It’s no secret that every member of the crew here at Last Rites is a huge fan of Pittsburgh label 20 Buck Spin. Of course, that doesn’t mean we love every one of the label’s releases with equal abandon. For example, I don’t share the same exuberant feelings about the work of Obsequiae or Spirit Adrift as some of my Last Rites comrades. But we’re a convivial bunch, happy to hug it out and agree to disagree (right… guys?).
That said, if any of my colleagues disparaged the fine work of Cerebral Rot, Tomb Mold, or Scorched, then I would obviously have no choice but demand they choose a weapon and meet me in the Thunderdome. Point being, 20 Buck Spin releases invariably attract deeply passionate fans. That’s no surprise given that the label’s strike rate is phenomenal—hell, it’s downright supernatural—and more often than not, the anticipation swirling around upcoming releases is amply rewarded.
Much like early Mayhem, Skeleton’s modus operandi favors unadulterated aggression over tidy corners or polished edges. Tracks like “Sword”, “Toad”, and the Motörcharged “Mark of Death” wrap nihilistic darkness around a chainsawing momentum. The odor of albums like Venom’s Welcome to Hell and Discharge’s Why? lingers throughout, and there’s even a vestige of vintage Japanese hardcore echoing in the depths of Skeleton’s debut.
The band keep things fittingly raw-boned, forgoing the abstract explorations of a similarly eviscerating black / metal / punk hybrid like Raspberry Bulbs. Tracks like “Ring of Fire” and “Taste of Blood” feature pure bulldog metal—coarse, crude, and packed with sonic shrapnel—while “At War” begins with a minute’s worth of uncoiling riffs and percussion that honestly wouldn’t sound out of place on W.A.S.P’s debut.
That’s not the only nod to classic metal you’ll hear on Skeleton’s debut. Guitarists David Skeleton and Alex Guzman deliver caustic riffs buzzing with distortion, while Skeleton’s drummer and guttural vocalist, Victor Skeleton, croaks and barks like he’s been smoking three packs a day for 40 years while soaking in a vat of boiling venom.
It’s tempting to describe Skeleton’s sound as ‘old school’, but that doesn’t quite capture their noxious aesthetic. The ferocity of early Bathory is definitely here, along with Amebix’s atmospheric gloom and the stench of lurking in dive bars as well as spooky graveyards (see below). Skeleton’s vitriolic songs sound like they’ve been honed in a gore-streaked oubliette, and their debut unquestionably reeks of the past. Ultimately, though, Skeleton’s anger feels very ‘now’ and their music thrums with the same pissed-off energy as contemporary black metal punks like Pissblood, Ritual Knife, or Utzalu. Like those bands, Skeleton wrap gutter metal around crypt-crawling hardcore, and tracks like “Victory”, “A Far Away Land”, and lengthier album finale “Catacombs” are replete with unrelenting grimness oozing from the bleakest pits of metal/punk warfare.
Hurdles? Hiccups? Sure, I guess Skeleton’s unvarnished tone might be challenging, for some. Although, plenty of other celebrated metalpunk bands utilize musical palettes that are equally corrosive. Perhaps some timid souls will find Skeleton’s savagery too blunt or too crude? I guess that’s fair enough; Skeleton certainly aren’t here to dazzle anyone with their technical wizardry or impress anyone with happy-go-lucky goofball singalongs.
That said, I’d argue Skeleton’s primitivism is their very best feature. The band’s rawness scours your nerves and keeps those all-important more-evil-than-evil undercurrents on the boil. The band’s incantations might be stripped down, but Skeleton still mix things up, working d-beat and even crust-caked doom into their wicked sound. Mid-paced tracks sit alongside turbo-speed ragers, and while everything here is as dark as midnight, there’s still ample color to work with, if you catch my drift.
Skeleton’s debut places punk’s bite and black metal’s spite front and center – and if you’re aching for genuinely malevolent metalpunk, Skeleton more than deliver. The band’s negative noise certainly isn’t championing hope and kindness. However, like a lot of volatile music, Skeleton’s scorched-earth approach delivers much-needed catharsis. You know the deal: maximum volume yields maximum results. Here’s your soundtrack to a world in flames. Here’s your end-times tonic, brewed extra strong, and extra fucking mean.