What a surprise out of left field. When you look at Skeletal Remains album “Beyond the Flesh” and consider the name of the band combines with the album cover’s Cannibal Corpse motif, you think you know what you’re getting.
Yet, you would be wrong! Okay, there are the given deathmetal and grindcore standards, including the scowling vocals, nightmarish lyrical themes and generally ghoulish presentation, but the twist comes in the unexpected form of catchy and melodic riffs and purely free-form Van Halen style soloing.
The solos in particular are the highlight, as axman Adrian Obregon makes the back half of every song his, brushing adide whatever happened prior to unleash some “Kill ‘em All”-era-Hammett warfare on the music world. Pick a track; the man is everywhere, on everything, gleefully throwing free solos out to the world like candy from a parade float. It’s a wonderfully unapologetic, unashamed display of guitar artistry.
The emphasis on guitar as a whole is a welcome selling point, as so many bands and albums in this genre have become absorbed and summarily assimilated by ceaseless percussion and cramming as much pure noise into every second as possible. Songs like “Desolated Isolation” remind one of this year’s Goatwhore release, another example of an album that cared as much about craft as it did about weight.
The group from California is at their best when displaying their talent for changing speeds, offering the listener a variety of death metal to enjoy. Sure, they can put the pedal down and go full bore as they do for much of “Homicidal Pulchritude” (don’t you just love these song titles?) but Skeletal Remains is equally convincing when they gear down and power through some mosh pit fodder as they do just one song prior for the excellent “Anthropophagy.”
Skeletal Remains shows a lot of promise and skill on “Beyond the Flesh” but they still have improvements that should be made if they are to make the leap. The vocal performance of Chris Monroy is inconsistent at best, composed mostly of a guttural growl that never really keeps the rhythm or cadence of the song in mind. His utterances sound ore like the chanting of an Autopsy record than they do the spewed, acidic venom of death metal.
As exhilarating as the guitar work is, there are moments when the square peg is slammed jaggedly into the round hole. The soloing of “Traumatic Existence” is well-devised, but comes from nowhere and returns to nowhere. There are occasions, “Reconstructive Surgery” being one, where the main riffs seem a note or so too long, stepping over the divide from “quirky cadence” to “odd distraction.”
Said and done, Skeletal Remains “Beyond the Flesh” is a refreshing surprise late in the calendar year when the majority of labels have shut down or slowed production for the holidays. The album’s mastering and production are a little muted, but can’t hold back the ardent display of confident, head-nodding California death metal. Pick yourself up a copy for a quick fix to get you to the New Year…and maybe get one as a stocking stuffer for a friend, too.