I love to work out. I’m not freakishly huge and the amount of weight I can master is probably better measured in how much I can’t lift, but love it I do. As a result, there can be no denying that, for better or worse, the gym has become a criteria that I use to quantify music. It’s no surprise then that the riff, a thing I love more than most people, plays a pivotal part in any dalliance with The Iron. What better band to accompany me to that hall of meat and metal than New York’s Skinless, combining flesh and death in more than just name. Sixth album in, and second since 2015’s reformation, Savagery takes me by the hand and promises that, somewhere between rep and riff, I’m in for a brutal beating in every way that counts.
Skinless‘ approach has rarely deviated from their original statement, and Savagery is really no different. Megalodon riffs and apex percussion, peppered with pseudo-slams and guttural vocals to rumble the restraint from our despondent limbs. Now, I’m no amateur, and I’ve knowingly sorted my week into push/pull splits. That means today is back and biceps – thus, Savagery arrives packing a title track more potent than any bullshit pre-workout. All warmed up, I hit the curl bar primed with a barrage of rolling kick drums and primitive wrath-rhythms courtesy of guitarists, Noah Carpenter and Dave Matthews. A great solo, clearly inspired by James Murphy, mingles with my endorphins and we’re off to a crushing start.
Unlike the horde of fuckwits that litter gyms the world over, pouting in the mirror for the entirety of their 2 hour set of concentration curls, “Siege Engine” knows exactly what needs to be done – staggered palm-mutes that occasionally blur into a classic face-melter. Combined with the dense growls of vocalist, Sherwood Webber, churning amidst a prominent and ponderous bass line, I swear I smashed a few personal bests. Much of the album’s first half, while business as usual, undoubtedly gets the grizzly work done, but the strictly adhered to moderate tempo does become a little repetitive come halfway. Oddly, the album also features two brief instrumentals that, while very good – and freely enjoyed come my stiffly timed rest period – just seem strangely out-of-place. They don’t fluidly combine into their surrounding songs, and, if anything, suggest the beginning of some interesting material, only to be snatched away, which makes their brevity even worse. No one like a tease.
Thus far, I’ve flexed and flourished throughout all manner of curls, reverse flies and pull-downs, ever buoyed by the sadistic stylings of one of New York’s finest death metal bands. But, no matter the experience or determination, working arms equals ego, and I’ve begun to flag. Only one exercise can redeem my poseur shame, the royalty of the weight-room: The Deadlift. Fortunately for me, I’m accompanied by an album keenly made for such, so when “Medieval” thundered into life, I set about my work, lashed on by the song’s doom-inspired war-beat, given no quarter from the unrelenting riffage until my mighty task was done. The record’s compressed yet thick production boasts an unyielding guitar tone hard to complain about, given the genre, and never drowns out bassist, Joe Keyser, whose strings ominously flesh out such flayed fare.
Now, all that remains are a last few sets of upward rows and hammer-curls, eschewing the arbitrary rep numbers and instead lifted to failure. Skinless remain merciless in the face of my weariness, refusing any weakness with “Line of Dissent” and “Cruel Blade of the Guillotine.” Ravenous beasts both, the latter sports a mane of increased tempo, a motif that, retrospectively, would have served the overtly mid-paced material well.
The almighty riff, like The Iron, endures ever on, reliable and unflinching. The riff is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. Always there like a beacon in the pitch black. Skinless themselves play a part in the proud history of the riff, and Savagery, while a little more domesticated than its title might suggest, is complicit in its efficacy. A fraction less immediate than its predecessor and lacking the predatory nature of Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead, this is still an album to hold ourselves accountable to, come the time to set aside childish half-reps and knuckle down to those compound-crushers where, one way or another, sinew meets song.