Considering the prevalence of nostalgia culture in social media, I’m surprised that Richard Donner’s 1985 cult classic The Goonies hasn’t seen a significant surge in popularity. Seeing it today reminds me that the film was a perfect recreation of my wildest childhood fantasies of close-lurking adventure. Yes, there is a pirate ship loaded with treasure hiding underneath your hometown. Yes, you have to go down an extremely fun and extremely dangerous waterslide to get to it. Yes, you can steal a kiss from your older brother’s hot girlfriend, even if your older brother is an even hotter Josh Brolin. If there’s any musical genre in existence that’s all about crafting a similar sense of childlike wonder, it’s power metal; so, as lame as it is, a power metal concept album about The Goonies makes some sense. For better or for worse, Italy’s terribly named Skeletoon is up to the challenge.
Cementing the trend of ill conceived titles, opener “Hell-O” immediately sets the record’s tone with an energetic salvo of bombastic power metal akin to early Secret Sphere. It’s compositions such as this one – blazingly fast and memorably hooky – where Skeletoon‘s strengths are on full display. The speedy cuts occupy roughly half of the record, spaced so that the listener receives a jolt of adrenaline roughly every other track, keeping the pace reasonably brisk. The most well-rounded of the bunch, “The Truffle Shuffle Army”1, is especially notable for its inclusion of a startlingly accurate Michael Kiske impression from guest vocalist Alessandro Conti (Trick or Treat, ex-Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody). Most tracks feature a guest singer, making the record a sort of Goonies-themed Avantasia clone. So weird is this idea that I have to admire Skeletoon, as the range of guest stars is bizarrely ambitious for such an unassuming concept.
They Never Say Die isn’t a particularly complex record, and thus its problems reveal themselves from listen one. Songwriting is a particular pain point for Skeletoon; tracks like “I Have the Key” start strong with high velocity bouts of soaring guitars, only for the momentum to be utterly extinguished by the arrival of a hokey, flaccid verse. Speed is the key to most of the record’s successes, and while the cartoonishly ominous main riff of the otherwise plodding “Hoist Our Colors” proves the band capable of small down-tempo victories, all of the mid-paced cuts are merely passable when approached in their entirety. A greater emphasis on experimentation could bode well for Skeletoon on future outings, as the lengthy, proggy “When Legends Turn Real” is surprisingly memorable. The band admittedly feels out of their depth on this track, but it makes for good, goofy fun regardless.
Skeletoon‘s Metal Opera style approach to guest inclusion typically works in their favor to elevate vocal variety and texturing, but some of these vocalists occasionally feel miscast. The placement of Morby (Sabotage, Domine) in “I Have the Key” is an especially poor choice; the guy’s a good, traditional metal vocalist, but he clearly struggles to meet the high notes required by the chorus. Of course, the demanding highs wouldn’t exist without the precedence set by frontman Mr. Tomi Fooler 2. His timbre lacks a distinctive identity, but he carries the record with fantastic range, even though I nearly threw myself down a well the first time I heard him rhyme “fire” with “desire.” Sound-wise, They Never Say Die is competent, with decent mixing and a surprisingly weighty guitar sound, though the drum tones lack character.
All that’s left to say for They Never Say Die is that it bizarrely concludes with a pair of cover tracks: a passable yet unnecessary carbon copy of Avantasia‘s “Farewell,” and a metallized version of Cyndi Lauper‘s “Goonies ‘R Good Enough.” Skeletoon‘s labelmates in Cellador already had the latter idea two years ago, an incidence which I find amusingly allegorical to this record as a whole. Skeletoon displays almost no interest in blazing their own trail; they are clearly most comfortable when aping every major power metal act that came before them. That’s totally fine in most tracks, but as the band sounds apathetic whenever they ease off the accelerator, it’s apparent that they don’t know how to succeed without relying on pure speed. What’s left is half an album’s worth of playlistable power metal tracks, though for all but genre die-hards, this doesn’t really warrant a full purchase.