The music on the sophomore release by Cleveland’s death metal quintet Shed the Skin is deceptively simple. In its core, the band’s possessed, groove-laden death metal is propelled steadily forward at medium pace and with a certain brutality characteristic for Hells Headbangers’ roster. Around these straightforward and conventional structures, floating somewhere between thrash, old school, and modern death metal, the group cultivates an abundance of flair and an aura of tight frolic. Euphonic guitar leads and solos embellish nearly every moment of the record to create a multicolored melodic death metal album.
On We of Scorn, Shed the Skin deal with almost a carefree exuberance in the music that contrasts their traditionally grim death metal subjects. The opener “From Tortured Realms” showcases this curious take on the genre. A catchy stringed section introduces the track before dropping into a busy, impactful progression dominated by roaring guitar riffs and harmonies. The song, infected with tasteful, snaking melodies, invites an elegant sort of headbanging and dancing. Shed the Skin seem fully aware of how effective this blueprint is and thus distill and replicate it throughout. And when it works, it works amazingly well: the title track “We of Scorn” is, for example, a scorcher overfilled with inspired riffs, ace guttural vocals counterpoised to raspy growls, and a smashing closing groove. Elsewhere, the tempo decreases to a plod on the hammering “Tetrarchy Pact” before reaching breakneck speeds to create a driving and driven sensation on “Legion of the Scorpion.” It’s this latter song that brings We of Scorn closest to the Gothenburg school of death metal. On the other hand, cuts like “Trepanning Sanity” show diversity in the songwriting as the group doubles down on robustly executed thrash elements.
Unfortunately, as slower and faster tunes vacillate, the band’s approach and instrumental flourishes along with the homogeneity and consistency of material become too much of a good thing. This is made evident toward the end of the album and is exacerbated during repeated listens, just as the magic and wow factor of Shed the Skin’s music start to wear off. While there are still exquisite moments during We of Scorn’s second half, such as on standouts like “Remonstrating the Preserver” with its slow, mesmerizing burn or the varied and oft eclectic closer “Forever,” the closing half as a whole emanates a lack of inspiration. Within it, it’s especially “Luminous Transgression” and “Serpentspawn Upheavel” that evoke a sense of déjà vu.
Regardless, the pacing of the record is excellent. We of Scorn is divided into ten lean and mean tracks clocking at around three or four minutes each and devoid of any fillers. This sort of craft should be expected considering how Shed the Skin comprises “veterans” and veterans of the death metal scene: Kyle Severn on drums (Incantation), Matt Sorg on guitars (Ringworm), Ash Thomas on vocals and guitars (Faithxtractor), and Ed Stephens on bass (Vindicator). Their ideas, experiences, and playing synergize and result in solidly written and expertly performed music that is enveloped by a fitting production and mastering. The guitars are crunchy, the drums, bass, and vocals carefully layered and easily distinguishable, while the polished production values do not rob the music of any of the necessary bite and sense of claustrophobia that death metal calls for.
Whilst often maligned, melodic death metal is seeing something of a resurgence with both stalwarts like Kalmah and newcomers like Led to the Grave releasing strong material. Yet Shed the Skin approach the genre from a different direction, spiffing up the old school death metal affinities found on their 2016 début Harrowing Faith and taking them into a canorous territory that feels natural yet fresh. That the result is so melodic seems almost like an unexpected consequence. Finally, despite some of its shortcomings, We of Scorn is both an easy recommendation to lovers of melodic death metal as well as proof that there is still life in the genre.