Not to be confused with skindrone dot com (a website promoting “5 Proven Home Remedies for Seborrheic Dermatitis on the Scalp”), the Skin Drone of interest here turns out to be a tech-death group from Massachusetts/Arkansas. Formed by Bluntface Records founder Otto Kinzel, Skin Drone fuses traditional tech-death with blackish avante-garde—the latter flavorings being the most interesting. Anxiety-inducing interludes loop in and out of the band’s death-metal chaos, resulting in haunting effects, along with gorgeous piano, menacing spoken-word, and clean/acoustic guitar angelics. Though the bulk of debut album, Evocation, remains techy, it is these dark tangents that keep me coming back for more.
Like all bands, Skin Drone have their influences. The difference being that Skin Drone wears their influences like a hooded cape. Not surprising, the band lists a variety of death metal bands on their Facebook page and everyone of them is accounted for in their sound. Skin Drone combines Origin and Necrophagist frontal assaults with the melodic inklings of Gorguts. The guitar/bass combination is on par with bands like Obscura and Cattle Decapitation. And The Berzerker-esque programmed drums complete this tech-death package. Aside from the musical similarities to these influences, the raw production and anxious/beautiful transitions do lend some uniqueness to the band’s sound. Mindfucking, unnerving, unsettling, Evocation is the soundtrack to your inevitable breakdown.
“Scarlet Road” kicks things off with the kind of drums and guitars typical of inner ear damage. With high-pitched Origin pluckings as a foundation, Erik Martin builds skyscrapers with his rasping hate. After the nightmare begins to build, the soft-spoken transitions finally appear. This is sure to change your mood while causing eyebrows to raise. Like most of Evocation, this moment of reflection is quick to collapse under the song’s heaviness. Leaving desperate and confused victims quaking in its wake. Or, at least, shivering a little bit.
“God Complex” follows the opener with some mid-paced chugs and gentle Alcest-like atmospheres. But, once again, the moodiness is short-lived as the guitars and drums rip the song’s calmness to shreds. Good or bad, this aggressive-to-soothing-to-aggressive (repeat) approach becomes the foundation for most of Evocation. The formula keeps you off-guard upon the first couple spins, but the repetition hinders repeat listens. And, unfortunately, “God Complex” doesn’t quite have the impact as the opener.
The exception to Evocation‘s formula is instrumental “Ghost Reflection.” It is simple, powerful, and goddamn gorgeous. Chirping wildlife, distant voices in the wood, acoustic guitars, piano, and strings go above and beyond to break the mold. Hell, even the odd tribal drums toward the end make for a captivating experience. “Shepherd of the Damned” also delves in clean-guitar territories. Perhaps some of the best guitar work on the album, the song’s soothing strums will engulf you in its liquid-like layers. And just in case you feel the need to return to the surface, the overlaying, out-of-tune vocals are sure to trap you in this oxygen-absent nightmare. “Shepherd of the Damned” stands as one of the more balanced tracks on the album and a great representation of Evocation‘s sound. And then there is the nine-minute closer, “Salvation,” which attempts to outdo the other songs by corralling every moment into one, overstayed epic. Unfortunately, after incorporating all the stops-and-starts, ups-and-downs of the previous tracks, it falls short of its true potential.
Evocation‘s raw production (and old-school flavor) provides some contrast to the cleanliness of the genre’s sound. The roughness of the production provides the guitars with an added frenzy and the bass with a warm, human element. “Death Sentence” and “Salvation,” in particular, include examples of Kinzel’s stellar bass-work. But it is the avante-garde interludes and quasi-industrial influences that make Evocation special. These subtle touches add memorability to the otherwise run-of-the-mill tech-death of the debut. For diehard fans of the genre, the aggression exists via “Death Sentence” and “Witching Hour” (if you can get past the cringe-worthy opening line of the former). And the avante-garde elements are there to keep you coming back for more. Evocation is a respectable debut and one that has me waiting for the band’s sophomore release.