by Skinless
(Relapse, May 2018)

When I was a teenager, I used to mow my grandfather’s lawn for extra cash. Every two weeks, I would spend a few hours sweating under the hot Dixie sun, pushing a rusted old mower around his property for $30. It wasn’t a bad deal, because the corner gas station never cared to I.D. anyone for beer back then and I’d spend all my earnings on sweet Pabst Blue Ribbons. Mowing was also a good time to put on my headphones and jam, usually something loud and aggressive. Meshuggah, Devourment, and Skinless were all favorites. Skinless’s Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead had been released just a few years earlier and was one of my entry points into the world of brutal death metal.  I had discovered the band the way a lot of metal fans discovered new bands: by seeing another band wearing one of their T shirts. The design featured a soldier wearing a gas mask pointing a bloody rifle towards a pair of blood-splattered hands. I was immediately interested.

2018 has been a slow year for brutal death metal so far. New York death metal veterans Skinless have arrived to end the drought with their sixth album Savagery, released on May 11 on Relapse Records. Skinless specializes in a style of brutal death that is as heavy as a black garbage bag full of dead pitbulls and almost as satisfying. Savagery will appeal to listeners of Dying Fetus, Cannibal Corpse, or Suffocation. This record is angry, toxically-masculine drinking music that pairs well with whiskey or cheap beer—save your barrel-aged, microbrewed IPAs for the next Gojira record, sissy boy.

The visual aesthetic has always played an important role in this kind of music, and the first thing you notice about this record is the particularly violent cover art designed by tattoo artist Jesse Levitt. It looks like someone got their jaw dislocated by a sledgehammer and then received a classic London-style splash of acid to the face. This is no Par Olofsson or John Baizley design: there are no bright colors in this palette, just drab, dirty brown and blood red.

The music on this record is the classic Skinless formula of groovy, mid-paced riffs and chugs, occasionally speeding up or slowing down to match the atmosphere of the song. Guitarists Noah Carpenter and Dave Matthews crash into me with a crunchy, heavy guitar tone interspersed with reverb-soaked, melodic leads and solos to complement the riffs. Vocalist Sherwood Webber grunts and growls in a traditional death metal guttural, infrequently alternating to higher pitched rasps or throaty shouts. Instead of being buried in the mix like many albums of this type, Joe Keyser’s bass is audible throughout the record and even highlighted for a few brief, memorable moments during “Siege Engine.” Drummer Bob Beaulac holds it all together with his more-than-competent, no-frills work behind the kit.

Standout tracks include the title track, “Savagery,” which starts the album off with an aggressive, catchy groove, setting the tone for the rest of the record. “Cruel Blade of the Guillotine” begins with a soft, foreboding intro, representing the nervous anxiety of the victim before the blade drops, severing the head as all hell breaks loose musically.

Lyrically, this album focuses on themes such as the evils of man, war, corrupt leaders, and a thousand detailed ways to die. From “Medieval”:

Dissected, infected, burned, and spread
Your life on earth started dead
Numbness through desolate times
Defeated, hated, told the lie.

Since returning in 2015 from a nine-year hiatus following their 2006 release Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead, Skinless has shown a newfound maturity. Gone are the comedic songs like “Tampon Lollipops” and vocal samples from Vince McMahon (“Life sucks…and then you die!”). Now, Skinless showcases their dynamic range in atmospheric, instrumental pieces such as “Reversal of Fortune.” This piece, featuring a menacing guitar lead and ominously ringing bells, sounds like an executioner’s slow walk to the chopping block, or perhaps something that would play as Chuck Liddell makes his walk to the octagon. Similarly, the album ends with another instrumental piece, “The Hordes,” which conjures up depressing images of millions of Central American mestizos pouring across the United States’ wall-less southern border in an effort to establish reconquista.

Skinless opted to include a bonus Crowbar cover song, “High Rate of Extinction,” at the end of this record. As contemporary philosophers Beavis and Butt-head once opined on Crowbar: “This music is slow…and fat.” Skinless plays the song appropriately slow and fat, while putting their own brutal stamp on the track. I will admit to liking this new version better than the original.

Clocking in at 37 minutes (plus the bonus track), Savagery hits the sweet spot for this type of music. This record is lengthy enough to have substance without overstaying its welcome, as brutal death metal tends to get monotonous after about the 45-minute mark.

Now in their 26th year as a band, Skinless continue to churn out prime brewski-chugging music and demonstrate why they have such staying power. Savagery doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but instead keeps the siege engine running for fans of the genre.

Click here to buy Savagery.