Skeletal – Bitterness and Burning Hatred Review

I have mixed feelings towards modern death metal. On one hand, you have a lot of bands doing pretty cool stuff, like the warped songwriting of Blood Incantation or the hardcore underpinnings of Xibalba. On the other hand, few of these modern bands are anywhere near as good as the classics. That certainly doesn’t stop them from trying, however, and Finland’s Skeletal are the latest looking to leave their mark on the scene. Though they’re a new name to me, Skeletal1 actually formed back in 2007, finally releasing their debut Dreadful Life in 2017. Bitterness and Burning Hatred is the group’s second album and one that I’m already fond of given how much the artwork reminds me of the poster for the 1979 monster movie Prophecy.2 But fond memories of midnight creature features only get you so far in the Book of Z—how does the music hold up?

As it turns out, pretty darn well. Unlike the slew of bands from the last decade influenced by either Incantation, Bolt Thower, or Swedeath, Skeletal find their lifeblood elsewhere. The biggest name that comes to mind is actually Pestilence, particularly with the slightly technical yet catchy riffs that twist together across Hatred’s nine tracks. The vocalist only furthers the comparison, with a manic rasp that readily brings to mind Patrick Mameli (along with a bit of Autopsy’s Chris Reifert). Likewise, the rhythms are quite fluid and dynamic, occasionally giving way to colorful progressive explorations that, in addition to Pestilence, also bring to mind The Chasm. Opener “Lower Than Filth” shows this from the outset, breaking from its death metal attack for a glorious midsection of gleaming leads and triumphant chords.

The true success of Hatred stems from three factors: variety, standout ideas, and engaging songwriting. Third track “The Loss” showcases all three, initially slowing the pace to a resolute shuffle before working in a melodic riff that sounds like later Death and finishing it all by picking up the tempo for a terrific stomping ending. “Razor’s Edge” is another great track, cruising along with subtle delay pedal effects before the guitars crystallize into a more salient idea, only to later reinvent this idea in the song’s final minute. “Against the Grain” stands in contrast as a short banger full of pounding rhythms, while brief instrumental “One Eyed Watcher” features dramatic melodies that set the stage nicely for the quick Consuming Impulse tremolos that propel closer “Burning Hatred” onto my shortlist of standout tracks.

Through it all lead guitarist Make Tiainen garnishes these songs with plenty of nimble and melodic solos, while vocalist and guitarist Samuel Lehikoinen seems to have a plethora of good riffs stuffed the pockets of his leather jacket. Sadly not everything is so stellar. While Hatred is easy to enjoy in full, its ideas still feel far from iconic when compared to the death metal classics. Likewise, “Apathy” is a bit of a weak spot in the album’s second half, as its plodding riffs are simply nowhere near strong enough to carry the song’s nearly seven minute runtime. Fortunately the production is great, with an old school varnish that lets the melodies ring clear and occasionally allows the bass guitar to be heard clanging beneath it all.

Going in blind, I was pleasantly surprised by Skeletal. I can’t recall a modern band that sounds so much like Pestilence and the fact that this group aren’t afraid to color outside the lines bodes quite well for their future. As mentioned there’s plenty of variety and highlights here, but beyond that the band’s eclectic nature just gives off a bit of weirdness that imbues this band with an intriguing mystique. All this considered, Skeletal are a refreshing find and an easy recommendation for all death metal fans out there, particularly those that enjoy when a band isn’t afraid to employ some progressive inclinations.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Death in Pieces Records
Releases Worldwide: July 6th, 2020

Show 2 footnotes

  1. And not Skelethal, who I originally thought they were when I saw them listed in the promo bin.
  2. Which I would highly recommend watching for two reasons: chainsaw duel and mutant bear monster.
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