Those of you who were in high school when the deathcore thing really took off like I was will instantly recoil a bit at Shed the Skin’s “VERB the NOUN” Fad-Libs type of name, but fear not; Harrowing Faith won’t send your mind pit-ninja-dancing back to the neon-tinted halcyon days of Myspace where there was little more to life than finding the most brutal of chugs and the most tasteless of poppycock that would be screamed before or during a breakdown that could be emblazoned in bold typeface on the back of a hoodie. Sure, you’re not getting something here that can maybe impress cute scene girls if you bought a DeLorean and drove back to 2007, but you are getting something that will probably make your death metal lovin’ ears (which hopefully aren’t deformed by stupid oversized discs) happy in 2016, no flux capacitor required.
I first took interest in Shed the Skin because it’s an American supergroup featuring Kyle Severn of having a mustache fame (he also plays drums in Incantation). Present as well are members of plenty of other bands, the most well-known of which is probably Ringworm. Harrowing Faith’s main influence to my ears is Ringworm’s last record Hammer of the Witch, whose sharp and violent death metal infused hardcore forms the backbone of the songs here. The death metal is ratcheted up several notches here, and seems more similar to Acheron than Incantation due to its less serpentine and more straightforwardly punishing nature. While Acheron is a fairly melodic band, the further melodic, somewhat more acrobatic, and thrashier style of Soulless plays a sizeable role in the sound here as well. Each band mentioned here appears on one or more member’s Metallicum Vitae, so Shed the Skin is giving us essentially what we’d expect from them.
This is a good thing, because we all enjoy music that’s at least decent, which each of the above bands achieve. The title track is a quality outing, exploiting Severn’s varied and typically excellent drumming and some melodic and death-y riffing steeped in hardcore’s concrete-block-to-the-face simplicity to make a memorable and compelling tune which keeps a high level of energy and interest throughout. “Warband under the Baphomet” shouldn’t work as well as it does, but the experience of Shed the Skin’s members shine through in the execution. It moves from energetic Ringworm chugging to Acheron’s tremolo Incantation-isms at the drop of a hat for two minutes and features no less than three guitar solos, coming across as compellingly busy instead of cluttered and intense instead of rushed. The Acheron-ified melodic death metal of “Putrid and Pious” is addictive, and the Ringworm styled death-chugs get the blood pumping in a big way. The leads there and everywhere else on Harrowing Faith are of a better than average quality, finding a nice place between technicality and chaos.
“CSUM” tries to simplify Necroticism by jamming it through the Harrowing Faith filter, but it doesn’t measure up to Carcass’ brilliant third record and comes off sounding like a competent and fun tribute instead. While closing track “Execration Divine” rides a nice early Entombed rip-off lead in its midsection, the song itself doesn’t really go anywhere; it starts with the trademark metal creepy organ, and then rides a quintessentially 90s slower thrash riff that’s not too heavy but still pretty good, and closes with a brief bout of vocals and feedback. The minute-plus introduction to “Alpha and Omega” sounds forced in its sorta-atmospherics as that’s not in Shed the Skin’s wheelhouse, which is clearly defined by the time this song, the eighth on the record, comes on. Introductory track “Plasmic Flames” stumbles out of the gate, as the short and unrelenting punishment of proper opener “Daimonic Adytum” would have made a far stronger initial impression than the Halloween soundtrack style of spooky piano you’re first greeted with when pressing play.
Harrowing Faith’s production sounds like a more polished and louder Kult Des Hasses and Dirges of Elysium, giving the tunes a nice kick to them and not sounding mechanical or overproduced in the slightest; with that in mind, there are unfortunately places where it sounds precariously close to clipping. So while Shed the Skin may not have created an indispensable genre classic, they’ve had fun creating this stuff and it shows. This is a good record, and it sounds like a bunch of talented musicians coming together and doing stuff they like that wouldn’t work in their main bands. There’s always the idea that supergroups are a vehicle for ideas left on the cutting room floor, which may be the case here. If Harrowing Faith is such a record, then so be it; warmed up leftovers can be quite good if the original meal was too.