Skeleton – Skeleton Review

As the world stares into the gaping, foaming maw of a blind and staggering 2020, it’s a fair bet that literally billions of people wish they lived in simpler times. We can all now look back on our lives and easily identify those carefree salad days we didn’t recognize in the moment. I’m sure it varies from person to person just when those better times were, but we can at least rally around the certainty that no one would say they’re right now. For a band like Skeleton, it’s easy to pinpoint what uncomplicated era they pine for. Every inch of their sound recalls the heady days when punk rock collided with proto-thrash and satanic theatrics, culminating in Venom’s genre founding 1982 masterstroke Black Metal. Like their British antecedents, the Texans in Skeleton are faithful adherents to the vile church of galloping drums and unembellished riffs that bypass the brain and go straight for the throat. But does their crude and rude assault on decency rise above the level of pastiche?

Nothing says “we’re not fancy” like the band, album and first song sharing the same name, and Skeleton, Skeleton and “Skeleton” all say it loudly. This is a terse 28 minute blast of scuzzy, buzzy guitars and d-beats with smoker’s cough vocals and probably tetanus. There is some variation within a narrow range of styles discernible across Skeleton, with songs like “T.O.A.D” skewing toward hardcore punk, “At War” and “Turned to Stone” swerving more black-and-roll and “The Sword” letting some traditional metal influence break through. Album bookends “Skeleton” and “Catacombs” even indulge in a bit of the more melodic tremolo riffing of second wave black metal, but this and a modern production job is as close to more contemporary sounds as Skeleton allows themselves to get.

The greatest strength of this musical vein has always been an uncomplicated, filthy sense of fun, and that can certainly be found on Skeleton. Everything is up-tempo with a nice guitar tone and economical riffs that repeat often but don’t outstay their welcome. “T.O.A.D” is the best example of this, with a bouncy, almost straight punk delivery while drummer/vocalist Victor Skeleton croaks maniacally in the background. Where the album really cooks, though, is when the band uses swaggering black-and-roll to build tension. The unhurried intros of “At War” and “Turned to Stone” make the blasts that come later that much more rewarding. It helps that the guitar lines that underpin them are memorable while the drumming is punchy and confident. Speaking of confident, the album highlight is the absolutely blistering “Taste of Blood,” which is one of the most concise embodiments of the combined energies of punk, thrash and black metal I’ve heard in quite some time.

Faithful reconstruction of a sound that is pretty bare by today’s standards doesn’t come without its downsides. For one, the simplistic structures of early 80’s punk, without hooky choruses to bolster them, can be pretty boring to contemporary ears. Songs like “Mark of Death” start strong but dissolve into aimless d-beat purgatory, while “Ring of Fire”—sorry, not a Cash cover—and “A Far Away Land” fall absolutely flat as rote exercises in a style that was more interesting for the context that spawned it than for its musical qualities. And that’s just the thing: when your goal is to recapture an almost four decade old moment without the roiling contextual backdrop, even if you manage to tap into some of the fun, you’ll never have the same bite or urgency.

I’m not saying that anyone will look back on 2020 fondly, but nostalgia is weird. By a lot of measurables, there’s no such thing as a simpler or better time, no matter what point in the timeline you’re observing from. There’s a lot to like about Skeleton’s uncomplicated vitriol, and there are fun songs—as well as some clunkers—and a sharp sound to Skeleton but the convergence of punk, traditional metal, thrash and black metal in the early 80s happened through a complex chain of events. In comparison, reaching for that sound in the present as either an homage or an attempt to re-bottle lightning is a simple task that will always have a diminished return.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: 20 Buck Spin
Releases Worldwide: July 10th, 2020

« »