Without massive pain and discomfort arisen from grief in the face of death, tragedy, and oppression there’d be no primal impetus for artistic innovation in most every conceivable realm. Unrequited lovers paint more drastically, unjustly imprisoned write Earth-scorching manifesto rather than gleeful prose, and no dark art is more stained with the blood-red brutality of grief than death metal. Just as none turn to Satan without knowing too well the burning hypocrisy of Christianity, none turn to death metal (in earnest) without the endless void-hungry worm of grief chipping away at their entire being. Such was the original drive for Cleveland, Ohio-based death metal project Shed the Skin, who’d first banded together as a tribute to seminal Midwest death metal project Blood of Christ and the untimely end of revered musician Tom Rojack (Decrepit, Civil Disobedience). It wasn’t entirely grief that’d glue that membership together but a love for the ’88-’96 expansion of death metal in the Ohio area, one of the least analyzed and woefully underappreciated sects in the United States during death metal’s classic era. Open-minded embrace of worldwide extreme thrash and death metal influences alongside a cumulative balance of brutality and melodicism defined the hard hits and Scandinavian excess of the overall scene and those traits can likewise be repurposed in description of Shed the Skin‘s crossing of murderous Satanic deathcult riffing with the swinging dalliance of ornate and infectiously rock’d melodic hooks. It hurts, it hugs, and it punches you in the shoulder afterwards to make sure you don’t get any ideas.
Feracious in riff and ferocious in motion Shed the Skin‘s third full-length album since 2011, ‘The Forbidden Arts’, opens with pure violence. The throat slashing Deicide-meets-‘Diabolical Summoning‘ early hits of “Skeletal Firestorm” eventually round up into a classic grinder with a Slaughterday-thick sound and a set of riffs far more aggressive than expected. The previous album, ‘We of Scorn‘ (2018) began with a few melodically driven pieces whereas the fuckin’ nuke of riffs that lands between the opener and killer standout piece “Archons of the Final Creation” sets an incredibly energized tone and pace that feels as classic and hungered as the old scene they’d all grown up in. Who then? Well, you can read all of the fanboy blathering about all the solid bands these guys have been in on the review for ‘We of Scorn’ from a few years back, basically key members of Incantation, Ringworm, Faithxtractor and From the Depths. Though it’d be easy to lump this project in with other stacked resume death metal bands full of old pros from the 90’s underground (Ruinous, Kurnugia, etc) where Shed the Skin stand out is in the craft of a truly varied and inspired full album experience. Sure, the riff-blast of “Archons of the Final Creation” will be enough to sell just about any death metal fan on the album but the full listen is probably a bigger ‘sell’ overall thanks it its dynamic nature with varied mood, pace and inspired rhythm work defined by plenty of adept swings between heavy grooves and deeper intricacies. You’re not going to need to punch more than three songs deep into this thing before it’ll have slapped death metal sense into you.
The greater appeal of throwing on ‘The Forbidden Arts’ comes with the sensation that it’ll put you through a bit of everything from grinding death/doom dips, death-thrashing riffs, and a heavy dose of melodic (but never soft) death metal. I couldn’t help but think it’d been the exact right remedy to the moderate failures of Paths to Possession or, alternately a good approximation of the traits that made Decrepit special back in the day on their demos. With that said I don’t think either band could’ve pulled off a song like the funereal death monolith “Trow of Tragedy”, a slow-chugging act of pure tension that finds Shed the Skin exploring territory that feels fresh without sounding drastically different from their previous records. I hear steps beyond known realms alongside very classic death metal moments that all make for an easily followed and felt death metal album, an experience focused on -songwriting- that is refreshingly void of nonsense and/or dry imitation. Sure, I could (and did) say a lot of these same things about the band’s previous record but this time around I’d emphasize how “complete” the full listen feels in the space of one spin and how damned memorable their blasphemic horrors quickly become. The only thing I’d say is that if you found ‘We of Scorn’ too melodic then I’d suggest this one is a bit more doom n’ gloom, with a fair number of heavy mind-lurkers (“Trow of Tragedy”, “Veins of Perdition”, etc.) along the way.
“Necromantic Wellspring” is the fifth song in a row to feature a big, unforgettable riff and this one comes immediately, eventually warping into a heavier flit between doom metal riff runs and thrashing fast parts making for one of my favorite pieces on the album. Ash Thomas (Faithxtractor) and Matt Sorg (Ringworm, ex-Decrepit) had won me over with their performances at this point on the album, even on the first spin I was completely blown away at the leap in aggression compared to the prior record. “The Laundress” slows things down again, dragging their ruffs down to nigh sludge metal territory before a trad metal guitar run in the middle shifts gears towards melodic death metal to great effect. There are a few sleepers here and there but any big-ass heavy metal moment on this record comes with another and for my taste the best combination of tracks was Side B‘s coupling of “The Laundress” with the mid-paced stunner “Black Bile of Ceres”, arguably the second side’s analogue to the fury of “Archons of the Final Creation” where the fiery jazz-like finesse of the main riff (starting ~2:00 minutes) had me jumping back to the song countless times because I couldn’t knock it out of my head otherwise.
You get it — classics-minded, mid-to-fast paced, riff-obsessed pure death metal with a melodic spin and a ton of inspired moments of vitality throughout. ‘The Forbidden Arts’ is probably the most accomplished grip of songs from the project to date, it continues to feel like we’re getting truly big things from Shed the Skin as I sit to reflect on the album’s grip on me the last few weeks. Hell, I don’t remember the last time I’d had to take notes on my favorite riffs (due to the sheer number + quality) during a write up. Best Shed the Skin record yet, an unexpected ante up, and an easy high recommendation if you’re into death metal of any kind.
High recommendation. 4.0/5.0
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