Skeletal Remains – Devouring Mortality (2018) REVIEW

The slow-burning evolution of Skeletal Remains‘ old school death metal sound began in one of the most difficult pits of inspiration as they attempted to poke their heads above the constant waves of Death, Pestilence, and Gorguts influenced projects. It never seemed like these Whittier, California based death/thrash heads were satiated with their resources on their earliest releases as their ‘Desolate Isolation’ demo in 2011 and debut full-length ‘Beyond the Flesh’ merely emulated the quality and structure of classic records Gorguts ‘Considered Dead’ and Pestilence ‘Consuming Impulse’ with some influence from intermediates like Morgoth and early Obituary. Though you could point to Martin Van Drunen‘s early career and early Death influenced European/North American death metal as clear influences, Skeletal Remains was of a certain quality beyond the average retro projects they were compared to at the time. I heard the ambition in their music early on and have championed their tunes long enough to hear them realize their grander vision completely on their third full-length ‘Devouring Mortality’.

It is worth pointing out that three solid full-lengths without any giant line-up changes, wild departures in style, or full disbanding has always been a rare feat with fully collaborative old school death metal projects. In gaining major distribution, commissioned polish (Dan Swanö) and classy artwork (Dan Seagrave) Skeletal Remains stepped things up nearly to the point of excess on this third album. But before I dive into ‘Devouring Mortality’ it was hugely important to re-introduce ‘Condemned to Misery’ as 2015’s star old school death metal album that saw the band sourcing Death‘s ‘Spiritual Healing’, Pestilence ‘Testimony of the Ancients’ and generally elevated the technical approach of the group with Hexen/Warbringer drummer Carlos Cruz.  His drumming brought in a faster pace and patterns that invoked Gorguts ‘Erosion of Sanity’ and early Demolition Hammer alike. In the realm of post 90’s old school death metal it was a peak and one that didn’t seem usurp-able.

‘Devouring Mortality’ features a new drummer Johnny Valles (Fiend) who is more or less battling it out with the loud and huge mix of the album throughout as every element of the record is yanked beneath the appropriately threatening gigantic guitar tone. I would echo my earlier sentiments of ‘Erosion of Sanity’ alongside Demolition Hammer‘s explosive second record ‘Epidemic of Violence’ as goals for intensity, technicality and overall attack on ‘Devouring Mortality’. Yes, you’re still getting the early Pestilence style vocals, though he mixes in an Obituary-esque shout in the slower sections, but the overall effect builds out the intent of ‘Condemned to Misery’ into something doubly eruptive and violently forward-moving. The inherent brutality of this polished old school informed death metal takes Skeletal Remains into the league of legacy groups they’d worshiped before and outdoes them in many respects.

For the first 4-5 listens I wasn’t sure what ‘Devouring Mortality’ left behind beyond generally impressive polish. As an old school death metal obsessive myself these iterations don’t reach into the wells of obscurity for inspiration but rather stick with their readily established fonts of influence. In doing so the band achieves an overall elevation both in performance and production while remaining familiar. I will say that I was reminded of the more aggressive moments from Polluted Inheritance‘s second album ‘Betrayed’ and the more technical/brutal parts of Oppressor‘s ‘Solstice of Oppression’ but those aren’t concrete or constant similarities. One of the most impressive gains here is in guitar muscle and lead guitar variance. Whereas ‘Condemned to Misery’ found the band exploring a balance of frantic and practiced leads here we’re given outright nods to the great works of Chuck Schuldiner that are especially evident on “Grotesque Creation” and “Internal Detestation”. The riffs, well for the sake of being succinct the riffs are why you’re here and why you’ll stay engaged with Skeletal Remains discography in general.

At some point this sort of project inspires comparative listening to the old school bands that they’ve inspired and I’d reached that point early in my listening as I revisited Asphyx, Morgoth, MassacreGorguts, etc. and Skeletal Remains’ discography between listens. In some ways the ultimate comparison is ‘Consuming Impulse’ for it’s containment of brutal thrash and visceral reaction to Death‘s ‘Human’. Usually I’d end up saying the value of having a referential influence in a death metal project initially perceived as ‘retro’ is that it drums up extraneous listening and acts as a celebration of greater things. Yet I’m inspired to suggest that ‘Devouring Mortality’ is a great work itself, in fact it verges on being too much of a good thing at a full 45 minutes of defiant death metal colossus. To the very end of it’s 45 minute length Skeletal Remains are double-bass beating in skulls with album closers “Reanimating Pathogen” and “Internal Detestation” being some of the harder-hitting tracks on the track list. It is a relentless experience.

I feel exhausted when ‘Devouring Mortality’ finishes, and the more time I spent with it the more it resembled the larger experience of those huge records of the early 90’s like ‘Epidemic of Violence’ and ‘Human’ where the aural assault was so thrilling and overwhelming to my mental music palate that I’d end up at a point of satiation. A true music fanatic never wants to hit that point because if you’re not dying for more you’ve hit upon an existential crisis of cruel satisfaction as the lust for the hunt dies a flattening death. Though no less was expected from this project, in raising the bar so high Skeletal Remains have obliterated the weaker virility of similar projects, and even some classics in the process. It is a savagely precise treatment of old school death metal ethos that sets cruelly high standards for the rest of the world.

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Artist Skeletal Remains
Type Album
Released April 13, 2018
BUY/LISTEN on Dark Descent Records’ Bandcamp! Follow Skeletal Remains on Facebook
Genres

Sacrificing lives with apathy. 4.5/5.0

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