It is more reassuring than you expect when you experience a band simply excelling at what it does best. For New York State’s brutal death metal merchants Skinless, Savagery is just that album: one that is rapacious as it is the group’s clearest statement ever of its primacy in the genre.
Skinless has been at this a long time. From its 1994 demo to 2015’s return from the dead in Only the Ruthless Remain, the quintet has carved out a place in the music for years that is intent to blast you out of your seat. With the opening title track, distant howls at its start being the only respite, Skinless deliver exactly as expected. Guitarists Noah Carpenter and Dave Matthews drop punishing, and at turns melodic, riffs, as veteran crooner Sherwood Webber punctuates the festivities with his carbon monoxide vocals. The result is excess in the best way possible through an over-the-top atmosphere where you can very nearly smell the flesh.
It has to be said that brutal death metal as a subgenre can, very often, be a real slog. That’s because it is hard to listen to power chords and growling so much without it feeling like a morass of sameness. Skinless dodges this potential problem with elements of rhythm, courtesy of drummer Bob Beaulac and Joe Keyser on bass. Some critics have remarked that the group can at moments edge toward almost a groove metal vibe. On Savagery, you may hear slivers of such pacing on “Siege Engine” or “Skull Session,” but it remains a far cry from any groove metal notable you can think of. Rather, Skinless break possible monotony by keeping the relentlessness in check through making the throb into a pulse of aural fixation. This means, that, while the fury is there, Skinless is creative in reflecting songs that aren’t simply amps turned up. They come across as offering methodical aggression, and thus are more complex in their composition.
You hear more of this inventiveness midway through the album most strongly. “Reversal of Fortune” and “Exacting Revenge” as well as “Medieval” flex with fluidity – there’s something special about the way the tracks interlock and make Savagery an experience. The guitars are vertiginous, coming at you fast and without quarter. And its ability to be punchy in the songwriting, its sense of song progression and knowing its fans makes Skinless stand tall on these tracks. “Only hell, there is no heaven,” roars Webber on “Line of Dissent.” “I’ll bring you as close as I can, then back again.” Indeed the band does, and maybe even closer than you realize.
The release has a few unusual avenues, like the languid guitar filling the first minute of “Cruel Blade Of The Guillotine,” which is itself one of the more blistering songs. However, Savagery is mostly a cut-to-the-chase affair, one where the band’s memorable representation of its vision seldom detracts from the fact it does a virulent strain of brutal death metal for the masses. By the time “The Hordes” and bonus track “High Rate Extinction” close the album, you have a genuine appreciation for all this group has put into this release. Where once Skinless was dormant for years and virtually no more, the group is back and seemingly unbowed by time.