Skinless Pick Up Where They Left Off on Only the Ruthless Remain
My reasons for choosing the new Skinless record to review are personal. From Sacrifice to Survival conjures very specific memories: flogging myself through an intense, month-long writing project on a borrowed laptop behind closed office doors after normal business hours. It probably would not have been my choice – at the time, I clung mostly to Through Silver in Blood, Jane Doe and anything else that stank of Artistic Merit – but the long hours of writing required music that wouldn’t suck me into anticipating that next drum fill, that next cataclysmic riff. I needed metal I didn’t immediately recognize, and a generous friend had just bestowed on me Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka and From Sacrifice to Survival, like some kind of benevolent Relapse angel from on high. Skinless, Nile and a half-dozen other bands stamped their visceral imprint on everything I wrote that month. I owe a great deal of gratitude for that gift.
Maybe it’s lazy to say that Skinless have picked up where they left off, but it only stands to reason that after you Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead then Only the Ruthless Remain. It’s pretty straightforward cause-and-effect. Maybe in the same way that electric amplification of stringed instruments and the human voice were bound to lead to the overloaded musical violence we call death metal. Regardless, for experienced metal fans, it’s almost unnecessary to describe Ruthless any more deeply than “it’s death metal from eastern New York.” If you think that’s a critic’s careless slight, then fuck you. Death metal from eastern New York kicks ass. Skinless are old school without being sloppy, melodic without being dopey, familiar without becoming tiresome. Sherwood Webber’s vocals are satisfyingly low and corrosive. Bob Beaulac and Joe Keyser roll out an abusive rhythmic regimen that carries the record ever forward, whether by throttling up the pace or dragging us into the gurgling muck. Noah Carpenter and (a different) Dave Matthews come off like six-string Lucifers, fallen gods of the guitar who choose a lower station because they prefer to reign in
Overall, Ruthless is a rewarding record that scratches the most persistent of death metal itches. At seven songs in 35 minutes, the album feels short, but that’s a compliment – I recently cut off a 20-minute album before the halfway point because what I’d heard had already gone on too long. I could easily listen to another quarter-hour of Skinless, but what they offer is a lean, zero-flaws death metal dynamo, and it’s hard to complain about that. Oh, and check out that fucking artwork! Hail!
Skinless’ Only the Ruthless Remain comes out June 2 on Relapse. You can stream the track “Barbaric Proclivity” here and pre-order the album here.