Seismic Abyss,” the extended opening of “Torture Labyrinth,” the old school flavor of “Parasitic Horrors” – Skeletal Remains plants a huge stake in the ground for why Florida death metal still resonates decades later (sure, the band hails from California but why let that stop you from waving your flag). Vocally, Monroy inhabits each song with a corrosive hell blast that singes the hair in your ears if you have any (I don’t know, and I don’t plan to look that closely). And the interaction between Monroy and Oregon on guitars is fantastic — locked tight on riffs and harmonized on solos, they sound as seasoned as any band working the scene for 20 years or more. None of that would matter, however, if it wasn’t for how the bottom end was laying the foundation and Marquez’s bass alongside Johny Valles on drums makes everything click. Death metal simply doesn’t work if your drummer can’t lay it on thick and heavy, and in Valles they have a killer bedrock to build their house on.
It’s rare that a straight up death metal record hits all my buttons as much as Devouring Mortality does, but after six years and two albums Skeletal Remains have hit on that formula that can make walls shake and foundations quake. All the 7/16 quintuplets and cavernous production values can’t hold a stick to the bedrock that gave the genre its legs to stand on 30 years later. Skeletal Remains is here to rip the “groove” out of the underserving mouths of nu-metal and put it back in its rightful place…right before they bash your head in and leave you smiling in a puddle of your own blood.