Originally written by Chris Redar
After a few key lineup changes and a hiatus, New York’s Skinless have returned with what is considered their “classic” (read: the dudes that did Foreshadowing Our Demise) lineup, plus new guitarist Dave Matthews. In between here and there, Jon Longstreth played drums (From Sacrifice To Survival) and Jason Keyser performed vocal duties (Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead). Both of those men are now in the Origin camp, a band that is putting out material consistently. Skinless, on the other hand, were away for almost a decade. So, is the original gang up to snuff?
In a word, no. Only the Ruthless Remain is the album that should have rightfully followed Foreshadowing and put the band to sleep back then as opposed to putting me to sleep now. I’ll never forget when they announced Longstreth as their sticksman—I was at a buddy’s house, and he made the truest statement there is:
“He’s too good of a drummer for that band.”
What made Foreshadowing such an interesting album at the time was that it played to its strengths—big, dumb death metal for big, dumb metalheads. Trying to up the speed ante whilst keeping the rhythm and riffs simplistic and primitive just didn’t work, as evidenced by From Sacrifice. And while Trample the Weak made an attempt to get back to the thumping groove of its predecessors, a massively over-triggered kick drum kept that album in solid two-and-through listen territory. What we’re getting with Only the Ruthless Remain is an awkward amalgamation of the two, and it just doesn’t work.
The biggest problem here is that these songs all feel like they’re building up to a hammer-dropping breakdown that seldom comes. Sure, things slow down, but that’s just what they’re doing—there’s no rhyme or reason to most of the shifts in tempo or pace. It plays out like a few dozen ideas melted down into seven songs of varying play times, every one of which is too long. Songs this plodding and poorly paced shouldn’t be topping the six-minute mark. The title track sounds like three different bands wrote and recorded separate two-minute versions of the same song. “Flamethrower” sounds two bands were in the studio at the same time. It really is an incoherent mess, and it’s unfortunate. For me, I mean.
There are solos all over the place here, and it’s not too often that they have context outside of the band wanting to have them there. Things sound like they’re winding down into a half-groove, and then bam- four bars of noodling. It’s usually unremarkable enough, but there are a couple of spots (“Skinless”… yes, there’s a song called “Skinless” on a Skinless album) that kind of rip, making them the highlight of an otherwise forgettable track (again, “Skinless”).
The band also does the acoustic intro bit on “Funeral Curse”, and it ends up being listenable enough, I guess… I’m really grasping for nice straws here. This album actively challenges the listener to find redeeming values and does such an amazing job of hiding them that the CD version should come with a goddamn treasure map. This ranges from middling, slightly competent death metal to an abhorrently boring and frustratingly unlistenable shell of a band that used to know how to power bomb grooves like nobody’s business. Hardcore Skinless fans will surely enjoy lying to themselves for a short while on this one, and as an unabashed admirer of Foreshadowing, I’ll be here to cradle them in my all-too-disappointed arms when they enter the final stage of sucky-album grief: acceptance.