In the past few years, Dark Descent Records has been releasing a lot of murky, doomy, and often impenetrable death metal from bands like Lvcifyre, Phoboscosm, Goraphilia, and Spectral Voice, just to name a few. However, one look at the Dan Seagrave cover art on Devouring Mortality — the third album (and first on Dark Descent) from Skeletal Remains — gives a strong hint that this album isn’t going to be more of the same. Old-school, classic, plain-old-regular, whatever you want to call it — this is death metal the way your pappy made it: vicious, in-your-face, and chock full of saw-toothed riffs.
Label: Dark Descent Records
While rhythm and riffs definitely take precedent over melody and atmosphere here, Skeletal Remains is not without some finesse, particularly in the lead guitar department. The solos are surprisingly fluid and at times quite elaborate. The swirling dual-lead line near the end of opening track is the first instance where the band really showcases its surprising melodic sensibilities. The passage features an intricate, cresting and falling refrain that’s played singly and then doubled. The band even sneaks in a tasteful bit of synth backing, which, thankfully, departs promptly when it’s time to resume kicking ass. Examples of this sort of dual-guitar dance abounds throughout the album, including the near minute-long guitar solo odyssey in “Grotesque Creation,” and the torrent notes that course along the shores of chaos in the closing solo of “Mortal Decimation.”
All that pretty playing is for naught, however, in the absence of decent riffs. Fortunately, Devouring Mortality does not want for riffage. There’s nothing here that you haven’t heard before, but it’s all played with zeal and conviction. When Skeletal Remains hits a groove, they lean in hard. When it’s time to haul ass, Valles will double-bass your fucking face off. Sure, some of the tremolo-picked lines sound a bit mundane, but the band really excels at the rhythmic, crunchy riffs that make up the bulk of this record. The arrangements are dynamic enough to keep the tunes engaging, and even with some of the extended guitar workouts, none of these songs overstay their welcome.
Finally, credit must be given to Chris Monroy for his van Drunen-esque vocals, which add a tinge of decidedly haggard and unhinged-sounding brutality amidst all of Devouring Mortality‘s mechanically precise riffs and melodious solos.
During my initial research for this review, I discovered that some of the members of Skeletal Remains weren’t even born when death metal classics like Scream Bloody Gore, Slowly We Rot and Altars of Madness were released, so it’s all the more impressive that the band manages to so perfectly capture the essence of pure death metal of this vein. There are hundreds of old-school-sounding death metal bands out there, and truth be told, most of them at least sound decent. In the end, death metal isn’t that difficult to get right. Skeletal Remains betters their peers, however, because they do more than just get it right—they make death metal that sounds vital and contemporary, while staying true to the roots.
If you’re a fan of death metal without any qualifiers, Devouring Mortality needs to be in your ears.
And if you want more Skeletal Remains, check out Last Rites’ recent >>interview<< with bassist Adrius Marquez.