Shed the Skin – The Forbidden Arts Review

We all know a veteran metalhead who shows up to every gig – that older fella who has been going to shows since 1974, standing in the same spot, never going to the toilet, just nodding his head and occasionally, slowly, raising horns to the sky. He usually has wispy grey-white hair that flows, wizard like, to his ankles. He usually wears a faded Morbid Angel t-shirt purchased at a ’87 gig when they passed through the town. He has a battle jacket packed with patches of obscure speed-metal bands from 1985 and crust-punk bands from Wales. He was born on the sticky floor of the venue. He is God. The members of Shed the Skin are the same. They’re the grizzled veterans of the death metal scene. Okay, some of them are balding now, but they know their stuff – they’ve been around the block many a time. Featuring Kyle Severn, drummer for Incantation, Ed Stephes and Matt Sorg of Ringworm, Ash Thomas of Thorns of the Carrion, and keyboardist Brian Boston who released speed/thrash demos in the late 80s, Shed the Skin are entrenched in the system. Shed the Skin is another spin-off project of a project of a spin-off, or so it feels. The Forbidden Arts is their third full-length. 

Vocalist Ash Thomas has a grizzled, putrid, sickness-inducing garbled quality to his death growls that seep through the mucus-like essence of Shed the Skin. Double vocals overlay throughout: mangled and gurgled cries from the throat and vast bellows from the chest. They spin around one another, often clashing, and always providing an engrossing textural dynamic. They’re quintessentially death metal of the gore-ridden variety that makes similar bands like Carcass and Exhumed so repulsively alluring. Shed the Skin lack the extravagant drama of the aforementioned; their delivery is uniform, a constant thrust of excitable groove-laden death metal that refuses to deviate into pomposity. 

Ultimately, The Forbidden Arts is a record that would destroy when performed live. Vast grooves beat in tandem with heartbeats throughout, most satisfying in the lurching, staggering, grinding menace of “The Moor, The Madness” and “Master of Thralls.” Soloing from the heavens darts through the mix at opportune moments and a general sense of might travels through the slower jaunts as evident at the end of “Archons of the Final Creation” and the beginning of the morbid “Trow of Tragedy.” Though new ground is not broken, Shed the Skin know how to strike at the core of sonic satisfaction. The Forbidden Arts sounds massive too. Dan Swanö has done a great job blending bass heavy dirt with pristine clarity arriving as squeals, pinches and solos. 

The Forbidden Arts would excel if limited to sub-30 minutes. These balls-to-the-wall records are much more impacting in small doses and, by trying to implement too many atmospheric, slower passages, Shed the Skin fail to maintain the power that the opening half of the record creates. “Necromantic Wellspring,” nestled comfortably in the mid-album safe zone, grinds and surges with a frantic pleasure but its lack of direction and memorable hook causes it to fall into a forgettable mulch. Unfortunately, the back end mostly follows this slovenly path. “Black Bile of Ceres” in particular throbs along miserably like the final pumps of a decaying heart. It’s not that the music is inherently bad – it’s just tired. Add to this the doomier tone of penultimate track “Veins of Perdition” and the record is dragged to panting limits.

Shed the Skin know what they want and know how to get it. This feels like an exercise in getting friends together to play a playful and putrid death metal. It works, its effective – that’s all. But, 47-minutes of it can grow weary and – if you listen to a lot of releases a month, as I’m sure you all do – it’s difficult to accommodate everything. It’s the curse of the modern age and we’re all to blame. For me, The Forbidden Arts would be much more satisfying if the doom elements were cut and the grinding energy was upped a notch. Regardless, if you’re after death metal you’ll get death metal.


Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Hells Headbanger Records
Websites: shed-the-skin.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/shedtheskin
Releases Worldwide: June 26th, 2020

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