In a way, this review feels pointless. The band name is Soulskinner, the album cover is a medley of skeletal figures, and the album title is a reference to the Hebrew realm of the dead. If you’re going into this record expecting anything but death metal, you either just started listening to metal yesterday or you’re one of the individuals who stumbled upon our site by searching for “www.biack man goat fucks.”1 At first glance the most interesting thing Soulskinner offers is the knowledge that one’s spirit possesses an epidermis. Fortunately further listens reveal an inspired, mature, and memorable album that once again proves you don’t always have to push boundaries to make a great record.
Formed in 2000, Soulskinner are a Greek quintet who share members with Diavolos, Thou Art Lord, Principality of Hell, and a host of other Hellenic acts. Descent to Abaddon is the group’s fourth full-length, and it may as well be titled A Love Letter to Death Metal. Built off a foundation that recalls a creepier and less angry Deicide, Descent is a smorgasbord of death metal goodness, an unholy banquet that borrows freely from the genre’s heavy-hitters without ever feeling like a tired rehash.
Opener “Fracticide” begins the party respectably enough, seething like Glen Benton in a vat of holy water and brimming with riffs that reek of The Stench of Redemption. The guitar tone is full-bodied and fiery, and vocalist ‘Gothmog’ roars like Señor Benton at his most inspired. Follow-up “Soul of Death” and early highlight “Chorus of the Initiated” pull from the Swedeath playbook, with “Soul” riding windy Dismember tremolos and “Chorus” bouncing along on skank beats and a simple melodic riff. “The Dead Have Ravished” and “True Bliss” raid Vader‘s war chest with their deathrash verses, with “Ravished” even featuring a chorus lead that sounds heavily inspired by Bolt Thrower’s Those Once Loyal. In a world of compromise, why not bring out the big guns?
Other moments reveal both Descent’s ample variety and the versatility of guitarists Bill Zobolas and Spyros Triantafyllou.2 Both “Nemesis” and the title track slow things to doom-death levels, the former shambling along on glacial chugs and rotten melodies, the latter closing the album with intertwining leads, slimy bass notes, and a frightening yet cinematic chord progression. Throughout the record Zobolas and ‘T.’ embellish the tracks with solos that recall the dexterity and precision of Ralph Santolla’s performance on aforementioned Stench, albeit with less shred and more ‘raise the dead.’ Descent is a creepy album, and while the industry-standard DR6 could have offered a smidge more breathing room, the atmosphere remains dusty and haunting while the guitars bite with a powerful crunch.
Equally impressive is the songwriting. Most tracks are readily accessible with a rough verse-chorus structure, but often come packaged with a surprising twist that bumps up the “fuck yeah” factor by the end. Take “The Fall,” whose second half features chugging guitars that cut in and out over a steady drumbeat, before being overlaid by a rapid ghoulish melody. Likewise, just as one thinks they’ve had enough swift tremolo riffs for one day, penultimate track “Murder” bursts into a malicious chug that sounds like a hoard of skeletal pirates have you backed against the wall in some dank island dungeon. Throughout the album Soulskinner never devolve into washy atmospherics or other fluff — they remain both steadfastly riffy and consistently enjoyable, delivering a 45-minute onslaught of ideas with at least a few you’ll find replaying in your head days down the road.
Really, my only big complaints about Descent are that some of the riffs start to sound a bit similar by album’s end, and the record isn’t exactly brimming with its own identity. But even those feel like a reach. In all, Descent is a polished, earnest, and entertaining record that feels modern and yet proudly wears the tattered jacket of the old school. Unlike countless acts out there today, Soulskinner seem inspired by the genre’s innovators not because they want to play the same music, but because they want to conjure the same aural nightmare. Bottom line: if you like death metal, you will like this album. If you don’t like death metal, what the fuck did you click this review for?